Sifting through the annals of history, it’s evident that most kings historically rose to prominence through familial ties or implemented bloody campaigns. When T.I. prematurely labeled himself as the “King of the South” he quickly went about gaining the blessings of the people by following his bold proclamations with one of the most solid catalogues to date. He feuded with Lil Flip in the Great War Over-What-Some-Chick-May-Or-May-Not-Have-Said and came out completely unscathed. While Fidel Castro employed guerilla warfare to ascend to the top of Cuba’s hierarchy, T.I. began hit the block, permanently planting his flag with a handful of quality albums. Despite a laundry list of temper-tantrum-related incidents, T.I.P.’s superb catalog has amassed a long-lasting era of good feelings.
In view of his consistent career victories, Paperwork should be as its name implies—another shiny adornment to add to his mantle. But for the majority of the album, T.I. inexplicably panders to the commonplace tastes. “King” commences with the Swag Rap rhapsody witnessed on past introductions like “King Back” and “56 Bars.” But things take a steep dive with “G Shit,” as he welcomes Jeezy along for the ride. The track reeks of a forgettable aura, as Tip revisits the territory of dated boasts rhyming, “Audemars / Hublots / One point five on a two-door, old hustle new flow / Old money, new hoes / Suckas prayin’ I’ma chill, but I’m too cold / Long as I’m around, fuck they need you for / Ridin’ in the Chevy toting three bricks, since nobody wanna make G shit…”
On “Jet Fuel” he is joined by Boosie Badazz, but the falling horn synths provided by The Beat Bully and Kenoe are wasted with unimaginative talk of molly, lean and sexual conquests. The subject matter in and of itself isn’t the issue so much as Tip and Boosie failing to add a new spin on it, delivering flat lines such as, “Wash the dick off while she roll the kush sack up.”
T.I. has a penchant for mixing trendy sounds and A-list producers (Kanye West’s Chipmunk Soul or Swizz Beatz’s high-energy repitition), but he doesn’t consistently strike the proper balance on Paperwork. Young Thug delivers an entertaining performance, but overall there is nothing to distinguish “About The Money” from pedestrian territory. Similarly, “No Mediocre” is indistinguishable from dozens of other DJ Mustard-produced songs dominating radio. Setbacks aside, there are still moments that solidify Tip’s well-earned seat on the throne. A far more enduring effort comes in the form of “New National Anthem,” featuring Skylar Grey. The king has exhibited good working relationship with pop princesses, and with Grey’s penetrating vocals, T.I. provides a scathing attack on various epidemics (namely violence and class warfare) in America. T.I. also crafts a poignant, personal ode to his fallen comrades with “On Doe, On Phil,” featuring Trae Tha Truth. On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, “Stay” and “About My Issue,” find T.I. and Victoria Monet hooking up for two memorable flashes of what the king is capable of.
T.I. has long showcased the ability to make even the most meanest mean-mugger drop all pseudo-thug pretenses in favor of cuff-happy sentiments, but instead of potentially spiking the birthrate in Atlanta, offerings like “At Ya Own Risk” and “Private Show” fall flat. The latter interpolates UGK’s “Take It Off” but lacks the sonic richness for a proper tribute.
Paperwork plays out as an uneven effort that isn’t so much inherently flawed as it is unentertaining through long stretches. Even with an increased reliance on an updated version of the double-time cadence he perfected on King, the subject matter covered comes across as trite with little to no emotional resonance. It’s no secret that T.I. is judged on a much higher scale given the quality of his past releases. Trouble ensued the last time fans counted T.I.P. down for the count, so it is too late for chants of “Down With The King.” There is no reason to expect that T.I.’s next project can’t possibly exhibit him in prime form once again.