T.I., 'Paperwork': Track-by-Track Review
T.I. has always had some source of inspiration behind his albums, whether it came off sounding good or not.
On his first three albums, T.I. was looking to live up to the "King of the South" title he bestowed upon himself as a rookie. King (2006) saw him enjoying his self-professed reign, while its lukewarm follow up T.I. vs T.I.P. had him going through an identity crisis after massive success. Bouncing back against critics, facing jail time and clamoring for a spot among rap's elite made a diamond out his most successful album Paper Trail. Those same elements also managed to make a gold-selling album out of what many consider his worst outing, 2010's apologetic No Mercy. Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head (2012) had him embracing all of his flaws -- brandishing a weapon on the cover -- with little remorse; it earned him yet another gold plaque on the wall.
But now that everyone knows he's sold and used illegal substances, has been to jail several times, would rather meet death instead of dishonor and doesn't give a damn about what you think of him, is there anything left for him to say? His ninth studio album, Paperwork, attempts to show that he does. While it does have a couple of moments, much of the album sounds like he is just, filling out paperwork.
Read on for a track-by-track review of T.I.'s Paperwork.
"King": T.I. reminds you of the soil he grew by explaining how he's been able to overcome adversities from trouble that he's found and that's found him. In telling why he can't help be but who he is, he matches a Migo-ish flow over 1500 Or Nothing's production, showing his ability to effortlessly bring the orchestra to the hood. (This is also the only song on the standard version without a cameo appearance.)
"G Shit," feat. Pharrell Williams, Young Jeezy and Watch the Duck: T.I. foreshadows the overall theme of the album with the first line in the effort's second song: "I'm a rich ni—a, like I don't know/ I could change if I wanna, but I won't though." Executive producer Pharrell Williams provides a bell and synth bounce for T.I., while his fellow trapper-in-rhyme Young Jeezy trades in bars on how no matter how far they go up the Billboard charts, they still aren't above rapping about street shit.
"About The Money," feat. Young Thug: The summer's unexpected runaway rap anthem fits in and standouts, at the same time, in the flow of the album. While the subject matter falls in line with the rest of Paperwork, Young Thug's scene stealing performance outshines all of the bigger named artists on the album.
"New National Anthem," feat. Skylar Grey: T.I. uses his profile to bring attention to police brutality and an unjust justice system. Kudos. But the urgent production, spirited-but-soulless hook by Skylar Grey and T.I.'s rapid flow doesn't make it a pleasurable listen. But then again, he's rapping about topics that are hard for most to listen to.
"Oh Yeah," feat. Pharrell Williams: T.I. conjures up the spirit of the T.I. vs T.I.P. album, opening the song stating that Pharrell wanted something "inspirational" but he'd rather say "fuck the world." The balance is achieved as T.I. provides lyrics showing that he just might be a slave to the image that the rest of the world wants him to portray (“WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT!?!”).
"Private Show," feat. Chris Brown: T.I. checks in with the mandatory "for the chicks" song. Where he and Chris Brown wanted you to "Get Back Up" in 2010, they want you to "lay it down" this time around. "A lady to the naked eye, but a nasty lil' hoe to me" may not be the most romantic rap line, but the rated-R lyrics deliver what's intended.
"No Mediocre," feat. Iggy Azalea: Not sure if the sequencing was meant to tell you this, but, just in case you were wondering: T.I. will not be inviting "No Mediocre" chicks to any "Private Shows" he's planning. A DJ Mustard beat and an Iggy Azalea guest spot to match are pretty much a cheat code in 2014. All T.I. had to do here was show up with some party favors, which he does.
"Jet Fuel," feat. Boosie Badazz: For as much as T.I. and Boosie have been through in the public eye, this long-awaited collaboration could've been an instant classic of 2Pac and Snoop Dogg's "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted" proportions. Instead, they come up with another slang term for potent weed and take a wild ride of sex and drugs that will be forgotten once they get over the next day's hangover.
"Paperwork," feat. Pharrell Williams: T.I. and Pharrell link again on the title track which sounds hauntingly similar to Ghetto Mafia's 1998 underground favorite "On The Grind." Ironic since T.I. sounds hungry enough to make a point and deliver a clear intention. But, the song's serious tone ("there's drones in the sky, there's nothing you can do") is slightly lost with Pharrell's cartoonish crooning.
"Stay," feat. Victoria Monet: T.I. doesn't name any names or give any dates, but it sounds like he's letting the world know how he feels about his marriage and daily rumors that it is on the rocks. While not as extreme as his "Blurred Lines" collaborator Robin Thicke's musical attempts at salvaging his relationship, this is one of the few moments on Paperwork where T.I. shows vulnerability as he spends most of the song on his knees either begging or praying.
"About My Issue," feat. Victoria Monet and Nipsey Hussle: T.I. hooks up with long time producer/collaborator DJ Toomp, who sneaks in a rehashed version of the beat he made for Hustle Gang member Big Kuntry's 2003 underground gem "Still Kuntry." T.I.'s familiarity with beat pays off as his double-time flow sounds comfy on the beat, but Nipsey steals the show with his anchor verse.
"At Ya' Own Risk," feat. Usher - While this track sounds good, it's pretty much an A-list version of ScHoolboy Q and BJ the Chicago Kid's raunchy hit "Studio." T.I.'s version may win because he actually delivered comprehensible verses start to finish.
"On Doe, On Phil," feat. Trae the Truth: Thirteen tracks in and Paperwork is starting to sound a few sheets too long. Trae the Truth fans will be happy to hear his menacing whispers on such a high profile release, but the song's lazy tone doesn't make it a must-listen.
"Light Em Up (RIP Doe B)," feat. Pharrell Williams and Watch the Duck: The album's darkest and strongest cut is inspired by the untimely passing of T.I.'s rising protégé Doe B., who was murdered in his hometown Montgomery, Alabama in Dec. 2013.
T.I. precludes the song telling a story of how Doe B. was scheduled to join him and Pharrell to record in the studio in Miami, but was killed the night before he was set to arrive. The lyrics draw out how T.I. met the young rapper while the hook iterates "you was 'sposed to make it."
"Let Your Heart Go (Break My Soul)," feat. The-Dream: T.I. has mastered the art of meshing reflective raps with pop hooks ("Dead and Gone") and he uses that formula again here.