T.I. – Paper Trail [Review]

At the end of summer, when I was reviewing absolute shit albums like Yung Berg’s and V.I.C.’s, I was just looking forward the album that I had been waiting for since the beginning of the year: Paper Trail, which had been announced in February on StreetCred.com. I was still hungry for more after T.I. vs. T.I.P.; it wasn’t that it was a badalbum, but I mean, when you go to a near-classic (arguably classic) and extremely popular album like King, and have undeniable classic albums like Trap Muzik, nothing can really satisfy. Now T.I. is back with his last album before he goes to jail for his gun charges for about a year. Can T.I.’s Paper Trail surpass his past work, win back all of the fans who turned their back on him, and prove that nothing has changed about him? Let’s check it out.

56 Barz
Produced by DJ Toomp
As soon as this track began, this album immediately became better than T.I. Vs. T.I.P. That was the biggest complaint last time around: where was Toomp? Well now he’s back. But as for the song, it’s straight up 56 bars in a row, no hook. The beat is raw, glad to see that Tip and Toomp are back making songs again. T.I. is noticeably MUCH more lyrical than ever, and sounds just like he did in the I’m Serious/Trap Muzik years: “I ride through the city so/Clean seat really lowAuto Mo-bile is so pretty but I’m Illie though.”, and “King like Evelyn/Champayne mayne so deranged and belligerent/Right up there with Benjamin/Who? Andre 3K, B.I.G., Jay-Z, UGK, Scarface, Makavelli, The great Wayne comma and Kanye and/Lupe so fuck what you say, you welcome to ask who you may/Bet they say as of today I’m back on top like a toupee”. Nice! Great Track.

I’m Illy
Produced by Chuck Diesel
This really should have been the first single. We had a little dispute on my last album review: I had said on Kardinal’s album that three songs were my favorite songs. Well, here we are on Paper Trail, and can say that this, and probably will be for awhile, my absolute favorite T.I. song. He jumps right on the track with: “Rebel for the hell of it/Hella rich/Never have to sell a brick again, must I tell a bitch again/The bullshit I’m addressing: check I’m on some next level shit/Never been fucked in the game: I’m celibate.” There are so many more different lyrics on this song where T.I. is crazy lyrical: It reminds of when I heard I’m Serious (T.I.’s first album), and was amazed by the lyrical strings he was putting together. Add to that, the beat is banging!! Chuck Diesel gave Tip a raw beat, and he used it for sure. My personal favorite song on the album; I just can’t stop listening to it. I’m ILLY!!!

Ready For Whatever
Produced by Drumma Boy
Drumma Boy and T.I. first hooked up on this album, and I think you’ll see the results are fantastic. I really like this song: it’s about T.I. basically saying he’s ready for whatever happens to him at this point. He also explains the situation with the weapons, and how he was thinking at the time he made his decision. T.I. has been known for his infectious hooks, and this is no exception. Drumma Boy’s beat is the thing that helps this song a lot: I feel like T.I. works well with him, and I hope they get together on some other songs later. Great song, check for this!

On Top Of The World
Featuring Ludacris & B.O.B; Produced by Nard & B
Damn: Luda and Tip made up pretty quick, didn’t they? This beat is amazing. This song is basically the banger of the album: another one of my top songs off the album. T.I. and Luda kill the beat while B.O.B. sings the hook. B.O.B.’s singing is kind of disappointing: I had heard from interviews and everything that he could rap pretty good, and instead they got him singing the hook. Not to say he isn’t good, but I was just disappointed. T.I., actually, probably made the right choice writing his stuff down, because he actually beats Ludacris in terms of lyrics this time around: “Man I remember: fore I say that/Wait let me issue this statement/No way should reflection be mistaken for glorification.” I remember when Tip would just kick almost ABC rhymes on some songs. Luda did good too, and the line of the album goes to him: “The places I’m bout to go, and the money I’m bout to see/Gave Bill Gates binoculars and told him to watch out for me.” DAMN! Bang this one!

Live Your Life
Featuring Rihanna; Produced by Just Blaze
Why wasn’t this a single?!? T.I. and Rihanna go in on this beat and blend on it so well together, I’m surprised that they hadn’t worked together before this song: no wonder a bunch of T.I./Rihanna rumors went around after the song came out. I definitely could see them together, I’m not too big of a Tiny fan; she only looks good when she wears massive amounts of makeup. But back to the song, it’s a banger and should have come out earlier to create a buzz for the album. Great.

Whatever You Like
Produced by Jim Jonsin
I remember when this song came out and I was cringing, and wasn’t too excited about Paper Trail anymore: everyone thought Tip was doing this because the Feds were watching him and it was the only thing he COULD do. Then I saw the music video and my opinion of the song changed. It’s catchy as hell, but it’s not obnoxiously so. I honestly think that it’s better than “Lollipop”, which Jim Jonsin also produced. Plus, jumping 70 spots on the Hot 100 to #1 means that someone likes it. If it’s your first time listening to it, you might hate it, but it grows on you.

No Matter What
Produced by Danja
Now when this song came out, I was too excited for the album. T.I. displays a ton of lyricism on this one: “Every obstacle, makin’ possible possible/Even when Winnin’s Illogical, Losin’s still far from optional.” Danja produced the track, and while not really anything special, he contributes well to the track. I wish he and T.I. would have done some more songs together: Danja was without a doubt the best producer on T.I. vs T.I.P., which isn’t saying much to be honest, but for a second I thought that he and T.I. would be working together more, but I’m glad Toomp is back. Overall, great song.

