Grand Hustle

For the past decade-plus, trap music has indicated a particularly narrow musical aesthetic. It's referred to a particular breed of Southern street rap, featuring ominous synthesizer sounds, booming bass and 808 drums. The lyrics have been mostly about selling drugs, street violence and evading 12, with other facets of an artist's life taking a back seat.

T.I., one of the most important artists in the foundation of trap music, doesn't place such restrictions on his definition of trap music. The Atlanta rapper—whose 2003 sophomore album Trap Muzik formally added the phrase into the hip-hop lexicon—has never been shy about using other styles in his version of trap, adeptly blending his street raps with mainstream pop appeal in the mid-to-late 2000s with albums like King and Paper Trail.

On T.I.'s 10th and most recent studio album, Dime Traphe goes further into his philosophy of what trap music is—and what it can be.  On "The Weekend," he describes the album as a "TED Talk for hustlers, the evolution of trap music," adding that the subgenre need not be limited to lyrics about cooking in the trap house or dealing with the police; it can extend to cover any life events of a hustler's past, present or future. "What happen when he fall in love, or have his first child?" He closes the track by proclaiming, "Just because it's trap music doesn't mean it got to be one-dimensional."

Dime Trap is far from one-dimensional, and dives frequently into that personal life of a trap artist. T.I. is nearing 40 years old. He has priorities that extend far beyond what's happening in the streets. A married man with six kids, he's dealt with his relationship struggles in the public eye.

"The Amazing Mr. Fuck Up"—the album's centerpiece—is a prime example of that more personal, introspective style T.I. went on about. On the track, T.I. repeatedly beats himself up for his failures as a husband and setting a poor example for his kids, perhaps taking a page from Jay-Z's 2017 album, 4:44. Tip trades his boundless swagger for a sarcastic, self-deprecating tone and some of his most vulnerable bars to date: "All she did was stay down and have my kid/All the time just to realize I ain't shit/Such audacity that I must have/To get in men company and slap on ass."

"Be There" closes the album with messages of hope and positivity. London Jae's hook promises, "I'ma be there" even "when they say that all hope is gone and all is lost"—it's a rousing attempt at Top 40 glory, grounded by T.I.'s joyous reflections on his own life. But while T.I.'s evolved take on trap finds him getting a bit more sentimental at times, he doesn't lose his edge as an MC. "Laugh at Em" is one of T.I.'s most inspired performances since the King era. Backed by a bombastic, glorious Just Blaze beat, Tip spazzes for more than three minutes with no hook, only briefly pausing between verses to laugh and clown his competition.

On "Jefe," T.I. and Meek Mill make the most of a Bangladesh beat featuring blaring Latin horns as they stunt on their haters. Album narrator/hype man Dave Chappelle describes David Banner's beat for "Looking Back" as "nitty, gritty, fuckin' Dirty South shit" and that sums it up nicely. The track has some killer drums, making you wish T.I. and Banner collaborated following the success of "Rubberband Man" in 2003.

The biggest highlight of the more-traditional trap songs on the album is "More & More," on which T.I. teams up with fellow trap icon Jeezy. From a lyrical standpoint, it's nothing special from the two rappers, as they both flaunt their successes and influence. But there's just something electric about hearing their voices together. T.I.'s easy flow just pairs so well with Jeezy's gruff voice and ad libs.

Even with the variety of sounds and lyrical content on Dime Trap, the album isn't much different from T.I.'s previous works. T.I. has always been a chameleon who can do personal tracks, pop singles and hard-nosed street raps just as easily, but with a newfound maturity and vulnerability, this might is his best effort after a string of uneven post-Paper Trail albums. It's probably not as much of an evolution of T.I.'s style as he claims, but it's a more-than-worthy addition to the rapper's canon.

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