Until just a few weeks ago, I believed, much like yourselves, I would have T.I.’s much anticipated sixth studio album in my hands for the opening day of school, but it didn’t happen.
“Paper Trail” was originally scheduled for an Aug. 12th release date, but due to the number of tracks T.I. was working on while on house arrest, and the artist’s quest for perfection with his rhymes, this one took just a little longer.
The name“Paper Trail” refers to the written word style of rapping T.I. is using on this album, a style he had abandoned after his debut album, “I’m Serious,” released in 2001.
“It’s intense and insightful,” T.I. said to MTV. “It’s gonna shake up the game, and it’s me at my best.” Well, as T.I. points out in “56 Barz,” the intro track to the album, “the wait’s over, homie.”
This is the party album you’ve been waiting for. The beats are heavy, T.I.’s lyrics are solid throughout the record and if you’ve been to a party anywhere on campus, you’ve heard one of the many singles that have been released.
“No Matter What” was released over the internet in May and has enjoyed widespread radio play since then. The spiritual, emcee-esque lyrics made it perfect for your summertime jam list, and I know it’s been one of my top-ten party tracks.
“Make impossible possible / even when winning’s illogical / losing’s still far from optional,” he raps. T.I. tells us to stand up and be who you are, no matter what.
“Whatever You Like” came next in mid-July, and it grows on you. The versatility of T.I.’s flow on this track, as compared to something like “Big Things Poppin’ ” from last year’s “T.I. vs. T.I.P.,” confirms T.I. is still one of today’s best rappers. He appeals to his female fans, promising them “stacks on deck, Patron on ice.” With these singles, you can have whatever you like – smart lyrics, subtly complex beats and a couple of fresh tracks for your weekend blowout.
The beats are one of the best parts of this album for me, but T.I. had a lot to live up to. His last few studio albums were chart-toppers, and his fourth studio album, “King,” is one of my favorite southern rap albums ever.
The team of producers T.I. has worked with is all-star quality, too, with names like Just Blaze, Mannie Fresh, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, Jazze Pha and even Kanye West providing an impressive arsenal of greats. Listen to “Live Your Life” for three minutes and you’ll realize T.I. pulled out all the stops on this album, too.
The party tracks are hot, but so are the handful of R&B joints.
In “No Matter What,” we hear an uplifting soul-filled song backed with organs and a smooth electric guitar. The track is bass heavy enough to bounce to, but not so much that the message is lost.
In “You Ain’t Missin’ Nothin’” T.I. brings it with some of the most soulful lyrics on the whole album, accentuated with a bluesy saxophone and playful guitar loops as he speaks to his friends in prison about the world around them, saying “I know the time seem long, just try and stay strong / put on your headphones and rewind this song.”
Add a Justin Timberlake cut (“Dead and Gone”), and these tracks are proof T.I.’s versatility isn’t a gimmick. He really can make good music. No disrespect to T-Wayne, but the braided duo can’t do it like this.
There really is no filler on “Paper Trail.” Every one of the 17 tracks is worth a few listens, and more than a few will stay with you.
Some are better than others, of course. “Swagga Like Us” is worth mentioning, and the beat is real fresh. Produced by Kanye West, using an M.I.A. sample, and featuring Jay-Z, Kanye and Lil Wayne, there are some sick rhymes on this track, if you can make it through Ye’s auto-tuned attempt at lyricism.
Hova’s hot as usual, but Weezy kills it with lyrics like this:
“When it comes to styles, I got several / Sharper than a swagger, dagger all metal / and my jewels, blue and yellow / Type of s— that make ‘em call you Carmelo.”
Swizz Beatz gives us “Swing Ya Rag,” if a throwback to the late ‘90’s fanfare is your thing. “Every Chance I Get” is a pump-up song, but so was everything on “T.I. vs T.I.P.” We get it King – you’re so raw.
Don’t be mistaken, “Paper Trail” is better than most of the stuff out there right now and is some of T.I.’s best. He’s still the Crème de la Crème and one of my favorites in the game.
If you got down to “King” or “T.I. vs. T.I.P.,” this album won’t let you down.
As far as entertainment value goes, T.I. puts on a show. The versatility is impeccable and T.I.’s lyrics continue to improve. His heart is in every song on “Paper Trail.”
Make sure you listen in for yourself. Get it for the club tracks. Get it for T.I.’s refreshing fusion of rapping and emceeing. If you’ve been waiting for an inspiring example of what a good hip-hop album can be, the wait’s over, homie.