T.I. has nothing left to prove. With a lengthy resume that notes his Grammy Awards, acting roles in Hollywood movies and his being a key figure in pioneering the now-ubiquitous, unmistakable low knocks and catchy TR-808 drum machine triplets of trap music, this Atlantian has maintained a presence in hip-hop for over a decade. Of course, to just list Tip's career highlights would only be telling half the story; he's been in jail a few times, and he's been in tabloids for beefs and scandals of all shapes. T.I.'s duality as the handsome, morning-talk-show-guest-slash-gangsta-rapper-with-trap-ties has definitely been a reason for his continued relevance.
On his ninth studio album, Paperwork: The Motion Picture, T.I. recruits longtime fan, collaborator and fellow labelmate Pharrell Williams as executive producer. The album, which is apparently part one of a trilogy of releases, is a radio-friendly refinement of T.I.'s ability to talk street tales, politick on current black American life and sex preferences over a variety of southern-style production cues. Peppered with features from Jeezy, Pharrell himself, Chris Brown, (Lil') Boosie Badazz, The-Dream and more, T.I. drafted some real starpower to help supercharge this project.
Paperwork's first single, "About The Money," which dropped back in June, contained the most mainstream introductions yet to the original and polarizing ATLien Young Thug, and it was one of this summer's best rap anthems. The second single, the patio-minded, steel drum snap, DJ Mustard-produced "No Mediocre" featured Tip's popular protégé Iggy Azalea in the cut, and was also part of this summer's soundtrack. The third single, Paperwork's title track, features Pharrell's interpretation of a modern rap doo-wop. It's an interesting left turn, with a catchy bounce that might even sneak T.I. into a department store's soundtrack (again).
Other highlights include "About My Issue," featuring excellent, introspective trade-offs between Nipsey Hustle and Tip, and the closer "Let Your Heart Go (Break My Soul)," which pleasantly closes out the album thanks to The-Dream's tight, experimental (at least for radio rap) production cues.
Despite the two massive summer hits, what holds Paperwork: The Motion Picture back is its very obvious approach to the mainstream rap release formula — it all just feels so calculated. Naturally, the big highlight is the Young Thug feature, which, for a single, is full of curveballs and originality. Perhaps that track was a lucky strike, because it outshines the album's other attempts to package fresh ideas into a radio-friendly format.
However, Paperwork: The Motion Picture is not a bad album by any stretch. The production is top notch, Tip is rapping tighter than ever, and clearly knows who and what to work with, but the rare glimmers of originality and risk only further exposes the safeness of this Pharrell-tweaked new T.I. album. (Grand Hustle/Columbia)