T.I. proves that he's still a King with the release of his ninth solo album, "Paperwork."
Following the release ofÂ T.I.âs last twoÂ somewhat lacklusterÂ albums, 2010's No Mercy and 2012's Trouble Man, combinedÂ 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.âs standing inÂ hip hop's hierarchy has been met with some uncertainty. But now that the rapperâs ninth solo album, PaperworkÂ has just dropped, one thing should be understood: Tip remains a king amongst rap royalty. While albums like King andÂ 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 thatÂ the rapper born Clifford HarrisÂ is a complex character and artist. There's the aggressive, no-nonsense, trap king that isÂ âTipâÂ and then there's the level-headed, ever-smooth andÂ introspectiveÂ âT.I.â Although their ideologies and approaches differ at times, the two sides toÂ Mr. HarrisÂ equally shine and coexist throughout Paperwork.
Tip opens the album with, âKing.â Over a instrumentalÂ reminiscent ofÂ something production trio Heatmakerz would've madeÂ 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, âG Shit.â Paperworkâs first single, âAbout The Moneyâ is arguably one of the best rap songs of 2014. Itâs the perfect pairing of the Grand Hustle head honchoâs star power, and that magical chemistry Young Thug and go-to producer, London on da Track have been brewing over the past few years. Â
Of course, Paperwork isnât 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, âNew National Anthem.âÂ The politically-charged song, which sounds like it wouldâve been perfect for Rihanna to hop on, hearkens back to classic T.I. records like the number-one hit, âLive Your Lifeâ and Trap Muzikâs âDoing My Job.â When the song, âStayâ leaked this past summer, much of the speculation surrounding T.I.âs marriage to Tameka âTinyâ Harris was silenced. Though he hasnât quite admitted that the record is based on their relationship, âStayâ still serves as one of the most vulnerable and raw records heâs released since 2003âs âI Still Luv U.â
One of the most underrated weapons in T.I.âs arsenal of talents is his storytelling ability. Such a strength is emphasized on records like the autobiographical title track, the Doe B tribute âLight âEm Up (RIP Doe B)â featuring Pharrell and Watch The Duck and theÂ poignantÂ The-Dream-
ForÂ Paperwork,Â T.I.Â called on the expertise ofÂ Pharrell Williams, who assumed the role as the album'sÂ executive producer.Â The multi-platinum hit-makerÂ was reportedlyÂ very involved with just about every aspect of putting the project together, including finalizing the album's title and sequencing.Â Even though Sk8board P was very hands on with this album, and although heâs arguably the most ubiquitous figure in music currently, he managed to not over-saturate the album with his presence.Â He doesnât produce the album in itsÂ entirety and his vocals only appear on a several hooks.Â 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 andÂ 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.Â "No Mediocre," withÂ its hashtag-ready hookÂ and a beat that sounds like an obvious rehashÂ of two DJ Mustard-produced hits, "2 On" and "Paranoid" seems like aÂ deliberateÂ attempt at doing anything to garner radio play.Â Other low points on the album come in the form of both Tip-flavored and T.I.-esque records.Â The Lil Boosie collab, âJet Fuel" is the albumâs only real bad song and it fails in every way possible. Sounding like a recordÂ moreÂ fitting for the trap-centric Hustle GangÂ tapes, the song comes complete with aÂ weak hook, lameÂ lines like, "I beat the pussy like you stole something" and Tip attempting his bestÂ Meek MillÂ impression.Â âPrivate Show,â with R&Bâs 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, Paperworkâs supporting cast is a real strong.Â Due to her contributions on "About My Issue,âÂ âStayâ and âNew National Anthem,â newcomer Victoria Monet is a standout on the album. Underground king, Nipsey Hussle, is also featured onÂ "About My Issueâ and simply floats over the recordâs silky-smooth production.Â The presence of Tipâs Hustle Gang is felt throughout the album also. The Aussie sensation, IggyÂ Azalea,Â who's been a mainstay on Billboard's Hot 100 chart this summer, provides an energetic verse on the lukewarm âNo Mediocre,â whileÂ Watch The DuckÂ serves up the funk on records like "G Shit" andÂ "Light 'Em Up (RIP Doe B)" andÂ Trae Tha Truth feeds the streets with bars like,Â âBullets running threw a nigga crib like they was miceâ on "On Doe, On Phil." Another collaboration worth noting is the Mars-produced,Â âAt Ya Own Risk.â Here, Usher delivers on the sultry and seductive tune.
Longevity is a rarity in hip hop, but with Paperwork, T.I. proves itâs a possibility.Â âHeart of a lion / Strong as a tank,â he chants on the Pharrell-produced âOh Yeah,â and over the course of his thirteen-year career, heâs consistently proven that statement to be true. He delivers a beyond solid effort thatÂ should go down as one of his strongest releases to date. Many have been questioning T.I.âs run recently. Â Paperwork is sure to quiet those critics and extend his reign as King of the South.