T.I. Solidifies His Place As A Top-Tier Artist With ‘Paperwork’
Forget T.I.'s stout resume for a minute. Strip away his Bill Cosby-like demeanor from his hit reality show T.I. & Tiny: Family Hustle. Strip away the bevy of acting roles he landed over the years. Strip away his turbulent beefs with Floyd Mayweather and Azalea Banks. If you carefully dissect the music career of T.I., you realize how multi-faceted the King really is. His musical palette is adored by many because of his ability to shift from zero to 100 seamlessly. In any arena, rap or pop, T.I. approaches every battle with a gladiator like mentality. Albums like King, Paper Trail, and Urban Legend, and even his last effort, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head told scintillating tales of a former trapper who clawed his way to rap supremacy. With his ninth studio album, Paperwork, he solidifies his place in music as a rap titan.
For the opening track "King", T.I. defends his rightful title with gusto. The intro seeps with bravado as he talks his usual talk behind Mars’ heavy hitting beat. "I walk it exactly the way I talk it," exclaims the rapper. While an influx of features can diminish an artist’s project, T.I. meticulously paired himself with the right guests alongside him for his journey. He ousted any ounce of doubt regarding his skillset by showing out on high energy tracks like “G-Shit” with Young Jeezy and “Jet Fuel” with a hungry Boosie Badazz.
His chemistry with his executive producer Pharrell shines throughout the album. The tandem teams up on “Oh Yeah”, where T.I. raps, “Controlling the town, you think it’s a game? / Got the heart of a lion and I’m a strong as a tank." Pharrell lets T.I. come in like a wrecking ball, while he sits comfortably on the hook. The duo follows the same formula on the title track, “Paperwork”, where he ruminates about his past relationship with his Uncle, and his days of dealing in Atlanta.
His candor becomes increasingly visible on "Stay." T.I. channels his inner Shawn Carter and pens us his modern day version of "Song Cry" in this romantic ode to his wife Tiny. "I'm tired of telling lies, I know you're sick of playing games," raps Tip. With their on and off again relationship becoming a romantic parody, Tip is reluctant to let the woman of his life simply vanish from his arms.
Still, despite T.I. giving us sapless romantics something to think about, he reminds us why at any given moment, he can still show out like a player. The DJ Mustard produced "No Mediocre" finds the rapper on his Shallow Hal flow, proclaiming anything less than a ten isn't acceptable in his eyes. Even Iggy Azalea flexes on the record and provides her best verse to date.
Granted, even though T.I. is the ideal ladies man, he manages to strike out on several occasions. Tracks like "Private Show" and "At Ya Own Risk" finds the rapper trying too hard to woo women. But, despite T.I. being a little bit love struck, his zeal and charisma on tracks like “New National Anthem”, and “About The Money” excuses those blemishes.
With violence becoming prevalent within the past year among cops and African Americans, more notably after the killing of Mike Brown, T.I. calls on Skylar Grey for "New National Anthem" to denounce their country’s unpatriotic ways and rewrite a new anthem for the red, white, and blue. Even though T.I. is fully aware that a song questioning the merits of cops and his country’s respectability will likely not get any radio play, he still manages to inject a meaningful message against violence on this hit-worthy song. “About The Money” is a potent ode to hustlers, which finds the ATL veteran teaming up with the city’s rookie of the year, Young Thug. Thug chants a poignant hook for the money chasers who salivate over Franklins on a regular basis. Perhaps the most intriguing feature comes in the form of Nipsey Hu$$le on “About My Issue." Tip taps the Crenshaw rapper and they both “certify their gangsta” by trading fiery flows over DJ Toomp’s smooth track.
The latter part of the album finds T.I. paying his respects to his fallen comrades. Tracks like “On Doe, On Phil,” “Light Em Up, (RIP Doe B)” and “Let Your Heart Go (Break My Soul)” pays homage to Doe B and his late friend Philant Johnson. Remnants of vintage T.I. can be found on dark records like “Sugar Cane" and “I Don’t Know,” where he’s willing to come out strapped at your mama’s house at any given time of the night.
With Paperwork serving as the follow-up and continuation to Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head, T.I. accurately gives us a perfect sequel with his new album. Despite the album's loaded guest list, T.I. manages to squeeze in enough room to allow himself to shine and tells us why after nearly 15 years deep; he’s still a top-tier artist in the game.—Carl Lamarre