T.I.’s blend of street, charm, delivery and Southern flavor took Trap-Hop to the Grammies and beyond. At the height of his power, he released Paper Trail, featuring the song “Swagger Like Us” where T.I. manhandled Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Since then, his career has been interrupted with legal issues and the erosion of what made T.I.’s brand: street authenticity. His new album, No Mercy is an album that attempts to bring him back with the help of numerous guests and hot producers.
“Welcome to the World” features Kanye and Kid Cudi. It begins with hollow tough talk from newlywed T.I. talking about guns and giving groupies dick (but no paper). Kanye kills haters and Illuminati rumors with one swing while Cudi kills the hook. Scarface adds weight to the organ-fueled, bass-infused “How Life Changed,” while T.I. recalls his pack pushing days, comparing them to the present high life.
“Get Back Up” features Chris Brown, perhaps hoping to feed off his new found energy. Tip equates success with championships and how people surround the crown but bounce when you’re down. Tip drops an apology to his fans that have been down this road with him before, claiming it’s the last time.
The more traditional Trap Rap appears with Rocko riding shotgun on “I Can’t Help It,” with busy synth that detracts from the lows. Tip’s rapid-fire flow can’t save this track. He’s trill and you ain’t, hoes are on his dick, and Atlanta needs him. That theme appears throughout the balance of the album.
Song-saver of the moment, Eminem, drops by on “That’s All She Wrote.” Eminem outshines Tip but not by much. His verse is littered with corn, including the closing line “why would I buy you a gay ass teddy bear, you was already bipolar.” One wonders how Eminem can keep going after gays but not suffer the wrath visited on the reggae dudes, but I digress.
The-Dream and Tricky Stewart are employed on the title track with pianos that build to a rugged rhythm flavored by electric guitars. T.I. casts himself as “Jesus’ youngest disciple,” merely trapping to put food in bellies, and out to save the poor kids that the school system is failing. He’s the “second coming of ‘Pac,” and it will “fuck up the world like Lady Di that day he die.” Poor Tip, nobody cares because he’s rich.
“Big Picture” reunites T.I. with producer DJ Toomp. Another grand beat from Toomp, but an underwhelming ego-driven verse from Tip. “If you think I’m fronting find a mountain and take a hike” and “You don’t gotta be sneezing for me to bless you” are just two examples of lazy lyrics from this song. “Strip” feat. Trey Songz and Young Dro is unlistenable unless there is a pole in front of you, ass in one hand and booze in the other. The Jake One-produced “Salute” is T.I.’s attempt to take it back to the boom bap with solid but unspectacular results. The Pharrell-produced “Amazing” is surprisingly weak with repetitive and off-putting hook work.
Danja does his best Mannie Fresh impression on the bounce-driven “Everything on Me.” Tip thankfully takes a backseat to the beat on this track (“she said I got a ding dong like King Kong”) allowing Danja to do the heavy lifting. Drake stops by on “Poppin’ Bottles” but is unable to recreate that “Fancy” magic. The T-Minus production is heavy with menacing bottoms, club synth and snare drums. Drizzy steps away from his overdone Young Money flow for a nice change of pace but this track is screaming for Weezy.
“Lay Me Down” is another strip club anthem featuring Rico Love. Its thump-clap, hard drums and snares are tailor-made pole music. The album closes with the Alex Da,d-produced, Christina Aguilera-sung “Castle Wall.” a track clearly put together to make us feel sorry for the deposed “Kaaang.” It fails because once again T.I. never takes complicity in the matters that have befallen him.
No Mercy isn’t worthless, but it is a far cry from his best work. It is bereft of that Southern swagger and devoid of authenticity, leaving him little ground to hold. T.I. attempts to open up without taking responsibility for anything and the overarching sense of entitlement that is galling. If he was looking for this album to put him back on top, he was wrong.
out of 5
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