T.I. (Clifford Harris, Jr.), has definitely had his share of issues with the law; this is definitely an understatement. His 2010 effort No Mercy was essentially promoted by numerous singles being released prior to the effort as T.I. had been sentenced prior to its December 7 release to an additional 11 months in prison. No Mercy managed to be certified gold, though showed a marked decrease in first week sales for the ATL rapper – a stark difference from the 568,000 for 2008’s Paper Trail with 159,000 copies moved and a no. 4 bow as opposed to no. 1. Critically, the album wasn’t lauded like two of T.I.’s best efforts, 2006’s valedictory King (my personal favorite) or 2008’s Paper Trail. Essentially then, No Mercy left room for concern for T.I.’s lucrativeness in the future.
Rather than set his troubles aside from prison and an underwhelming seventh album, T.I. embraces his checkered past on his 8th studio effort, 2012’s Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head. T.I. had much more free reign and mobility on the promotion of this effort, but the approach has been much like No Mercy with a multitude of singles released to iTunes prior to the official release.
The effect of the iTunes promotional campaign has turned some singles into bonus cuts on the deluxe version (“Love This Life” and “Like That”). On the bright side, Trouble Man is on pace to sell about the same amount as No Mercy did or possibly more (150,000 to 170,000 copies is projected). Additionally, T.I. has some solid cuts here, sounding much more convincing than his previous effort. It’s may not be the ‘second coming’ of album King, but the bright spots outshine the less notable ones.
Within the album’s introduction (“The Introduction”), producer DJ Toomp samples Marvin Gaye’s famed “Trouble Man,” foreshadowing and confirming the narrative of T.I.’s own effort (“I come apart baby, but now I’m fine…Trouble man”). Once T.I. begins to rap, the sample is less obvious, but still easily discernible. DJ Toomp is the perfect fit for T.I. as a producer providing overall solid production work with buttressing hip-hop drum programming, present bass line, and southern rap organ. T.I. manages some memorable lines including verse 3’s “Weight on my shoulders, chose to squat with it/real n***as say I kick it the same way Pac did it…”). As expected, the hook unifies: “Trouble man, I always in trouble man/Grand Hustle man, I’m the motherf*ckin man/Trouble man stays in some trouble man/bank rolls, rubber band, you can call me Trouble man…” Not the second coming perhaps, “The Introduction” establishes the album’s tone.
“G Season” finds T.I. At his best – being a ‘G’. The cut basically writes off fake folk who aren’t true gangstas but just wannabes (they only speak in ebonics T.I. suggests at one point). Cardiak produces here and the production begins mysteriously, foreshadowing the dark, hardcore sound that is imminent. T.I. Initiates things with and intro: “Okay, aye man, I’m sucka-free, sucka duckin’ tell all them suckas get the f**k outta my way man you understand, G Season!”
Over exceptional production work characterized by malicious synthetic brass and hard drums, T.I. definitely reasserts his swag and status, rapping with a vengeance (“Told you motherf*ckers once, prison ain’t change me/all it did was make a n***a crazy deranged, see…”) Meek Mill guests on an excellent second verse asserting “…Started in the back now I’m that n***a in the front/shawty want the real so I’mma giver what she want….” Not outdone on his final verse T.I. brags “My best flow too cold to just bring it out…” Solid start for Trouble Man.
The real banger comes via DJ Toomp’s dramatic production on “Trap Back Jumpin”. If T.I. was trying his hardest to come up with a banger to rival 2006’s “What You Know”, he achieves/nearly-achieves it with this anthemic cut where T.I. essentially suggests it is time for him to show all the competition how it’s really done and who’s really the king. “It’s time to get trap back jumpin/get shit back poppin ho, I show these sucka n***as how it go…” T.I. raps on the addictive hook. T.I. never cedes the reins or momentum here, making “Trap Back Jumpin” one of T.I.’s very best. He’s on ‘autopilot’ here.
At the beginning of “Wildside”,a skit about smoking and hiding weed finds T.I. And his boys getting caught by the cops. This plays right into the hands of the narrative of Trouble Man as well as setting up the A$AP Rocky assisted cut. “Smoking weed, riding chrome/only thing I’ve ever known/walk on the wild side/welcome to our lives” is sung on the lush, southern hook. T.I. gets it done on two verses while A$AP Rocky closes out on the third. It’s not as epic as “Trap Back Jumpin” but it is still solid by all means.
“Ball”, a previously released track, completely contrasts the slower tempo of “Wildside” aiming for a club track that celebrates sex, drugs (weed specifically), and partying. “This club so packed, these hoes so drunk…I got a bottle, got a model, got a molly, got a blunt/ball, ball, ball…”, T.I. Asserts on the carefree, totally irresponsible hook. Lil Wayne adds his two-cents on the third verse, just as irresponsibly and O.O.C. as T.I. When the cut first materialized, I thought it wasn’t worthy of a second listen. Hearing it again, it suits its purpose as a club cut without superseding better developed cuts like “G Season” or the juggernaut “Trap Back Jumpin”.
