The King holds court
Tip Harris wrote and recorded most of Paper Trail while under house arrest; the title is as much a nod to his criminal record as his return to writing lyrics on paper. T.I. is a different beast here than the scrappy ATLien he wrestled with on T.I. vs. T.I.P. He's still cocky, but sobered by maturity.
Mature or no, Paper Trail is loaded with southern heaters. DJ Toomp and Chuck Diesel's production on openers “56 Barz” and "I'm Illy" respectively give T.I.’s titanic snarl home court advantage on booming beats and synth-heavy arrangements: “very plain to see you study me awful hard / to the point that my swag need a bodyguard.”
But despite strong bookends, Paper Trail’s middle is a disorganized string of pop songs, like the deliriously silly Ludacris duet “On Top of the World” and the club-by-numbers “My Life Your Entertainment”. “Live Your Life” is the album’s strongest play for the Top 40, a thunderous anthem with Rihanna that sees Tip assuming the mantle of elder statesman for a heartfelt sermon: “your values is in disarray, prioritizing horribly / unhappy with the riches cause you piss-poor morally”.
It’s the King’s M.O.: lay down the route and let the listener pick up the pieces. Even with the burden of sloppy crossover tracks, Paper Trail has enough standout moments for T.I.’s throne to remain secure for now.