T.I.: No Mercy

As is the case with 2Pac, it’s difficult to separate the ongoing crime drama/soap opera of T.I.’s life from the music he creates. So it should come as no surprise that No Mercy, the superstar’s latest post-and-pre-prison-stint album, reflects the life lessons and soul-searching that come with extended jail time at the height of a superstar’s fame. The bluesy, thoughtful, evocative “How Life Changed” traces T.I.’s current travails back through his early hustling days, “Get Back Up” marries Thriller’s sonic tenderness with a 2Pac-style message of empowerment, and on the title track, T.I. concedes that it’s prohibitively difficult, if not impossible, for the public to feel sympathy for the rich and famous. “Big Picture” and “Castle Walls” offer similarly incisive and only occasionally self-pitying commentary on the tragedy and triumph of being young, black, rich, famous, and a repeat felon. Prison has only strengthened T.I.’s penchant for introspection and homemade philosophizing, but No Mercy nevertheless suffers from an eagerness to be all things to all possible demographics. T.I. has vowed to cut down on the gun talk, but No Mercy isn’t lacking in braggadocio. The focus has just shifted from gunplay to sex. But with the exception of “That’s All She Wrote,” which boasts a vicious, exhilaratingly mean guest turn from Eminem, T.I. sounds rote and generic when his focus shifts from the big picture to his sexual prowess, money, and toughness. “My road to redemption has no GPS,” he raps on “Get Back Up.” On No Mercy, he starts off strong, but gets lost along the way. He argues that listeners should show him sympathy since the good outweighs the bad in his life, and that’s true of No Mercy as well… but not by much.

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