Note: The album was written and recorded while T.I. was under house arrest for trying to buy illegal weapons. His conviction and imminent jail time factor heavily into the final product on Paper Trail.
Also Note: The album’s title refers to the fact that the veteran Southern rapper wrote down his lyrics on paper for the first time since his 2001 debut.
Sound: A healthy dose of anthemic, synth-laced beats and smooth baller rhymes, but T.I. branches out in several new directions here. He’s usually pretty laid back in his flow, but on Paper Trail, he can get pretty excitable and emotional as he contemplates time behind bars and explains why he needed to buy guns for protection. He also moves in a decidedly pop/r&b direction on several occasions – highlighted by sing-songy, melodic raps and hook-filled collaborations with superstars like Rihanna, Usher, Justin Timberlake and John Legend.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “My Life Your Entertainment” featuring Usher (Top 20 Songs of 2008 Candidate); “Ready For Whatever”; “I’m Illy”; “Live Your Life” featuring Rihanna
Medium Rotation tracks: “Whatever You Like”; “Porn Star”; “Slide Show” featuring John Legend; “Dead and Gone” featuring Justin Timberlake; “On Top of the World” featuring Ludacris and B.O.B.; “Swagga Like Us” featuring Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne; “Swing Ya Rag” featuring Swizz Beatz; “Every Chance I Get”
Recommended: Since breaking through in 2003 with the excellent Trap Muzik, T.I.’s only slightly modified his formula from album to album, while cranking out hit after hit and ruling the charts. But with Paper Trail, he really branches out in subject matter and demonstrates a new urgency. It’s the strongest album of his career and, interestingly, the most mainstream-friendly.
Grade: A (Top 20 Albums of 2008 Candidate)