The third in a series of very lazy year end posts that, like a good clip show, celebrate our best moments of the year with absolutely no creative effort of any kind. The following review first appeared in our October 28th issue.
T.I., Paper Trail, (Atlantic Records)
By Sam Wadhams
Things have been interesting for T.I. lately. The rapper released T.I. vs. T.I.P., which went platinum. Awesome. Then he got set up on a gun buy by his bodyguard and arrested by federal agents. Bummer. Then he made another album, Paper Trail, the contents of which happen to account for roughly 50% of all music currently played on the radio. He’s under house arrest and looking at serving time in prison starting in 2009. Bummer. Paper Trail goes gold on release. Sweet.
While T.I. vs. T.I.P. was a muddled, half-realized concept album, Paper Trail is a much more straightforward collection of bangers and anthems that serves as a much better showcase for T.I.’s considerable talent. Musically it is beautifully executed, a sonic party. This is unsurprising, as the album likely had a production budget reminiscent of a Bruckheimer movie. Booming synths, big bass, and a lot of ratatattat snare hits combine in such a way that the whole album seems to shimmer. All the better for T.I. to swagger against. And swagger he does. Bravado is one of the defining characteristics of hip-hop, especially in this generation, and if bravado were Rick Astley songs, T.I. would be “Never Gonna Give You Up.” In “Whatever You Like,” T.I. attempts to seduce the listener by promising “I’ll gas up the jet for you tonight, and baby you can go wherever you like.” With gas prices being the way they are, that’s quite a promise. On the Kanye produced “Swagga Like Us” T.I. calls in the cavalry as he, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lil’ Wayne each spit a verse; that’s the biggest name track since “Luxury Tax,” and it delivers.
While much of the album is a tribute to loving money and hot women, T.I. still has shadows hanging over him, and he knows it. His friend and assistant Philant Johnson was gunned down in a highway gun battle in 2006, and after he completes his 1000 hours of community service he will have to spend a year behind bars. It is these emotional tracks that are the real soul of the album. T.I. released six impressive singles before the album dropped, but it’s when he gets introspective and talks about his demons that Paper Trail has more soul and continuity than a greatest hits mixtape. He addresses problems on “Ready For Whatever” when he says “I’m dealing wit’the pressure from my partner dyin’ next to me / Think ‘cause no one’s arrested, they comin’for me eventually.” Paper Trail works on almost every level. There are blunt smoking, Hennessey drinking, rims riding bangers, and there are also insightful, self reflective glimpses into the life of one of rap’s greatest talents who is having to face a gritty past he thought he escaped. The whole album is expertly produced, set to great beats, and well written. It is honest, powerful and satisfying to listen to. It’s also a great time.