T.I.: Paper Trail

B+

T.I.

Album: Paper Trail
Label: Atlantic

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For T.I., it is the best of times and it is the worst of times. Just when it appeared that nothing could stop the Atlanta rapper's relentless rise to the top, T.I. was busted for possessing unlicensed machine guns. The arrest, made just hours before a scheduled performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, only strengthened the rapper's street cred and increased anticipation for Paper Trail, his sixth album. T.I.'s legal woes cast a long shadow over the disc: The tellingly named "Ready For Whatever" is less a song than a musical guilty plea. The Danja-produced "No Matter What" encapsulates the disc's mood and attitude: defiant in the face of adversity, proud and nakedly emotional yet devoid of whining. T.I. is looking for empathy not pity. Elsewhere, T.I. allows listeners to feel his joy as well as his pain. The infectious pop single "Whatever You Like" plays up the almost feminine softness in T.I.'s voice as he promises to finance a decadent shopping spree, while "On Top Of The World" finds T.I joining forces with former foe Ludacris for a chest-beating Southern anthem. After a killer first half, Paper Trail starts to falter. T.I.'s anguished, heart-on-the-sleeve introspection starts to feel a little rote, but he rebounds with "Swagga Like Us," a star-studded collaboration with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z. A welcome return to form after the underwhelming, muddled concept album T.I. Vs. T.I.P., Trail is an uneven but oft-invigorating combination of velvet and grit, angst and celebration.

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