Marvin Gaye released what would be his only soundtrack album for the Blaxploitation flick, Trouble Man in December of 1972. Almost 40 years to the week, T.I. drops his latest work, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head which serves as a loose soundtrack to his own life. While nowhere near the heights of his previous highs, the album firmly places Mr. Harris back in the thick of his trap music competitors, something that may or may not be a good thing.
2012 finds Tip at a crossroads, cultivating a positive fatherly image with his reality TV show, yet stuck with a recording contract to be fulfilled. No matter what rehabilitation he’s done and how changed he is as a man, nobody wants to hear T.I. save the world on the mic, so back to the trap he goes. The sound on Trouble Man is much less regional and some of the ATLien in his voice is distilled for a more central tenor. There are points where his Southern drawl is emphasized but it feels like his aim here is to make his sound more universal. That effort manifests with the guests on this album.
There are some legitimate highs on Trouble Man. Most will point out the collaboration with Andre 3000, “Sorry,” which features a well-delivered and genuine apology to Big Boi for flaking out on Outkast and an admission that all the outside things attached to the music had driven him away from rap. Cee-Lo lends some soul to “Hello” is a nice change of pace away from all the gun talk and aggression and airy synth on the periphery lightens Trouble Man without softening it.
DJ Toomp injects “Who Want Some” with the classic T.I. Trap Muzik sound with 808 bottoms and horn flashes on the breaks. Vintage work that will bang anywhere. “Wonderful Life” bangs despite Akon rather than because of it and it’s a real sensitive and intelligent song, full of emotion and slow-boiling narrative that reflects the actual growth that T.I. spent so much of the album trying to convince never happened.
“The Introduction” pays homage to its lineage with a sample of Marvin’s original number with a “Trouble Man” sample and a groovy bassline. Mr. Harris makes no attempt to run from his past, instead employing his rap sheet as a caveat towards messing with him.
Meek Mill, who was once actually signed to Grand Hustle, shines on “G Season.” The problem is that while this song is something a young dude can rip, puffing out your chest and saying prison didn’t change you is not the business for someone like T.I. A.S.A.P. Rocky’s appearance on “Wilside” is a nice surprise. Low, pulsing bottoms cradle a melodic hook as Tip delivers a gripping narrative casting the trap as dystopia while Rocky hangs tough with a staccato fast track flow.
Rico Love adds some club flavor on the Lil Wayne collaboration “Ball” with an infectious beat and ass clapping rhythm. “Can You Learn,” a tribute to wife Tiny, recounts T.I.’s infamous gun arrest before the BET Awards. T.I. admits that he’d like to change but circumstances won’t allow it and while it sounds like a copout, there is something to this. The smoothed-out “The Way We Ride” is straight rider music and T.I. slow flows his way through this stunter’s anthem.
The lows come when T.I. overtly steps outside of himself for that pop lane or fan expansion. “Cruisin’” finds T.I. doing his best Drake/Kirko Bangz imitation with the half-croon flow. L. “Addresses” is T.I. doing his best impression of Meek Mill…but with an inside voice.
“Hallelujah” recalls T.I.’s time in prison and his struggle to return from his lows. He fears that evil will remove everything that he has built but maintains faith in God, drawing connection with Jonah and Lazarus and other Biblical figures when sharing his troubles. Sounds good but after an album of trapping and no tacit acknowledgement on his own culpability, it rings hollow. Sonically it’s also a downer on a generally high energy album.
Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head is a good album but there is something subtle missing. Tip has mentally moved on from Hip-Hop and its subtle but the fire that made him one of the best rappers out isn’t there. His mentality, as shown on his TV show is far beyond most of this album, but he’s stuck thematically because he’s the king of the trap. Heavy is the head indeed.
3.75 Out of 5
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