Study Break: T.I.’s ‘Paperwork’ album review

“T.I. by Carla” by Carla from Atlanta, Georgia, via Flickr

In the track “New National Anthem,” T.I. says “America, you’ve created a monster that’s refused to be ignored.”

It’s the beginning of a lengthy rant about the struggle to overcome racial prejudice that affects most Americans daily, for which he uses himself as a metaphor.

He’s as capable of discussing the polarizing topic as anybody, and if he believes he can raise awareness by bringing it up in a song, more power to him. The problem is that the same metaphor applies to his career.

T.I. hasn’t exactly been relevant since 2003’s “Trap Muzik,” his sophomore album that helped spark Atlanta’s hip-hop explosion and became a Southern classic, along with Ludacris’ “Word of Mouf.”

He’s made great music since then, but always seems to be doing just enough not to be ignored. Whether it’s just good enough or just bad enough is up for debate.

It’s obvious that 2008’s “Paper Trail” is the blueprint for “Paperwork,” and the “Rubber Band Man” himself has said that he didn’t want to just call it “Paper Trail 2,” so he cut and pasted one of the words.

While it is completely understandable that he’d attempt to copy the career-high success of the former, only including one track that doesn’t feature another artist isn’t the best way to do it.

Hiring Pharrell Williams as the executive producer is, though. Unsurprisingly, each track is well thought-out and fresh; the man responsible for “Blurred Lines” and “Happy” knows how to make hit songs.

T.I.’s flow just isn’t always interesting or meaningful.

He means well on “New National Anthem,” but he taps further into his inner Pitbull rather than his inner Tupac. He even gets overshadowed by the up-and-coming Iggy Azalea in the lead single, “No Mediocre,” in which T.I. absolutely is.

It’s difficult to know if this excessive collaboration is sign of credibility or just a busy, jumbled mess. As usual with T.I., it’s a really fine line.

Trevor Whitney can be reached at [email protected] or @nicegrandmas on Twitter.