Music, like any artform, is only digested fully with time. The best forms of the art have many layers to peel back and one can’t truly get the full experience from one listen, but an impression most certainly can be left. Some even say the first impression is the purest so, with our First Impression segments, we’ll be tackling new music from all over, describing what we get from the artist’s work, and expressing immediate stand outs from each work.
Next we tackle Paperwork, the ninth studio album from Atlanta’s own T.I. Say what you will about the man enabling Iggy Azalea, he’s remained relevant in mainstream Hip Hop for a long time. Quality of albums has fluctuated greatly since Paper Trail and Paperwork hopes to continue a positive trend that Trouble Man began after the travesty that was No Mercy. Check it out as the Knights of the Turntable/Koalition team shares their thoughts, along with guest Rakeem from Weightinwords.com
R.I.P. T.I. Long live Clifford Harris.
To say my expectations were low for the artist formerly known as T.I.P. with Paperwork – The Motion Picture, his first studio album on Columbia Records (ninth solo overall) would be an understatement. Not one single released, from the catchy “About The Money” predictably featuring hip hop’s trendy Mr. Bojangles, Young Thug, to getting washed by label signee Iggy Azalea on the otherwise laughably pop abomination “No Mediocre”, Harris continued to lose weight, suffering from Larry Holmes Syndrome.
Paperwork stands as a microcosm of the flux T.I. has been in musically since he was captured and arrested on federal weapons charges. As an artist, growth is the goal, but while maintaining a sense of self. T.I. rhyming on the plights facing blacks on American soil is a nice, sentimental touch; a double-time flow over a tribal instrumental with Skylar Grey on chorus duties is not. The dual set “On Doe, On Phil” and “Light Em Up”, in dedication to fallen comrade Doe B, are reflective notes on the consequences of the lifestyle trappers turned rappers attempt to leave behind in pursuit of greater heights. Even the bonus cut “I Don’t Know”, which features a contemplative T.I. musing on his family, his actions in the streets and the lasting effects on them.
The aforementioned records is the type of music I would expect from an artist in T.I.’s predicament. Tip has been far removed from the trap for years, but Paperwork only emphasizes the restricted, more reserved T.I., handcuffed by his turbulent past. Once proclaimed the “Jay-Z of the South”, T.I. finds himself following in Jay-Z’s footsteps of the next artist to maintain his longevity off the back of. Fifteen songs on the standard version (eighteen on the deluxe) and only one track (with an additional bonus cut) amongst the collective features the man of the hour alone. With the foundation of the album being handled by producers Pharrell and longtime collaborator DJ Toomp, Paperwork has its peaks and valleys as T.I. struggles with what persona he will adopt towards the twilight of his career.
Favorite Track(s): “About My Issue”, “I Don’t Know”, “King”, “Light Em Up”, “On Doe, On Phil”
Paperwork suffers from a lazy T.I. who seems to be attempting an unsuccessful assimilation into the new generation of hip-hop. “King”, the first song on the album is the only example of classic T.I. and doesn’t even reach its full potential. After this point the album never truly flourishes into what fans of T.I. have come to know and love. While radio singles “No Mediocre” and “About The Money” show his attempts at propelling the project forward, integral pieces such as the title track, Paperwork completely fall flat and are generally disappointing.
While making more blatant attempts at storytelling, it is clear T.I. has not mastered this art. Making the assertion that collaborating with popular artists would ensure success failed on this project and even veterans like Usher feel underutilized and poorly incorporated. This is not the T.I. that went multi platinum, and honestly with this demonstration I’m not convinced that he believed in this album.
Favorite Track(s): N/A
T.I. surprised a lot of people at the end of 2012 with Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head. After the disappointment that was No Mercy mixed with legal issues it was up in the air how a new T.I. project would sound but it worked. Two years later it was time for new music and Tip came out of the gates with “About The Money”, featuring an assist from the hottest commodity in music right now that is Young Thug. The lead single showed a lot of promise but the follow up with Grand Hustle signee Iggy Azalea basically put him back at square one.
The thing that bothers me about Paperwork is the features. There are three songs that are just T.I. That’s it. The album feels like T.I. is trying to capture all of the high points from all of his previous albums. It feels like he’s the old guy at the basketball court who has to put on Bengay after the game and recounts stories to you while taking a breather. “Paperwork” is really good though, mainly from the aspects that Pharrell delivers and there are a couple of tracks after that which are amazing. It feels front loaded with the mediocre songs and back loaded with the good ones. “At Ya’ Own Risk” is definitely a knockoff of ScHoolboy Q’s “Studio”. Also, there are a LOT of songs that deal with the memory of lost ones. That seems odd to spread those out. Final verdict? T.I. isn’t done quite yet but the sun is definitely starting to set on him as a rapper.
Favorite Track(s): “About The Money”, “About My Issue”
Another round of First Impressions, another series of thoughts touching on various points of the scale. Share your own First Impressions in the comments below!