T.I. and his new group of ascendant ATLiens give us an enjoyable marathon-length release.
Regardless of your opinion of T.I., you have to admit that the majority of the music on his Hustle Gang tapes fell somewhere between uneven at best, and total jumbled mess at worst. The two G.D.O.D. projects featured a solid enough core of Tip, Young Dro, Shad Da God, Young Booke, Doe B (RIP), Spodee, and Trae Tha Truth, but the many attempts to outfit that already seven-strong crew with a wildly varied array of guests made for "too many cooks"-style chaos more often than not. You had the rare track (like the Mystikal-featuring "Here I Go") that benefited from the presence of new voice, but most of the series' best tracks came when the supergroup were left to their own devices (especially on the melodic turn-up joint "I Do The Most"). Thankfully, for his latest group effort, T.I. has closed the door on EDM collabs with Diplo and Watch The Duck, left Iggy Azalea and Troy Ave out in the cold, and made a decidedly Atlanta-centric project.
Bankroll Mafia is Tip's third group following Hustle Gang and his early career venture P$C, and its lineup reads like a sleeker model of a Hustle Gang that's been stripped for its parts and outfitted with some shiny new hardware. T.I. and Shad form the core, Booke and Dro's roles have been drastically reduced, former pinch-hitter Young Thug is brought on full-time, and London Jae, MPA Duke, and PeeWee Roscoe are brought on as rookies. The biggest influence on the whole album is Thug, who brings not only two of his frequent collaborators (Duke and Roscoe) on board, but also many of his go-to producers such as Wheezy and Isaac Flame. Bankroll Mafia's sound is much more in-line with his recent tapes than it is with T.I.'s recent music, and in general, this project's stylistically consistency put G.D.O.D. one and two to shame.
The first few songs benefit from some well-chosen guests, with Lil Yachty adding a coda onto the syrupy "Hyenas," Bankroll Fresh (RIP) bringing his innovative flow stylings to the spartan "Fuck This Shit Up," and 21 Savage instantly recognizable in his intro to "I Want Her." In contrast with the haphazard and inconsistent way features were outsourced for the Hustle Gang tapes, all of these feel like logical choices for an album that plays like a coming-out party for young Atlanta talent. Shad improves his stock the most, stepping up to fill Spodee's shoes and doing a great job of adapting to the project's melodic feel while also popping off some great bars, one of my favorites being the intro track's "Eatin' on turkey, man no more bologna/Still gainin' weight and we 'bout to go tourin'." (Side note: there are times when he sounds almost identical to Rich Homie Quan, and some of his and Thug's side-by-side work on here feels like the closest we'll ever get to a sequel of Rich Gang's Tha Tour Pt. 1 now that that group seems like it'll mostly consist of Ralo and Jacquees.)
Things drag a little bit after the first four songs, with neither Chi Chi nor Moneybag making much of an impression on "What Money About," "Trenches" seeming like a subpar Thugger song even though he's not even on it, and "My Bros" turning the saying "bros over hoes" into a thoroughly unnecessary hook. "Neg 4 Degrees" is pretty catchy though. One of Shad's strongest songs is "Up One," which also features 2/3rds of Migos in one of their rare-but-essential melodic cuts (also recommended in that category: "What You Doin" and "What Y'all Doin") and an utterly gorgeous beat from Wheezy. The ensuing two tracks, "No Color" and "Screwed It Up," aren't that essential, but they do remind us that when T.I. softens his delivery and irons out all of the menace out of his voice, he's a very underrated singer. Bankroll Mafia really gets going in its last third though.
Beginning with "Cash," the album's sound switches up, no longer going for an of-the-moment ATL sound and instead mining the city's rich history of trap for some blasts from the past. "Cash" is pure mid-2000s snap music, "Wcw" and "Hundreds On Em" bring us back to the bombastic era of Teflon Don or Tip's own "I'm Back," and "Mafia, Mafia" takes us back to trap's Precambrian age of Casio keys and Three 6 Mafia chants. Young Dro's two appearances both come back here, and he plays the role of gleeful uncle with gusto, delivering what's maybe the album's best verse on "Cash":
"I quit school cause of recess, like 'I ain't playin' with y'all no more'
I'm a titan, you ain't even never really went to war with no viking
They gon' call me up and I'mma spank they ass, after that you need vicodin
In the white Benz, packed full of dead white men
What's up Dro? I'm coolin' doing movies, just hanging out with my white friends"
"Cash" is a definite highlight, but it's also pretty hilarious to hear Dro and T.I. talking about 1995 Freaknik on a track with Thug, who would've been four at the time. Shockingly though, that's the one fish-out-water moment I can sense on Bankroll Mafia, which is a big progression from a Hustle Gang series that was defined by fish-out-of-water moments.
Throughout his successful solo career, T.I.'s struggled with breaking his signees on a national level (save for Travi$ Scott) and forming supergroups, so Bankroll Mafia's debut project is a step in the right direction. Grand Hustle was in danger of becoming as plagued with mishaps as Jeezy's CTE imprint, but it finally seems like Tip's realized that fostering young talent in his own city is a much better strategy than trying to sign whoever's hottest at the moment, and then putting them on top of Diplo beats. More than anything, Bankroll Mafia feels like the type of thing that Atlanta's greatest A&R, Gucci Mane, would do. Ever since he went to jail and his vast reserves of unreleased material seemingly dried up, there's been a 1017-sized hole in the city where talent development used to be, and this album's the closest anyone's gotten to filling it.