Back in 2008, Atlanta rapper T.I. was one of the biggest names in the entire rap industry—the future of the self-proclaimed “King of the South” was looking incredibly promising, especially following the release of his critically lauded Paper Trail. While his work is still staple to any definitive rap playlist, his reign as “king” has been interrupted on numerous occasions—primarily due to legal troubles. The king was forced away from the booth to spend some time behind bars. T.I. aims to reclaim his throne with his ninth studio LP Paperwork: a diverse, well-produced project that, while not incredible, provides good reason to still believe in T.I.’s career. The album as a whole is somewhat disorganized, but is pulled together by a handful of outstanding tracks.
The album begins with a great deal of promise. “King” sets up the project with a 30-second monologue, then diving into a beautifully crafted beat, produced by 1500 Or Nothin. The Atlanta rapper reminds the listener of his roots and the adversity he had to overcome to become successful. He delivers a Migos-like flow over the bass and snare-heavy instrumental, spitting each line with a quickness and punch that we haven’t seen in T.I.’s previous works. As a featured artist and executive producer, Pharrell Williams provides a fair deal of rock-solid production (as seen on “King”) that keeps the album going.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few songs, the rest of the record does not come close to living up to “King.” Fifteen of the record’s 18 tracks include a featured performer, taking the album’s focus off of T.I., who should be the main attraction.
On the album’s title track, Pharrell opens with a playful chorus sung over a light, spirited beat. While the chorus sounds great, in no way does it match the overall tone of the song, which focuses on T.I.’s struggles and losses.
“About My Issue” features West Coast artists Nipsey Hussle and Victoria Monet, who both outshine T.I.’s contributions to the song. T.I. offers a couple of mediocre verses, while Monet captivates with her soulful vocals on the chorus, and Hussle delivers his verse with great authority.
The final song on the album is a similar case of T.I. getting outperformed on his own project. “You Can Tell How I Walk” has a beat that’s far more Rick Ross than T.I.—the Atlanta artist’s opening verse is almost instantly forgotten when Ross hops on the beat and asks the real question: “Who f—kin with fat boy?”
While it flounders at parts, the album does have its share of solid tracks. “About The Money,” the third song on the compilation, features a rising star from Atlanta, Young Thug. The track (released this past summer) stands out from the rest of the album, assuming an entirely different sound. Thug’s unique sound and flow—supplemented by some bizarre ad-libbing—fuses beautifully with the vintage T.I. production quality of the song.
“New National Anthem,” the following track, features a spirited beat littered with melodic vocal samples, and a powerful, inspiring chorus from Skylar Grey. T.I addresses a number of social issues, but focuses mainly on the topic of police brutality and our nation’s justice system. His message is empowering, as he ends the song with a monologue-like outro. He questions his audience, “If the kids are the future, tell me why you can get more for being a CEO than you can for being a teacher?” With “New National Anthem,” T.I. follows the lead of many other rappers who have recently focused on issues of social justice. Other notable tracks include a DJ Mustard-produced tune “No Mediocre,” which features Iggy Azalea, and “Sugar Cane,” a song dedicated to T.I.’s drug dealing past.
T.I.’s last full album was released in 2012, and the anticipation for Paperwork was high. Unfortunately, T.I. does not live up to the hype. He presents a set of interesting tracks with strong features, but doesn’t entirely transcend his previous status of greatness. T.I. shows flashes of his old self on this new record, but after six years without a wholly successful album, it might be time he relinquishes his title as “King of the South.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Columbia Records