[CD Review] T.I., 'Paper Trail' (Atlantic)

While other top MCs have had to create their own boogiemen to battle—Kanye has his ego, Eminem had Kim, Lil Wayne has those cough-syrup martians—T.I. has real problems. In the midst of 1,500 hours of community service, he still has to serve a year in the clink for firearms charges. But though he could despair, his legal troubles and house arrest have apparently forced him to reevaluate how he sees the world, and many of the songs on his sixth album, Paper Trail, focus on the good things in his life. This conceit largely works to his benefit—in fact, the first half of the CD is as inspired as anything he has released. Early highlights include the chorus-less opening riff “56 Bars”; the giddy, silly “I’m Illy”; and his current, dreamy single, “Whatever You Like.” The album’s masterpiece, however, is “On Top of the World, ” which features Ludacris and which you can expect to hear on the radio throughout the fall—with good reason. Its wonderful throwback qualities include ’80s-style synths, energetic “ohh, whoas!” and an affirmative vibe. Throughout most of the album, T.I. understandably avoids the references to drug dealing and hooliganism that informed his earlier works. Such positivity is also exhibited on “No Matter What,” an inspirational jam in the vein of R. Kelly’s “The World’s Greatest,” and “Live Your Life,” which samples “Dragostea din tei” (you know: the “numa numa” song). The album’s second half is mostly a slog—“Porn Star” and “Slide Show” are particularly pointless—but even so, it’s clear that T.I.’s troubles with the law have been to the benefit of his art.

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