Sometimes it takes almost losing everything for one to come to their senses and appreciate what they have. With the events that took place last year in his hometown, the days were looking numbered for T.I. in all facets of his life as he faced the possibility of major jail time after coming off an album that achieved commercial success despite the lack of critical acclaim. Faced with the decision to shape up and get things in order or let his own doings be his downfall, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” chose the former as he put his thoughts to paper. Filled with equal parts of honesty and bravado, T.I. and T.I.P. give way to Clifford Harris as he leaves a Paper Trail for listeners to follow as he seeks to reclaim his throne.
Backed by Sunday morning organs on “No Matter What,” T.I. pens another psalm for the Book of Thugs as he musters the strength to face obstacles that would cause lesser men to stumble. While taking full responsibility for his actions, songs like “Ready For Whatever” and the Usher featured “My Life, Your Entertainment” give us a look into why he felt justified in the first place. Both tracks look beyond the glitz and glamour of fame and give a glimpse into the mindset of someone that the limelight shined a little too bright on. Sonically the songs are different as night and day as T.I. makes sure his entire fan base understands his stance. “Ready For Whatever” is dark and brash with heavy bass and guitar riffs, while “My Life, Your Entertainment” is fueled by upbeat hi-hats, light synths, and organs.
After taking potshots from a certain D4L cat all summer, T.I. puts on the full court press as he throws jabs at him throughout the album, culminating in “What Up, What’s Haapnin” as Drumma Boy whips up one his signature A-Town anthems for him to come through for the final uppercut. Riding a wave of rolling drums and trumpets, T.I. goes in while making it seem like he wasn’t even trying. Tying up all loose ends on the beef tip, “On Top Of The World” finds Ludacris stopping by to celebrate the spoils of success. “You Ain’t Missin Nothin” allows T.I. to once again reflect as he sends an audio kite of support to those locked up. The track alone shows that it’s truly water under the bridge between the two, as it borrows heavily from Luda’s “Do Your Time” thematically.
A majority of the backdrops are understated, yet layered which allows T.I. to take center stage, as they complement his words instead of competing for the listeners attention. The production is consistent throughout as the grave material and intentional radio singles blend seamlessly. Filler like “Live Your Life,” “Porn Star,” and “Whatever You Like” don’t sound out of place thanks to the album sequencing, when he does decide to delve outside of his personal issues.
Maybe it had to do with him wanting to get his message out clearly, but outside of flashes like on his second verse on “No Matter What” and his verse on “Swagger Like Us,” rarely does he wow you on the mic. It’s a testament to his charisma and willingness to go into detail that he’s able to keep listeners engaged. Due to the circumstances surrounding album, Paper Trail can be seen as Trap Muzik 2.0 as he puts one chapter of his life up for evaluation to decide what path he’ll traverse next. As most will agree, legal trouble may not be good for Clifford Harris, but it certainly puts a jolt into the music of T.I.
Paper Trail hits store today, 9.30.08.