25 December 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: T.I. - Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head

 Twon Johnson and myself recently chopped it up concerning T.I.’s eighth studio offering, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head. The consensus was mutual: the album is fire and Clifford Harris hasn’t lost his passion, zeal or salesmanship, despite the many obstacles he’s faced in his life and his career. Although it does have its shortcomings, the album reminded us of a slightly less troubling time for Tip around the time of KING. Peep the convo…

Twon Johnson: Whenever a vet drops a new album, I think its natural to wanna compare the latest project to the rest of their catalog. Dunno about you but that was all I was doing the whole time I was listening to this joint. Not only was I stacking his albums up against each other, I was thinking about his status in the game. Past couple years I was getting worried that the jail shit would compromise his legendary status especially in the eyes of youngins since they all moved on to Future and 2 Chainz. It ain’t even about underground or mainstream to me when it comes to TI, this man is an artist. He's a lyricist. He's a fuckin' beast. I feel like he laid all doubts to rest wit Trouble Man

The Niftian: I truly feel sorry for anyone that decided to sleep on the King of the South, real talk. I wasn't too keen on some of his most recent work after KING, but I still rocked with him.

TJ: Well can we blame his jail stints on the lack of overall quality on Paper Trail and No Mercy? What do you think happened with TI vs TIP? You think he just got complacent? Cuz back then I think its safe to say he was on top of the game. But that VS album seem like it was just riding off the coat tails of KINGThen he really started stumbling. Sucks too cuz if you take the hottest tracks off VS thru No Mercy, you'd have a pretty hot album. Can we blame his descent on complacency? Prison? Or did the game just move on, and he wasn’t able to keep up? I hate to blame it on jail cuz he got arrested after Trap Muzik also. When he finally got out he blew our minds with Urban Legend.

TN: No. Jail is no excuse. If anything, I think it gave him some juice. Everyone knows he has skill, and no artist that I can think of has stellar albums every single time out the gate. But I do think he got a tad bit lazy on T.I. vs TIP, but half of that album was fire. "Touchdown" was ass, though. Ugh. Eminem was at his absolute worst. Good thing he made up for it with “That’s All She Wrote” off No Mercy

TJ: I was talking to one of my boys earlier about the Andre 3000 verse (on “Sorry") and how that shit will probably just go over everyone's heads. But man it's songs like this that kinda solidify TI's status as an ARTIST and not just a rapper. He stepped his game up lyrically so he wouldn't be sorely outshined by Stacks. I think about the first time I heard "Sixteen" off Rick Ross' album, I was like WTF is Ross talking about? Rambling about the same jewels and shit, might as well have just been an Andre 3000 song. But on "Sorry" it's definitely a true collaboration (even though at this point, I feel like 3000 is unfuckwitable). TI still held his own. 

I don't think TIP gets respect as a dope lyricist just because of the reputation of rappers from the south. You see the growth in this man’s ability on damn near every song on the album. My only real problem wit this album is some of the OTHER collab choices. Namely A$AP Rocky. I have a feeling Rocky paid TIP for this shit, cuz there's just no way he believed in this man’s ability. I respect the fact Tip giving the young dude a shot but damn, Rocky couldn't even keep up wit the beat.

I used to have a problem with TI singing on hooks (and I still do with songs like "Love This Life") but for the most part it doesn't take away from most songs on this album. "The Way We Ride" is a fucking banger! I feel like a lot of these songs could be singles because of the sheer amount of smooth catchy hooks. It's really hard for me to sit here and try to find shit wrong with TM, it's kinda like I'm searching for chinks in armor, which is a good problem to have IMO. 

TN: Andre 3000: beast. I had to listen to "Sorry" a few times to truly try and get the message. Andre fucking kills, which is nothing short of the spectacular usual. He spills a lot more truths and personal feelings than usual, which is saying something because Andre 3000 is always honest with his rhymes.

