x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

TI tries hard with Trouble

The American hip-hop star has created a free-flowing record that's consistent both musically and thematically

The American rapper TI plans to release another album with tracks from his unreleased songs. Kevin C Cox / Getty Images / AFP
The American rapper TI plans to release another album with tracks from his unreleased songs. Kevin C Cox / Getty Images / AFP

TI

Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head

(Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

***

Jail seems to have taken the swagger off the once invincible TI.

A nine-month prison stint in 2010 took the wind out of his sails. His last album No Mercy tanked due to its sheer derivativeness.

With southern hip-hop still influencing pop culture, TI went to work to reclaim the regional crown. The result of a two-year songwriting period saw him record more than 120 tracks, 16 of which made the final cut for the latest album Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head.

Considering the avalanche of songs to pick from, TI has done reasonably well to create a free-flowing record that is relatively consistent, both musically and thematically.

Where earlier records found TI revelling at his escapades, Trouble Man is where he accepts the pitfalls of who he is.

Those expecting a sombre self-analysis should think again: the big crunk beats and blazing horns are back, as well as a whole swag of hip-hop stars including Lil Wayne, Akon, Andre 3000 and Cee Lo Green.

The album's self-titled opener finds TI fresh out of jail and unrepentant. Over a soulful yet percussive production - lifted from Marvin Gaye's song from the 1972 blaxploitation film, also called Trouble Man - TI proceeds to stomp on critics. What gives this song a subtle emotional edge is the crooning of the hook: "Call me trouble man / always in trouble man."

The macho bluster continues with G Season, where he pairs up with Meek Mill and heads to the streets, throwing lyrical jabs at all those crossing his path.

Moments of reflection are interspersed throughout with the slow burning Wildside and the album highlight Sorry, featuring Andre 3000.

Andre 3000 returns with a solid-rap effort recalling the glory days of Outkast. His nimble shape-shifting flow and different accents are a welcome reminder of where Nicki Minaj picked up some of her tricks.

The album's big pop hope is the calculated Pink duet Guns and Roses. Produced by the solid T-Minus, the track is begging to be a summer smash; it is this eagerness to please that's working against it.

Trouble Man may not win new fans, but it proves TI is still hungry despite his setbacks.

Just in case this album doesn't reach expectations, TI stated he plans to select another batch from the songs left unreleased for a quick follow-up next year.

That's not surprising. After all, TI made his career by playing all angles.