T.I. proves that he's still a King with the release of his ninth solo album, "Paperwork."
Following the release of T.I.’s last two somewhat lackluster albums, 2010's No Mercy and 2012's Trouble Man, combined with the rise of new age rap stars like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Meek Mill, and the fact that ten-year plus veterans like Lil Wayne and Kanye West are continuing to inch closer and closer to icon status with every project they drop, T.I.’s standing in hip hop's hierarchy has been met with some uncertainty. But now that the rapper’s ninth solo album, Paperwork has just dropped, one thing should be understood: Tip remains a king amongst rap royalty. While albums like King and Paper Trail showcased his potential as a true superstar and hit-maker, Paperwork has the potential to cement his legacy and solidify him as one of the greatest MCs to ever pick up a mic.
By now, it's well understood that the rapper born Clifford Harris is a complex character and artist. There's the aggressive, no-nonsense, trap king that is “Tip” and then there's the level-headed, ever-smooth and introspective “T.I.” Although their ideologies and approaches differ at times, the two sides to Mr. Harris equally shine and coexist throughout Paperwork.
Tip opens the album with, “King.” Over a instrumental reminiscent of something production trio Heatmakerz would've made circa the early 2000s, the self-proclaimed King of the South unleashes a series of fiery verses filled with lightning quick rhymes, proving that he can still compete with the best of them, whether in the streets or in the booth. He links with Jeezy and Watch The Duck for the refreshingly funky and soulful celebration of all things gangsta, “G Shit.” Paperwork’s first single, “About The Money” is arguably one of the best rap songs of 2014. It’s the perfect pairing of the Grand Hustle head honcho’s star power, and that magical chemistry Young Thug and go-to producer, London on da Track have been brewing over the past few years.
Of course, Paperwork isn’t all trap anthems. On the album, T.I. tackles a variety of topics ranging from losing friends to jail and senseless violence to racial injustice, like on the Skylar Grey-assisted, “New National Anthem.” The politically-charged song, which sounds like it would’ve been perfect for Rihanna to hop on, hearkens back to classic T.I. records like the number-one hit, “Live Your Life” and Trap Muzik’s “Doing My Job.” When the song, “Stay” leaked this past summer, much of the speculation surrounding T.I.’s marriage to Tameka “Tiny” Harris was silenced. Though he hasn’t quite admitted that the record is based on their relationship, “Stay” still serves as one of the most vulnerable and raw records he’s released since 2003’s “I Still Luv U.”
One of the most underrated weapons in T.I.’s arsenal of talents is his storytelling ability. Such a strength is emphasized on records like the autobiographical title track, the Doe B tribute “Light ‘Em Up (RIP Doe B)” featuring Pharrell and Watch The Duck and the poignant The-Dream-
For Paperwork, T.I. called on the expertise of Pharrell Williams, who assumed the role as the album's executive producer. The multi-platinum hit-maker was reportedly very involved with just about every aspect of putting the project together, including finalizing the album's title and sequencing. Even though Sk8board P was very hands on with this album, and although he’s arguably the most ubiquitous figure in music currently, he managed to not over-saturate the album with his presence. He doesn’t produce the album in its entirety and his vocals only appear on a several hooks. Aside from Pharrell's four beats, the bulk of Paperwork's production is handled by DJ Toomp, Mars of 1500 Or Nothin' and Tommy Brown. Collectively, P, Toomp, Mars and Brown are responsible for producing ten of the fifteen songs on the album. Other producers here include Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, Sak Pase and Kenoe.
Moments where T.I. falls victim to trying to keep in the loop of current trends in hip hop are rare on Paperwork, but they do exist. "No Mediocre," with its hashtag-ready hook and a beat that sounds like an obvious rehash of two DJ Mustard-produced hits, "2 On" and "Paranoid" seems like a deliberate attempt at doing anything to garner radio play. Other low points on the album come in the form of both Tip-flavored and T.I.-esque records. The Lil Boosie collab, “Jet Fuel" is the album’s only real bad song and it fails in every way possible. Sounding like a record more fitting for the trap-centric Hustle Gang tapes, the song comes complete with a weak hook, lame lines like, "I beat the pussy like you stole something" and Tip attempting his best Meek Mill impression. “Private Show,” with R&B’s favorite bad boy, Chris Brown also is a letdown, mainly because of how surprisingly generic it is.
With the exception of Chris Brown and Lil Boosie, Paperwork’s supporting cast is a real strong. Due to her contributions on "About My Issue,” “Stay” and “New National Anthem,” newcomer Victoria Monet is a standout on the album. Underground king, Nipsey Hussle, is also featured on "About My Issue” and simply floats over the record’s silky-smooth production. The presence of Tip’s Hustle Gang is felt throughout the album also. The Aussie sensation, Iggy Azalea, who's been a mainstay on Billboard's Hot 100 chart this summer, provides an energetic verse on the lukewarm “No Mediocre,” while Watch The Duck serves up the funk on records like "G Shit" and "Light 'Em Up (RIP Doe B)" and Trae Tha Truth feeds the streets with bars like, “Bullets running threw a nigga crib like they was mice” on "On Doe, On Phil." Another collaboration worth noting is the Mars-produced, “At Ya Own Risk.” Here, Usher delivers on the sultry and seductive tune.
Longevity is a rarity in hip hop, but with Paperwork, T.I. proves it’s a possibility. “Heart of a lion / Strong as a tank,” he chants on the Pharrell-produced “Oh Yeah,” and over the course of his thirteen-year career, he’s consistently proven that statement to be true. He delivers a beyond solid effort that should go down as one of his strongest releases to date. Many have been questioning T.I.’s run recently. Paperwork is sure to quiet those critics and extend his reign as King of the South.