The most entertaining line to me during Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head is “Hate to turn your TV on e’y week and see my family hustle.” It succinctly captures just how business-minded T.I. truly is. No matter what life seems to have in store for him, slingin’ in his youth, numerous jail terms or a reality show, he’s ready to take it to task and wrench out every dime and nickel that may lie within. This is, of course, the man who let Kanye West drop a line about him going to prison on No Mercy — an album he made specifically before going to prison.
Needless to say, Trouble Man is a sweet piece of work. Don’t get me wrong now, it’s nothing special, but the King of the South spends the entirety of the album’s hour reminding listeners of why he got hot in the first place: his slithering, rolling flow, a Bankhead-tinged delivery that evokes old Cadillacs and summer cookouts, and his Nas-esque knack of retroactively living in the past. Any guy with a lick of sense knows that T.I. hasn’t sold coca for years (although he still loves the allure and the guns, erm) but his ability to slip back into that era with startling clarity is a sound for ears sore by the lethargic tales of other less perceptive rappers.
T.I.’s also unparalleled in riding a trap beat. Being that he at least brought the slang term into the pop culture consciousness, it seems obvious; but it only takes one listen of “G Season,” which has the Atlanta rapper featuring the loud-mouthed and noted trapper Meek Mill to see who can truly “merk” the beat. While they both have a heavy love for bleeding the consonance out of their lyrics (“Gol’ pla’s on ma Asto’ Marry bish I’m ballin’!”) and bragging ad nauseum, no amount of youthful aggression can overcome a matured swagger.
Equally, A$AP Rocky drops a decent verse on his respective track, but his lack of creating even the semblance of narrative has held him back. Naturally, the only rapper to honestly outdo T.I. happens to be Andre 3000, the person trying his hardest not to rap anymore. Seriously though, how can this dude rap, then sing, then rap AGAIN, and then harmonize with himself D’Angelo-style simply for a featured verse?
3Stack’s level of overflowing artistry is in fact the major gripe that can mar Trouble Man: it lacks that. As I said before, the album’s solid, and for the most part just assures his core fans that his tenure behind bars sapped him of not one drop of hip hop potential — if the hot features on “Big Beast,” “In The A,” and his mixtape F*ck Da City Up weren’t enough to make that message clear — but he doesn’t get make any ripples in the stream that he hadn’t done on his previous albums.
He does resort to some self-reflective sports like on “Hallelujah,” but other than the fact that he has Akon on his album in a time when Akon ain’t hot, this is cut-and-dry T.I., from the poppy, infectious hooks, the radio-ready beats and the deviant rhymes. (And more to the point, I don’t get Akon. He’s got some good songs here and there, but his voice is like a black chipmunk to me. )
I suppose converting to cloup rap just isn’t in the cards for Clifford Harris, but Trouble Man‘s arcade-level of reliability proves that a jarring change in style is not necessary. The King is back, let’s just see if he and his Grand Hustle team can drop more solid content in the coming months.