If there’s any argument I get into over and over again with DJBooth Nation, it’s over who has the best beard in rap (how could you not go Freeway?!?). But if there’s another argument I get into over and over, it’s the importance of context when listening to music. Should we consider only the notes pulsing through our headphones, or the whole life of the artist, in all its glories and faults? Of course I think it’s impossible to listen to music in a vacuum, and I’m right. Music exists in the world, as part … ...Read the full album review
DJBooth Album Review
If there’s any argument I get into over and over again with DJBooth Nation, it’s over who has the best beard in rap (how could you not go Freeway?!?). But if there’s another argument I get into over and over, it’s the importance of context when listening to music. Should we consider only the notes pulsing through our headphones, or the whole life of the artist, in all its glories and faults? Of course I think it’s impossible to listen to music in a vacuum, and I’m right. Music exists in the world, as part of the world, and you can’t separate an album from the circumstances it was created in any more than you can separate the link between a parent and a child. Case in point; T.I.’s new album, No Mercy. To listen to No Mercy without taking into account the extraordinary situation that shaped it would be to quote Kanye, f**king ridiculous. After all, if context didn’t matter, we’d be listening to King Uncaged - the album’s original, now painfully ironic title.
The last time we were discussing Clifford Harris, the pressure of an impending jail sentence created the diamond that was Paper Trail. This time around, unfortunately, Tip’s return to confinement has yielded far more uneven results. Over the last few months we’ve watched No Mercy change more times than Lil Kim’s face, with songs being added and subtracted from the final tracklist on a seemingly daily basis. And then yet another arrest, and an eleven month sentence, forced the album into our hands with some very high highs, and what must be said are some disappointingly low lows. If T.I. had all the time he needed I think we’d be looking at a classic album, but that’s the thing about context. “If” can be everything.
If all you ever listened to was the album’s first track, Welcome to the World, you have to assume it was five-spin candidate. Featuring both a verse and an absurdly head-nodding beat from Kanye, Welcome to the World is essentially a Good Friday track featuring T.I. absolutely going off, switching up his flow with a stuttered affect that absolutely kills. Y’all know I’m not one to engage in hyperbole, so you can trust me when I say that, Dark Twisted Fantasy aside, Welcome to the World is one of the best opening songs I’ve heard in a minute. While I don’t know if No Mercy ever gets quite that good again, the album has no shortage of similar dopeness, from the deeply autobiographical How Life Changed to the instant hip-hop history making All She Wrote, which finds Tip and Eminem going head to head over a hypnotic beat. One listen and it’s instantly clear that when these other rappers say they have swag, they really mean they’re copying T.I.
Now onto those aforementioned lows. I keep reloading No Mercy hoping that Amazing will no longer appear on the tracklist, but so far, no luck. On the surface I should be putting a Neptunes and T.I. record on repeat, but Amazing is such a disorganized mess, with a minimalist beat that might be fine by lesser standards and an aggravating hook from Pharrell, that it’s frankly hard to believe it made it onto the album. And considering Rocko holds the unique distinction of having one of the lowest rated albums in hip-hip history, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was mystified by his inclusion on the otherwise knocking I Can’t Help It. Really Clifford? You could have any rapper in the world go in over this beat, and you went with Rocko? Really? And the embarrassingly basic Lay Me Down, featuring some heavily Lose Control influenced production from the usually stellar Jim Jonsin? I don’t think I even have to say it. In the grand scheme these are speed bumps in the usually fast flowing highway that is No Mercy, but great albums don’t contain mistakes like this. They just don’t.
But why concentrate on the negatives, especially since we are missing the services of the King of the South? While I don’t think there’s another radio smash on the order of Live Your Life, both the Drake-assisted Poppin Bottles and the genre-melding Castle Walls have some serious hit potential, and when T.I.’s truly on, as he is on the soulfully charged Salute, he’s as good as ever. Let’s just hope that this is the time he really really changes his life. More than three years after he was arrested on weapons charges, we could all use a change of context when it comes to T.I.
Listen to More: T.I. Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"What You Know" (2006)
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