Grand Hustle / Atlantic
Few modern works have successfully tackled the complexities of an urban American life bent on survival in a morally gray culture. T.I.‘s sixth major release, Paper Trails, is an investigation of the emcee’s neurosis as a rags-to-riches success story, as he is subject to the violence and fear upon which he built his kingdom.
The title Paper Trails refers to T.I.‘s lyrics he wrote down on paper for the tracks on this album, as opposed to memorizing his spontaneous flows as done on previous releases. If his intent was to lay out his struggles, insecurities, failings and excuses in moments of brutal honesty, the album definitely succeeds.
T.I. established his kingdom on his credibility as a street banger and his infectious southern swagger. His greatest moments were when he was magnified in past songs like “What You Know” and “My Love;” moments that the introspective Paper Trails never achieves. In Atlanta, a city saturated with talented emcees vying for the title of king, T.I.‘s reign seems to be ending.
Paper Trails isn’t a collection of party bangers, but revealing psalms that expose this self-proclaimed king in irreversible ways. With T.I. revealing his fears about his fame and insecurities about his past, he would be hard-pressed to turn around and reestablish the street credibility that is foundational to his success.
Tracks like “Ready for Whatever” and “You Ain’t Missing Nothing” are too honest to be disregarded as melodramatic or cheesy, but I think it’s safe to say that this is his last quality release.
Paper Trails is a recap of T.I.‘s career and his life as a budding entrepreneur, family man – and an ex-gangster rapper.
Give these tracks a listen: 56 Bars, Ready For Whatever
For fans of: DJ Toomp, Kanye West
– Chris Rue