Paper Trail

Title: Paper Trail
Artist: T.I.
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic
Catalog No.: 512267-2
Release date: September 30, 2008

T.I. was arrested in October 2007 on federal gun charges, and after posting a three-million dollar bond, was ordered to remain on home detention. Always prolific and eager for attention, he released Youtube statements to his fans from home, kept up with his charity work, and began writing Paper Trail in earnest. The title is literal, as well, reflecting a creative process shaped by pensive isolation. In an interview with Rolling Stone, T.I. explained that, like his first album I’m Serious (2001), he was writing Paper Trail‘s lyrics on paper, by hand.

None of this is insinuating that the new record is in any significant way a departure from the bold, swaggering Southern style that the Atlanta-based rapper has solidified over the past several years. On “Ready for Whatever,” he briefly mentions his plight, and reassures listeners that he’s not going anywhere: “I had straps in my ride/Gotta go to prison/You waitin’ for me to die/You gonna be waitin’ for a minute.” Culminating with his platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated album King (2006), T.I. staked a claim for himself as being on par with the current pantheon of rap superstars. This is evidenced by Paper Trail‘s closing track, “Swagga Like Us,” which features verses by Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. West also produced the track, which samples rapper M.I.A.’s hit “Paper Planes” in the hook.

Where T.I.’s last record, T.I. vs TIP (2007)-split into two halves demarcating the rapper’s split personality-was scatterbrained egocentrism, Paper Trail marks a return to straightforward party rap. The opening track on the DJ Toomp-produced “56 Bars” signals as much, with T.I. suggesting that “They been waitin’ on this shit since ‘What You Know,’ huh?,” a backward glance to the Toomp-produced smash single from King. Few singles released this year have been as successful as “Whatever You Like.” The synthesizer-laden R&B-styled singalong has made three separate trips to the Number One spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart since its release on September 6.

More than anything, Paper Trail is a pop record, already well on its way to platinum status and featuring guest appearances from some of popular music’s most bankable performers. Rihanna lends a digitally-altered R&B yodel to “Live Your Life,” Usher contributes the hook to “My Life Your Entertainment,” which addresses the “price of fame,” and bonus tracks feature Justin Timberlake and John Legend. T.I. may be suffering through some significant self-inflicted troubles right now, but like a good performer, he’s able to integrate his non-musical personality into his art on Paper Trail. His self-reflexivity in relation to his peers is perhaps best expressed on “Swagga Like Us”: “You go see Weezy for the wordplay, Jeezy for the birdplay, Kan-yeezy for diversity and me for controversy.”

Posted by Eric Harvey

“Whatever You Like” music video, courtesy of