Top 8 of 08 #4: T.I. – Paper Trail

January 5th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

T.I. has had an insane year. At the top of the year, he was facing serious jail time, his 2007 album was on “Successful, but Average” status, and he had Shawty Lo running around Atlanta making youtubes of how he isn’t actually from Bankhead and is a lying snitch.

By the end of the year, he’s looking at a year inside, launching his new clothing line, signed Killer Mike to Grand Hustle, obliterated Shawty LO, put B.o.B. on, has something like a million hit singles, and a platinum album. Quite a turn around, isn’t it?

One thing I’ve always liked about T.I., other than the fact that he’s also a skinny smart black dude from Georgia, is that he always looks like he’s having fun. The What’s Up, What’s Happenin’ video is the most exuberant diss video in years. He looks like a dude with jokes, or at least one with a healthy bit of self-consciousness. He seems like a regular guy, despite the movie star clothes and rap braggadoccio. There’s something kind of forthright and honest about him, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

This carries over into his album. Some of the songs are typical rap joints, but he isn’t afraid to get personal, either. He opens up about the death of his best friend Philant on Dead and Gone, and interspersed throughout the album are mentions of his trials and tribulations.

What’s nice is that it never rings as hollow as DMX’s prayers on his old albums did. T.I. went through a very public arrest. Everyone knows what the deal is. But, even though he doesn’t have to, Tip breaks down his reasons for doing what he did and how he feels about the decision. We end up with an album with mainstream appeal, but personal lyrics. T.I. has been doing that for ages, though– go back and listen to Be Better Than Me.

Of course, it isn’t all personal. His jawn with Ludacris, “On Top of the World,” kicks off with “rich by popular demand,” which is quickly followed up by two of Atlanta’s most successful rappers going in on how they went from nothing to something to everything. They pay respect to where they’ve been even as they look to where they’re going, and point out that it isn’t all just clothes, bankrolls, and hoes. T.I. drops this gem on his last verse:

I sold dope and dropped out of school, seems it’s all they can see
They don’t notice none of my family did that since me (nah)
I broke that cycle, now my family live a life of
Mandatory minimums, but not when the judge sentence us
Cousins in college, where you think they get tuition from?
(Answer that) Just for standin ’round wishin, huh?
Hey while you stand around lookin dumb, I make it happen
Takin action over time, got damn good at it

And it’s true– both of these guys have poured their cash into making life better for people where they came from, diversified their income, and went from mice to men.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Swagga Like Us. Even though I basically hate the word swagger now, T.I. comes on stage with extraordinary swagger. He’s on a track with three of the hottest rappers out, though only one of them is really all that talented, and sons all three. Kanye and Wayne drop typical verses for those two. It’s aight, not great work from those two. Jay-Z makes a solid showing. T.I. wraps up the song, though, and recaps his life, career, and year while showing that everyone who thinks the south isn’t lyrical is an idiot.

Paper Trail bumps. It’s a thorough record, with club songs (Swing Ya Rag has a remarkably listenable Swizz Beatz) and classic T.I.P. tracks (56 Bars). It’s definitely something to keep in the ride. What’s funny is that he predicts this reaction in 56 Bars:

World hopped off my jock, I got ’em right back on it

Official music videos:
Whatever You Like
No Matter What
What’s Up, What’s Haapnin’
Live Your LIfe (when did this video come out? i totally missed it)

Honorable mention:
Ain’t I, by Young Dro (it’s a hot song, I just wanted to link it)

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3 comments to “Top 8 of 08 #4: T.I. – Paper Trail”

  1. “Even though I basically hate the word swagger now, T.I. comes on stage with extraordinary swagger. He’s on a track with three of the hottest rappers out, though only one of them is really all that talented…”

    This piqued my interest, so I gotta ask: What’s your take on Lil Wayne, particularly Tha Carter III? It seems like everyone either loves it or hates it, and that comment leads me to think that for you it’s the latter.

    I guess I’ll wait to see the rest of your list.

  2. C3 was a great commercial album, as evidenced by its catchy songs and platinum status, but I think it would have been a better record if someone else were rhyming over those beats, which were almost universally hot.

    I think that Wayne is hot, but hollow. He can spit a ridiculous verse that just ends up being amazing, but I don’t think he’s as skilled as he should be to be a ten year vet. At best, he’s an ordinary rapper with extraordinary style/charisma. In the mixtape post, I go into it a little bit more in #3.

    I haven’t listened to any Weezy songs, barring the occasional feature and Lisa Marie (which is super hot), in months. I don’t lose any sleep over that.

  3. lil wayne was a G back then keepin’ it real, now he is a fake ass nigga tryin’ to be a rock star..fuck him