With an impressive resume spanning almost two decades, American rapper T.I. has amassed a notable catalogue of work that remains as innovative and culturally relevant as it was at its release. His musical endeavours have earned T.I. Grammy Awards, and American Music Awards, as well as enabling the rapper to pursue a successful acting career in major Hollywood films. Juxtaposed against his successful career as a rapper, producer, actor and entrepreneur are numerous public feuds, scandals, and two gaol sentences. But the energy and charisma of the star translates as effectively on morning television shows as it does in his image as a gangsta rapper, and has allowed him to maintain an impressive presence on the cultural stage.
This dichotomy is perfectly expressed on T.I.’s ninth studio album, Paperwork: The Motion Picture. Featuring multiple big-name guest appearances, including collaborations with Chris Brown, Usher, Iggy Azalea, Young Thug, The Dream, Jeezy and Rick Ross, Paperwork shifts from autobiographical and creative statements about African-American life and politics, to more formulaic, radio-friendly refinements. Produced by Pharrell Williams, Paperwork opens with a bold, hard-hitting statement of T.I.’s self-proclaimed status as the ‘King of the South’. The hip-hop rhapsody quickly drops into unremarkable territory, however, with G’Shit. The track, featuring Young Jeezy, seems to disappear into obscurity as quickly as it appeared. The album’s lead single About The Money, turned out to be one of the biggest rap anthem’s of the summer, introducing the mainstream to the polarizing and eccentric Young Thug.
TIP joins the front offensive on the violence perpetuated by America’s class and racial warfare without hesitation, with the enduring track New National Anthem, featuring affecting vocals from Skylar Grey. The colossal track Oh Yeah, in which urgent percussion, intricate rhythms and a seamless gospel choir accompany T.I.’s modern tales of survival, offers an unforgettable peak before the album drops again into a somewhat forced, formulaic and unremarkable lull with the superficially lustful Private Show, unimaginative subject matter of Jet Fuel, and the ironically mediocre slick pop production of No Mediocre.
Pharrell lends his idiosyncratic doo-wop take on modern rap, and his distinctive vocals to the Paperwork’s title track and third single. With its personal storytelling, the album takes a mellowed and inspired turn for the better, continuing to imprint and impress with more autobiographical, introspective and stirring tracks like Stay and About My Issue, featuring the soulful, beautiful vocals of Victoria Monet. T.I. also offers haunting lessons in sincerity and loss with the musical eulogies On Doe On Phil and Light Em Up, honouring Grand Hustle’s fallen comrades.
Despite its misguided and often forgettable attempts at mainstream chart dominance, the infectious moments of vibrancy, creativity and honesty that T.I. creates on Paperwork keeps the versatile rapper at the centre of a cabaret featuring over ten guest artists.