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Hova may have anointed Wayne, but T.I. just staged a coup
on September 30, 2008
Ostensibly, "Paper Trail" is a reference to T.I. taking the time to put his thoughts on paper rather than relying on spontaneity and his mental notebook for his lyrics. Having listened to the album closely I'd like to draw two additional meanings from the title, each alluding to our old friends T.I. and T.I.P. First, there is a set of songs on this album that read unmistakably like pages from a diary, songs that are deeply personal and insightful. The second "Paper Trail" is simply money, and it inspires a set of songs about the fun and the swagger that comes with fortune. On "Paper Trail," T.I. expertly walks the line between relevance and entertainment, and delivers a magnum opus.
Four tracks best illustrate the lyrical diary I gleaned from this album. Lead single "No Matter What" is a window into T.I.'s time under house arrest and is astounding in its sincerity and lyrical complexity, he raps "Even though it's heavy, the load I'll still carry it/ Grin and still bear it, win and still share it/ Apologies to the fans, I hope you can understand it/ Life can change directions, even when you ain't plan it." "Ready for Whatever" is a stunningly honest explanation of his weapons charges, "Yes officially I broke the law, but not maliciously/...Either die or go to jail, that's a heck of a decision/ But I'm wrong and I know it, my excuse is unimportant." "Slide Show" blessed by John Legend is likely the most inspirational rap track of the year, on which T.I. advises his fans, "Don't forget that impossible is nothing, your environment is irrelevant/ Just don't let your emotions, overpower your intelligence/ Refuse to give up, Your mistakes don't define you/ They don't dictate where you're headed, they remind you." "Dead and Gone" with Justin Timberlake calls on listeners to let cooler heads prevail in tense situations, "No more stress, now I'm straight/ Now I get it, now I take/ Time to think before I make mistakes, just for my family's sake." These four tracks, and additionally "Live Your Life" and "You Ain't Missing Nothin", represent T.I.'s nuanced understanding of not only rap and music, but of life itself.
T.I.P. and the financially-focused half of the album come into sharp relief on more carefree tracks including hit single "Whatever You Like." "Swing Ya Rag," which will have even the most jaded gangster on the dance floor also falls into this category as does "Every Chance I Get." One would be remiss to not mention goliath record "Swagger Like Us" featuring Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne (obligatory verse ranking: Tip, Hov', Weezy, `ye).
In sum, this album manages to cater to both listeners that are looking for a message and those looking for an escape. It is not without its problems (how "Porn Star" made the album over the leaked "Like I Do," I'll never know) but a T.I. album with a blemish outshines 99% of records today. Personally, it is my album of the year.