The title of T.I.’s sixth studio album Paper Trail alludes to the time-honored process of penning one's innermost thoughts. However, in light of our nation’s economic crisis and the rapper’s own legal troubles, it takes on an unfortunately ironic tone. The album itself, though, is considered by some to be T.I.’s best effort yet.
Following the Trail
Interestingly, Paper Trail accomplished what T.I. vs. T.I.P. did not in reflecting the duality of his existence in public and private. He is, on alternating songs, both the fearless, self-proclaimed ‘King of the South’ and a sensitive, introspective soul who is not afraid to reveal more of himself. The album unfolds with the simple synths of "I’m Illy" and the looped guitar riffs of "Ready for Whatever," to the infectious "Whatever You Like," the thoughtful "No Matter What," and the liquid John Legend-guested, "Slide Show."
The Rubber Band Man works with a familiar cast of producers and some familiar sounds without becoming too formulaic in his approach. Regulars such as Danja and Just Blaze contribute alongside D.J. Toomp, Kanye West and Swizz Beats to up the symphonic ante. Overall, there is significantly more depth on this new collection of songs. It is apparent that the deaths of both his longtime friend and infant daughter and pending prison time for firearms possession have inevitably matured his lyrical content.
Paper and Priorities
The first 3 tracks, while bumping, are really warm-ups for the updated rags-to-riches tale, "On Top of the World" with Ludacris and B.o.B. T.I. issues somewhat of a disclaimer about his past, "Let me issue this statement/no way should reflection be mistaken for glorification." He freely admits the error of his ways in a post -"trap" decadent lifestyle. Luda underscores the sentiment with a strong metaphor, "I married the streets and now Atlanta has been my best man." Two of the South's' most prominent rhymesayers are not completely on some pro-materialism posturing since they sound truly sincere in acknowledging how their success has sent cousins to colleges and "cleaned up all my friends' credit."
The guest spots don't end there. Paper Trail features vocals from Usher over the uninspired staccato beat on the anti-fame rant, "My Life, Your Entertainment" and a delightfully fresh Rihanna on "Live Your Life." Justin Timberlake drops by on the closer, "Dead and Gone."The Kanye West-produced "Swagga Like Us" with Jay-Z and the ubiquitous Lil' Wayne packs some of Graduation's leftover retro 80’s electro-funk. Unsurprisingly, Jay spits the simplest lyrics but leaves the strongest impact: "Can’t wear skinny jeans ‘cause my knots don't fit." West and Weezy say nothing new and rely too heavily on Auto-Tune for their delivery. Tip still doesn’t allow any of them to overshadow him lyrically as he spits a slightly off-balance verse, but makes it work; "You go see Weezy for the wordplay, Jeezy for the birdplay, Kanyeezy for the diversity and me for controversy."
The lead single, "No Matter What" set the tone with a "champion sound" blend of subtly rock-tinged horns and guitars to give an action-adventure hero film feel. Tip smoothly flows with “avoid insanity, managed to conquer/making the impossible possible.” As you listen, you only hope that T.I.’s real-life troubles come to an equally satisfying conclusion and help him emerge a better man. Regardless of the outcome of reality, Paper Trail is a solid combination of rhyme, repentance, swagger and substance.Top Tracks on Paper Trail
- "On Top of the World" | mp3
- "Live Your Life" | mp3
- "Whatever You Like" | mp3
- "No Matter What" | mp3
- "Swagga Like Us" | mp3