My Life, Your Entertainment
Featuring Usher; Produced by Drumma Boy
I was on YouTube and I heard Wendy Williams (Don’t worry: I hate her too.) asking about an Usher/T.I. collaboration, after which she insulted Usher’s wife. While that was completely uncalled for, the fact that the collabo actually happened made me laugh. As for the song, eh…? It’s alright, I don’t really listen to it that much. It’s really epic, and like over 5 minutes long. Not a skip, not filler, just personally not my thing.

Porn Star
Produced by Lil’ C
When I heard this song was on the album, I was like: “What?!?!”. Then I actually listened to it and skipped it immediately. Then I went back and listened to it again, and it’s actually not bad of a song. Like “Whatever You Like”, you have to let this one grow on you. That said, this is probably the worst song on the album, which means it’s just average.

Swing Ya Rag
Featuring & Produced by Swizz Beatz
T.I. called this “Bring ‘Em Out 2008”, and he was wrong, but it’s still a pretty big record; I’m surprised it didn’t make more of a splash on the radio. It’s a nice little song, nowhere near “Bring ‘Em Out”, but it’s like a notch below that. The thing that hurts it the most is that as a song it’s too short; only 3:18, so it’s over before you know it. I guess that leaves you wanting more? Good song.

What Up, What’s Haapnin’
Produced by Drumma Boy
This song is unbelievably hot! This is a direct diss on Shawty Lo, and T.I. kills him in it: “You so damn lame/You clique the same, just a bunch of walking shit stains.” We all knew he would, but this was ridiculous! Drumma Boy and T.I. prove that they are a powerful duo, despite this being their first album together. CERTIFIED BANGER!! But don’t watch the music video: it was REALLY low budget.

Every Chance I Get
Produced by DJ Toomp
I think Toomp really shows his worth as a producer right here: it almost feels like “What You Know Pt. 2”, but with a faster beat. T.I. kills them again with his lyrics: “I’m exceedin’ expectations, you barely meetin’ quota/I give it to ’em straight and cut it with bakin’ soda/ You say I ain’t Zone 1, nigga ha! That’s a funny one/I’m King like my three-year-old, Major like my youngest son/Got one named Demani so you know what I’m gettin…” Too hot! At the end, T.I. makes a good point: “Why nigga got to wait till a nigga got the police watchin him to start kickin’ that fuck shit??” He murders LO on this one too. Two songs back to back? Say goodbye to Shawy Lo’s career. Awesome song.

Swagga Like Us
Featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West, & Lil’ Wayne; Produced by Kanye West
The all-star cast here and the beat (we all knew “Paper Planes” was going to get sampled) makes this one a hot song for sure. I know B-Easy didn’t really like this one, but like most of the other songs on here, it grows on you, and now this is my joint! I thought I loved “Paper Planes” until I heard this. If your a fan of M.I.A., check this out. By the way, I hope Kanye raps on his new album, even if he uses the vocoder; dude was killin’ ’em!!!

Featuring John Legend; Produced by Kanye West
The last three tracks here portray a lot of emotion, and this is the first one. John Legend: well, what can I say? He’s probably one of the best singers out right now and definitely did his thing. T.I. keeps going strong with his lyrical game, and the two make a very solid track. It’s one of those reflecting solid tracks that you can just ride and chill to. Excellent beat, everything is just superb.

You Ain’t Missing Nothin’
Produced by Drumma Boy
This one is basically T.I.’s shoutout to all the people incarcerated. The beat is amazing: it starts off bare bones, but then becomes a jazz ensemble. T.I. rides it well, and is talkin’ some real shit too. He at the end speaks against all the people out there who forget about their friends and family in the jail. This a really well done track, I also think it shows how much T.I. has grown as an artist: he went from just talking about being “King of the South” to actually making a song about reaching out to those in jail. Excellent song.

Dead And Gone
Featuring Justin Timberlake; Produced by Justin Timberlake and Rob Knox
I almost forgot JT and T.I. worked together before on “My Love”. Well, this track is without a doubt the most emotional one that T.I. has ever done: think of “Live In The Sky” and “My Type” combined: the brooding beat from “My Type” and the lyrics and insight of “Live In The Sky”. T.I. is hitting us with that rapid-fire flow that he perfected over the years, and JT actually sounds…good. I don’t like saying it, but he sounds really good on this track. Basically, T.I. is saying that the old him is dead and gone. It’s also an ode to Philant Johnson, his best friend and others he’s lost. I can’t think of a better way to end an album than this; amazing job.

Bottom Line:
Was this T.I.’s best album? I might get called a dick rider for this, but yes, in my opinion this is T.I.’s best album. It reminds me of American Gangster in a way: on that album, Jay took the lyrical skill of Reasonable Doubt and 70’s Blueprint style beats and created an amazing album. Here, T.I. took his Trap Muzik style rapping and his newer sounds from King to make what I think is his best album. All of you out there worried this entire album is pop, go cop it: this album is still street, and T.I.P. definitely played a major part on this album. Whether you agree with me or not, you can’t help but admit it’s his most personal album he’s ever made: he lays it all out on the table, not hiding anything and giving us our last taste of what he can do before he goes to jail. Was this album classic? No, a few songs were average at best and could’ve used a little tweaking, but the point is that T.I. released his personal best album, and he walk away proud because of that fact. This is definitely a contender for album of the year. The King ain’t dead; he’s back.

nappyPicks: The whole album…is worth the money. You might want to listen to “Swagga Like Us”, “Whatever You Like”, and “Porn Star” a couple times before you check those out.

Download: T.I. – “I’m Illy”