“Sorry” was a pre-release I wasn’t sold on initially either. Hearing it in the context of the album made me take a second look, more so than the empty partying of “Ball”. One facet of my opining that didn’t change was the fact that André 3000 outperforms T.I. Playing on his eccentricities as both an MC and as a vocalist that made OutKast shine so much over the years. T.I. doesn’t fall flat by any means as he has sharp lines with “Ay, never mind what the blogs say/this what my mind and my heart say…” (verse one) or “I grew up in the gutter life a mother f*cker..” (verse 2), but few have an easy time of going up against André Benjamin. Amongst brilliant lines from André 3000 is where he states “…round the time the dope wear off, you feel stupid, she feel lost/that’s that dope, I mean, I mean dopamine you think Cupid done worn off…” There’s definitely a reason André 3000 receives an extended amount of time. Makes me want to listen to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, sigh*.
“Can You Learn” begins with an interlude once more involving the ‘po-po’ as Madea would say. R. Kelly then gets the cut started with a bold intro: “Hey I got a question for the ladies out there/yeah cause there’s a few things that I would like to know before I f*ck with you…” Lover man then breaks into an incredibly soulful hook that sums up the premise of the cut: “Oh baby could you learn? Could you learn to love a troubled man?” Slated as a ‘can you love a man with flaws’ (lots of ‘em), the results are effective. Again, T.I. may be a tad overshadowed by the soulful Kells, but it’s a solid cut.
“Go Get It” gives T.I. a much needed solo spot, though it doesn’t shine like the collaborative cuts or his best solo spot on “Trap Back Jumpin’” The production by T-Minus (Drake, Nicki Minaj, etc.) as well as the hook are bright spots. “Guns And Roses” featuring P!nk atones, sporting excellent production work once more from T-Minus (big, soulful drums) and strong vocals from the pop star. P!nk soars on the hook: “Should’ve knonw it from the start it was already over/we were just too dumb to notice and we’d pray but even love couldn’t save us/we’d wake up on a bed of guns and roses/and we don’t know which one to choose…” Later she really lets loose on a well written/performed bridge.
“The Way We Ride” delivers some of he effort’s most unique production work, provided by 1500 or Nothin’. Characterized by gimmicks and southern rap clichés, “The Way We Ride” is lush and enjoyable for the most part. It’s not the best cut from this affair, but it definitely makes you feel like you are from the south and makes you nod your head. “Cruisin’” proceeds produced by Lil C. The tempo is slow and the general sentiment one gets from this cut is that it isn’t a song normally associated with T.I. More sung than not, the cut has more of a contemporary R&B vibe about it, much like a cut Drake would embrace. Repetitiveness hurts “Cruisin’” some but like “The Way We Ride” the cut is nothing short of lush, particularly the sensual hook: “She had on purple panties, blue bikinis/and we were cruisin in my Lamborghini…”
“Addresses” is once more produced by T-Minus. “Aye everything ain’t what it seem,” T.I. Asserts on the hook. “Ride dirty when I’m clean/best check that disrespect unless you want it with the king/put an address on that shit…” The hook has a ‘flow’ about it, but T.I.’s been much catchier in the past. Don’t get it twisted, “Addresses” has its moment such as on verse two in which T.I. Raps: “I swear to God another day another f*ck n***a/that’s why I just get that paper and be like f*ck n***as…” “Trap Back Jumpin” it’s not, but has its moments.
“Hello” makes the best of Pharrell Williams’s eclectic production work, fusing elements of jazz, soul, and hip hop. Who better to solidify these things than Cee Lo Green contributing a soulful hook (“Just keep going and don’t look back/and look forward from where you’re at/there’s some jealousy in your rearview/wave hello, hello, hello…”)? T.I. contributes two verses on this pleasant cut, which is arguably better than either “Crusin’” or “Addresses.”
“Who Want Some” seems to reignite some power from T.I. lost during a stretch of weaker cuts than the earliest portion of the effort thanks to DJ Toomp’s production work and the ‘King’ clinging tight to his southern sensibilities. The biggest drawback of “Who Want Some” is its nearly six minute duration.
Follow-up cut “Wonderful Life” featuring Akon is certainly poised as this album’s “Dead and Gone” finding Akon lifting from Elton John on his thoughtful, raspy hook: “And you can tell everybody this song…I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind/that I put down in words how wonderful life like…” T.I. Delivers some strong messages on this cut whether it be talking to his son (verse 2) or memorializing the lost (verse 3). “Who Want Some” and “Wonderful Life” end up strengthening the end portion of the standard edition.
“Hallelujah” is the closing cut, featuring lifts from the children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me” during the intro and the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah” during the hook. The cut doesn’t opt for blasphemy like Game’s “Hallelujah” does on Jesus Piece, feeling more sincere (even though Game’s is more lively!).
Two excellent bonus cuts characterize the deluxe version in previously released “Love This Life” (the best of the two) and “Like That”. “Love This Life” possesses a killer quasi-sung hook in which T.I. Asserts “You know, you love, bitch you know you love this life, don’t nobody do you like me…” On “Like That”, T.I. Is full-on aggressive mode asserting “they want that young n***a dumb, who you with where you from shit/that gang banging rag hanging, what you claiming crunk shit…”
So ultimately how does Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head stack up? Overall, it is an enjoyable affair. There are triumphs and flaws alike. Triumphant are cuts where T.I. Sounds like he is truly in command or at least surrounds himself with collaborators that truly take the reins and deliver. The production is solid throughout, which further strengthens his case.
Some flaws include the overindulgent length of this album (16 tracks, 70 minutes in standard edition) and some cuts that could’ve been scrapped or better conceived. But as suggested, the winners are more than enough to give T.I.P a much stronger, more inspired affair than 2010’s rather forgettable, disappointing No Mercy.