A$AP Rocky: beastly. I am not a big A$AP fan but I can tolerate him. His verse on “Wildside" killed an otherwise great song. He definitely didn't play up to the potential that I've seen. However, he is a young up and coming rapper and therefore gets first dibs as a featured artist on many artist's tracks. Politically, I get it. Artistically, I hate it. 

Also much as I love the album, I have a problem with the skit placement. I see each retrospective act as a necessary element to telling the story of his life and what has given him the right to take on Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," as he has indeed seen his fair share of trouble. However, necessary as they are, I hate that each skit starts off a song and therefore can't be skipped. Either put them at the end of the preceding song or make them a separate track. I hate attempting to fast forward through a skit, as I usually miss the mark and end up into the beginning of the actual song, which is just annoying. 

TJ: Skit placement is such an underrated and oft overlooked factor when it comes to putting a solid album together. Kendrick got it right by putting all his at the end of the previous song on good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Having it as a separate track, or at the beginning, severely destroys the flow of an album, especially when you get to the point where everything is on shuffle status. I think that only hiphop blog nerds like ourselves see this as a big issue, but I feel like skits are really only important for your initial run through of an album. After that, they are almost unnecessary. I wonder why his exec producers didnt step in and set him straight.

But back to the music. The last track on the album, "Like That" was SO necessary. It illustrates the struggles Tip went through trying to put this album together, and probably explains the reason he went 120 hard in the booth. After those lackluster albums, Tip was aware that fans were clamoring for that "Trap Nigga Shit." After all, if we go back to "Dope Boyz, U Dont Know Me, and What You Know," its songs like those that made him.
At the same time though, songs like "Lets Get Away, Why You Wanna," and "Whatever You Like" helped with sales. TIP suffers from amassing such a wide range of fans over the years that it becomes difficult for him to find a way to appeal to them all. While Paper Trail may have been too pop for some, Trap Muzik / Urban Legend may have been too hard for others. I think he found the perfect balance of both on Trouble Man without compromising the sound that defines him.

TN: I think TI has done a freaking FANTASTIC job of finding that happy medium between hardcore trap songs and radio friendly "ballads" for the ladies, something that Ja Rule laid the groundwork for in the early 2000s but couldn't quite perfect. Although I'm not typically a fan of the likes of "Love This Life," I can appreciate it from a fiscal standpoint. Women spend money on albums and women drive radio ratings. You have to please the ladies, whether you can sing or not. LOL

Tip has done what so many only wish they could do: stay true to their street roots, live the life they talk about in AND out of the media, stay mostly consistent with their flow and skill...and come out of jail with career intact. 

What's your absolute favorite song? Personally, and this surprised me, "Can You Learn" is the track that gets the most spins from me. I think it's because it's the song I relate to most at this time in my life. Hell, I've never related more to TI than I did with this track. And R. Kelly on the hook doesn't hurt at all. I played this for a lady friend who means a lot to me and she and I instantly connected over it. I see her as a rider and she knows the part she is playing in my life. It’s almost like it was written for us.

I think the better question is what songs DONT I like on this album. Probably "Love This Life" because its clearly the "Whatever You Like" clone. My fave tracks so far are “The Introduction, Trap Back Jumpin', The Way We Ride, Cruisin', Who Want Some" and "Like That.”

Well, there you have it, folks. Twon and I rarely agree on anything and yet we both feel that this is one of the strongest efforts to come out of the machine this year. It sucks that it came out so close to the end of the year, but it was an effort that definitely needed to cook. Allegedly, T.I. recorded over 120 songs for this album (look out for a Trouble Man, part 2 next year) and it took some time to get the tracklisting just right. We appreciate that. That being said, the skit placement, features from the likes of A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne and pop heavy songs like “Love This Life” and “Guns and Roses” don’t necessarily appeal to our particular urban nature. However, they are nowhere near enough to kill the skill and vibe of this album. Hell, “Wildside” is loved by both of us minus A$AP’s shoddy flow. For these reasons, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head gets a solid four out of five tapes from the BITM crew. If you haven’t already, cop that jawn. The Niftian, out...

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