It's been a tumultuous year of offstage drama for T.I., but "Paper Trail," due this week via Grand Hustle/Atlantic, finds him back in the driver's seat.

It's been a tumultuous year of offstage drama for T.I., but "Paper Trail," due this week via Grand Hustle/Atlantic, finds him back in the driver's seat. The MC reasserts his lyrical skills on tracks like "I'm Illy," clearly recorded during his house arrest stint on weapons charges, where he speaks frankly about his life.

The Kanye West-produced "Swagger Like Us" featuring Jay-Z, West and Lil Wayne is a clear highlight, as is the Rihanna-led "Live Your Life." And the single "Whatever You Like" recently set a record for the biggest jump to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 by soaring 71-1.

"I think it's a new sound for me, something people aren't necessarily used to hearing," he says of the latter. "It's one of those risky records. It just happened to work in our favor."

Despite appearances by Swizz Beatz, John Legend, Usher and Ludacris (surprising, considering their long rivalry), the focus remains squarely on T.I. throughout. When you've got a lot of distractions, especially looming prison time, it's not always the best muse. But T.I. hasn't given in to his situation. Instead, he's embodied literature's most popular archetype -- the survivor -- by transforming his woes into a reflective, enjoyable album.