T.I.: Paper Trail
T.I.: Paper Trail
Consider the incarceration effect. A looming stint inside pushed Beanie Sigel to craft 2005's disarmingly candid The B. Coming, and a jail sentence didn't stop Lil Kim from releasing her instantly pleasurable The Naked Truth in 2006. Now comes T.I.'s Paper Trail, the 28-year-old born Clifford Harris' sixth album in seven years, recorded under house arrest while staring down a yearlong stretch for federal weapons charges. Paper isn't Sigel's or the Queen Bee's curve-ball breakthrough, but it's a tidy, safe, and dependable foray into unremitting pop, with all the accompanying polished hooks, phoned-in productions, and fame ennui. Gone are the personality crises of T.I. vs. T.I.P., as is King's fat-laced sneakers allegiance to hard-nosed East Coast grind; in their place are guest spots from hip-pop royalty. And Paper's six already-released singles--and a few other choice cuts from this sleek 16-track outing--will probably hang around radio until Thanksgiving.
In part that's because Missy Elliott, Ludacris, and Beyoncé don't release new albums until mid-November, but more so for Paper's platinum accessibility. Only a few front-loaded tracks--the controlled bark of "I'm Illy," the hoodie stare of "Ready for Whatever"--traffic in cold-blooded attitude. The rest floats in champagne bubbly effervescence, from the Ludacris guest on "On Top of the World" to the closing Justin Timberlake piano downer "Dead and Gone." In between, T.I. borrows Rihanna's gift for the seductive robo hook ("Live Your Life," which rides O-Zone's shop-tested "Dragostea din tei"); Pretty Ricky hitmaker Jim Jonsin (the slacker singsong sway of "Whatever You Like"); Swizz Beatz's popcorn-percolating percussion ("Swing Ya Rag"); and even MIA's recession-proof "Paper Planes" bankability for the easy-rolling "Swagga Like Us."
Kanye West produces the latter, and he, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne toss off guest spots as if passing around a cell phone in the VIP room and T.I. batting cleanup with a boastful, listless verse. The kicker is that it's an instantly catchy blast of mainstream euphoria. And that's the gift and the curse here: Paper Trail only flirts with ambition once--Danja's gospel organ levitated "No Matter What," where T.I. actually shows up lyrically--and the rest of the time it settles for delivering cotton candy. And you can eat a mile of that air-blown sugar before you get a stomachache.