There’s nothing more beautifully unpredictable than hip-hop slang. It seems like every few months a new word suddenly grips hip-hop, becomes quickly and predictably played out, then slowly disappears (anyone remember “bling”?). Lately the hot word dripping off every rapper’s tongue is “swagger” - or the closely related “swag” - but just what is swagger? Like sexiness, swagger can’t be easily defined, but I can tell you two things: One, as much as some folks try, true swagger can’t be bought. Two, T.I. is the godfather of swagger. Not only can T.I., who probably weighs …
DJBooth Album Review
Nothing kills pure swagger quicker than complacency, so if there’s a bright side to T.I. being arrested with enough firearms to invade Iraq and his subsequent extended house arrest, it’s that all the struggle has kept T.I. as driven as he was before the fame and fortune. The result of all this pent-up southern swagger is T.I.’s latest effort Paper Trail, an album that may not be the King’s best but is easily a worthy addition to his now legendary catalog.
Let’s cut right to the chase and start with Swagga Like Us, the new single that brings on Kanye, Hova and Weezy for an epically sized but mildly disappointing swagger anthem. It’s certainly not the production’s fault, the sample of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes in the chorus and the militarily marching beat is dope, but this is far from Jay’s best verse, and I’m officially instituting an Auto-Tune Tax after Kanye and Wayne inexplicably use the T-Pain tool in their robotic contributions. Fittingly, T.I.’s lyrically astute flow is the best of the bunch, undeniably proving once again that he belongs among hip-hop’s best. Things aren’t so clear cut on On Top Of Tha World, an ode to his hometown Atlanta that brings on Luda for a certified banger. I could spend my time expounding on how ridiculously terrible On Top’s chorus is, but I’d rather focus on the positive: T.I.’s extraordinary ability to be simultaneously street hard and intelligently introspective is on full display here, plus Ludacris absolutely kills it. Is there a more consistent rapper in the game than Luda? Like Swagga and On Top, Paper Trails is an album full of unflinching swagger that hits hard but also occasionally stumbles.
Speaking of disappointment, T.I. knows all the ladies (and radio DJs) out there would be heartbroken if he didn’t drop a few tracks along the lines of Why You Wanna. Enter Whatever You Like, the latest addition to the “girl I’m rich so you should f**k me” family of singles. T.I. knows how to adjust his swagger from the streets to the bedroom and his lines drip with sex on Whatever, slowing down his flow to give his female fans plenty of time to daydreaming about T.I. swooping them up and taking them on a private jet ride. Equally guaranteed to attract radio attention is Live Your Life, a Just Blaze track that pulses with energy, T.I.’s unshakably quality lines and another soaring Rihanna chorus (who’s also going to have to pay my Auto-Tune Tax). While Paper Trail is unlikely to move units the way King did, thanks to tracks like Whatever, Livin and the club-ready Swing Ya Rag it should see it’s fair share of commercial success.
More than swagger filled frenzies or radio ready singles, Paper Trails is ultimately a testament to T.I.’s hard fought life, an album that at times feels like musical therapy. I’m Ready For Whatever is an unflinching exploration of the mindset that lead to his arrest: “If your life was in jeopardy, every day is you telling me, that you wouldn’t need weaponry?” It’s a damn good point, and undoubtedly the same one he made to the judge. Similarly, What’s Up What’s Happening addresses his Shawty-Lo hater beef head on, and My Life Your Entertainment gives a fresh look at the public vs. private T.I. dilemma he explored on his last album. While other rappers blow up and lose the edge that first made them popular, T.I. has stayed dagger sharp, remaining one of the most captivating rappers in the game. Paper Trail once again proves that the only thing that could possibly take away T.I.’s crown away is a felony record and a prison sentence.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 09/28/08
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