Always relevant Southern rapper T.I. (Clifford Harris Jr.) reiterates his position in the rap game with his ninth studio album. Between serving jail time, having a reality show and keeping up with his absurd amount of offspring, it’s a wonder Harris can still find time to make music with substantial quality. And yet T.I. miraculously continues to hold his own with the first of a trilogy Paperwork.
Paperwork’s first track is pretentiously titled “King” but with its fast-spirted and intense lyrical execution there’s no denying that the title is deserved. The first couple songs follow this ostentatious theme, including the single “About the Money” featuring the frenzied jargon of Young Thug. Even with the obvious mainstream appeal, T.I. doesn’t lose his luster or appear out of his element.
Fortunately, these cocky tracks are not the precursor to a power trip disguised as an album. Paperwork is filled with encouraging messages, inspirational stories and political activism with direct references to Ferguson. In the single “New National Anthem” featuring American singer-songwriter Skylar Gray, T.I. sounds more like a black youth philanthropist than a rapper as he encourages the struggling to help themselves instead of depending on a system designed for them to fail. A number of songs on Paperwork are about ditching the hood life and embracing the good life. It’s always entertaining to watch an artist’s style evolve alongside its creator. In “Let Your Heart Go (Break My Soul)”, T.I reflects on the negative impact of selling drugs to make a living, rapping “Back in the day how silly I seemed \ Selling cocaine, when really my dream \ Could get my family farther than anyone seen”.
T.I.’s dream continues to flourish with help from producers Pharrell, The Beat Bully, DJ Mustard, The-Dream, London on da Track, and several other notable hip hop producers. Pharrell contributes vocally on three different tracks, though he didn’t have to utter a single word with his distinguished beats and production style. The album-titled track “Paperwork” produced by and featuring Pharrell sounds like it could have easily made it onto G I R L with its mellow drumset, soft organ notes and stately brass instruments at each build-up.
Many of the refined, sophisticated songs on Paperwork are backed by Pharrell whereas the ratchet records are attributed to the record producers that are responsible for most of the radio edits that fit the ratchet profile. “No Mediocre” produced by DJ Mustard is a club banger with an ironically mediocre feature from Iggy Azalea. A more notable female feature would be soulful singer Victoria Monet. Featured on a couple of the slower songs, Monet’s incredible set of pipes prevents these relaxed records from feeling sluggish.
A pleasant mixture of rough rap and soft R&B, Paperwork is a magnet for mainstream sound. Without losing his thuggish image, T.I. appeals to a broader crowd. In “At Your Own Risk”, T.I. turns spaceship sounds into a lusty turn up track utilizing Usher’s timeless sex appeal for the chorus but keeps it classy with Victoria Monet in “About My Issue”. TIP slows it way down in “Let Your Heart Go” with help from The-Dream then speeds things up in “On Doe, On Phil” featuring fellow Hustle Gang member Trae Tha Truth. The diversity of the album moves it along swiftly from the snare-savvy “Sugar Cane” to the silky smooth “Stay”. Not to mention all the flashy singles, sentimental love songs and wise rhymes that fall in between. 18 tracks deep, Paperwork plays faster than a lot of rap albums with half as many tracks. If this is only the beginning of a trilogy, The Return has some big shoes to fill.