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Paper Trail

House-arrested rapper defends his realm

Rating: 7 / 10

Kilian Murphy, 22 Oct 2008

T.I. recorded this album while under house arrest, and will spend one year in jail for weapons offences in the near future. Unpleasant circumstances in which to make music, certainly, but on Paper Trail, the rapper’s current plight frequently adds to the intensity of his performance. Indeed, the tracks on which he most directly references his pending prison term are among the LP’s finest.

T.I. takes a defiant approach to his situation on ‘Ready For Whatever’, a song that’s macho-yet-melancholic in a fashion reminiscent of peak-period Tupac. He asserts that his possession of weaponry was necessary, for his own safety and that of his loved ones, but expresses a willingness to accept the consequences of his actions.

The Southern rapper assumes a more philosophical stance on lush, jazz-inflected ballad ‘You Ain’t Missin’ Nothing’ – the album’s penultimate track. He suggests his upcoming prison stay will be relatively easy compared to that of a friend who is serving life for “a murder he committed in self-defence” (a lyric line that is either knowingly sarcastic or misguidedly oxymoronic).

A touch of bitterness creeps in on ‘My Life Your Entertainment’, during which T.I. states: “You’re waitin’ for me to lose it/I guess I’m just here for your amusement” – a fair cop, perhaps, but he seems more than happy to indulge his listeners’ rabid appetite for the sordid little details of his current predicament on the remainder of the record.

The album also contains several tracks which thrill on a purely musical level, and would pique the listener’s interest regardless of their creator’s current soap opera. ‘I’m Illy’ mashes up a host of disparate sonic elements – a sampled and distorted vocal chant, popping rhythms, rich brass and raindrop strings – to form a decidedly out-of-sync yet undeniably intoxicating whole. On ‘Swagga Like Us’, producer Kanye West delivers a dark, militaristic drum roll pleasingly akin to his own ‘Jesus Walks’.

Much of Paper Trail’s remainder is hindered by T.I.’s eagerness to cover numerous sonic bases – a habit that’s particularly unwelcome on a record that should have been a sharp, focussed snapshot of its creator’s troubled mindset – but, for the most part, this is an intriguing, complex piece of work.

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