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Review

Rapper heads in a new soulful direction with ‘Paper Trail’

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October 23, 2008

My name is Andrew Phelps, and I am currently the chief copy editor of the Student Voice. Avid readers may also recognize me as the author of several completely average and underwhelming news stories that have appeared in the paper this fall.

This week, I will be filling in for Erik Wood. Hopefully this will come as a relief to those who wish to read a review of a band/artist they have actually heard of before.

I must admit I have always been a closet fan of T.I. The Georgia rapper has always been able to combine his extravagant swagger with a trademark syrupy, southern drawl into perfect singles that are saturated with unabashed and unapologetic boasts. However, “Paper Trail,” his latest effort, shows the rapper move in a completely new direction.  Absent are the constant references to drugs and guns. They are replaced with a more inspirational and introspective final product. I am disappointed with this new direction.

T.I. (Clifford Harris Jr.), grew up in a Georgia ghetto, was selling crack by the age of 12 and was lucky enough to live to record raps chronicling his life on the streets.  While he was riding high at the top of the charts, he was busted for possession of multiple machine guns. Since then, Harris has spent over 500 hours of community service time educating kids about values.

“I’ve made enough mistakes for all of you,” he told an Atlanta audience. Noble it may be, but it only serves to dull the street cred that provided the backbone for all his previous albums.

It’s pathetic to watch the self-proclaimed “King of the South” replace his realistic recounts of street life with nauseatingly devotional homages, which are, unfortunately, all that “Whatever You Like” boils down to. Equally unremarkable is the single “No Matter What,” which despite its rebellious tone, offers little in terms of substance and quickly fades from memory.

The album does offer glimpses of vintage T.I. The bouncy “Swing Ya Rag” echoes with smooth, carefree attitude. “I’m boppin’ while I’m walkin’ rag fallin’ out my pocket / If big money ain’t the topic, homie, I ain’t even talkin’,” he brags.

Tracks like this make it clear Harris’ brilliant cadence and easy flow will never abandon him. Perhaps the best track on the album is “Swagga Like Us,” featuring Kanye, Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne, where T.I. lets everyone know “All my verses picture perfect only spit to serve a purpose / You ain’t living what you kickin’ and you’re worthless.”

All throughout “Paper Trail,” the hooks are a little less catchy and the “matured” T.I. is significantly less fun. Overall, Harris comes across as a lame, emasculated shadow of the southern king he once was.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.