Review Summary: another T.I. album. another T.I. personality split.
T.I.'s "Paper Trail" is a definite progress from the artist's previous effort. Following up "King" was certainly not an easy task but the amount of mediocrity on "T.I. vs T.I.P." left plenty of fans addressing T.I.'s legitimacy. The descent was logical though. Since, T.I.'s highly acclaimed "Trap Muzik" he had been basically recycling themes and crafting a plethora of material that was only prestigious due to T.I.'s absolutely unique devotion. As T.I. acclaimed himself the "king of the south" he was charged with multiple felonies for possessing various automatic weapons. His sentence has been lessened since the original press craze over the event, but T.I. still has found himself with a year of jail time and one thousand hours of community service. The toll these obstacles have taken on the rapper is obvious throughout "Paper Trail" yet T.I. has also seemed to become conscious of how ridiculous his persona has become and in other words is aware of the nature of his music. In place of extremely heavy singles like "What You Know" and "U Don't Know Me" are singles like the Rihanna fronted "Live Your Life" and a more sophisticated take on Lil' Wayne's "Lollipop" in the form of "Whatever You Like". Not to say that T.I.'s braggadocio and charismatic nature isn't on this record. He is certainly still the rubber band man through and through just now a little more experienced.
"What Up, What's Haapnin'" is a clear highlight. It is one of the records six singles and features production from Jeezy associated Drumma Boy who provides T.I. with a track that doesn't rely on Nintendo sounding synths. "On Top of the World" features follow Atlanta rapper Ludacris who formally feuded with T.I. here though they both recount and relate to how they became who they are. An important theme on this record seems to be coming to an acceptance between two meeting personas and that is where it becomes ironic. "T.I. vs T.I.P" was reportedly T.I.'s discussion between the "thug and business man" that lie within him. That record failed miserably in that light, but now that he has seemingly hidden the T.I.P. side of himself he has helped his lyrical content reach a point of public consciousness that few current rappers have. Jay-Z, Kanye, and Lil' Wayne show up on potential block buster "Swagga Like Us" and further prove how singular T.I. is. As Kanye and Wayne tinker with auto tuning and Hova spits his typical *** T.I. perfectly works the track into defining how the attitudes of these four artists came to be. The beat of the track is typical Kanye West and that does kind of ruin some of the effect such a great collaboration should have. What is most important to note is that T.I. once just another southern rapper proves his declaration of being the king of the south by basically standing with and over three of the biggest names in modern hip-hop. This overwhelming surprise from an artist most people have written off makes the fluidity of the record an even more impressive feat.
"King" may feature more lasting material and "Trap Muzik" may represent how southern the artist can be, but where those two albums succeed "Paper Trail" isn't aiming. This is a record that unabashedly switches from a gospel based repent to an Usher track. Sure, there are a couple of missteps. "Porn Star" seems like an attempt to out Kanye Kanye. "Swing Ya Rag" comes off as yet another southern rap track. T.I. isn't able to escape the flaw of overstuffing his record, but he certainly does a valiant effort in trying to bring an hour and twenty of minutes of solid tracks. "You Ain't Missing Nothing" feels like an afterthought, but when you begin to understand the topic it speaks on (T.I. basically reenacts "One Love") you can't help but not skip the track. "Dead and Gone" yet another Timberlake / T.I. track is bolstered by its impressive Timberland beat and the fact that ends that album on a very, very strong note.
"Paper Trail" exists as T.I's new album. Changing up his themes, updating his beats and extending his style far enough to keep his listeners interested, he still has yet to release an extremely refined classic. Perhaps, "King" and "Trap Muzik" will have to exist as the best examples of T.I. in that they encapsulate his thuggish lyrical nature while exploiting it into a pop environment. "Paper Trail" still deserves to be acclaimed though. T.I. may not be meeting his own standards, but in the term of the southern rap genre this is probably the best addition from this year. More lyrical than Lil' Wayne and catchier than Young Jeezy, T.I. has once again proved the fact that he represents an excellent blend of lyrical talent and pop sensibility.