T.I.’s “Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head” was delayed so many times, fans started to wonder what he could possibly be doing.
Creating a mighty robust record, it turns out.
A week after Big Boi unleashed his stellar “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors,” another of Atlanta’s elite rappers returns with his eighth solo album, his first since 2010’s lukewarm “No Mercy.”
On “Trouble Man,” inspired by Marvin Gaye’s 1972 song of the same name, T.I. enlists a parade of guests, including his first official collaboration with Atlanta kingpin Andre 3000 on “Sorry,” a song that chugs along until Andre shows up and blows through your headphones with his sonic boom of a rap.
It doesn’t matter how musically adventurous T.I. is because his words deserve the spotlight. Still, the ominous keyboards that anchor “Trap Back Jumpin’” give the song a sophisticated cinematic-villain feel, while the heavy rock backbeat of “Wonderful Life,” featuring another Atlanta staple, Akon, crooning a sample of Elton John’s “Your Song,” demonstrates T.I.P.’s ear for melody.
Elsewhere, he sheathes “Hello” in a spunky Latin coating (Cee Lo Green pops up for a few lines) and on “Ball” with Lil Wayne, embraces his friend’s affection for that New Orleans bounce.
But, as usual, T.I. has plenty to say, and while he spent most of “No Mercy” apologizing for his transgressions, here he is resolute.
“I got to do what I got to do,” he announces on “Trap Back Jumpin’,” then laments the bittersweet loss of a relationship with Pink on “Guns and Roses” (“Even love couldn’t save us”), a song with a giant chorus that will work perfectly during his live shows.
The centerpiece of the album – recorded in various studios around Atlanta – is the R.Kelly-guesting “Can You Learn,” which foreshadows T.I.P.’s 2008 arrest, then continues with his shrug that he doesn’t care about living his life in the public eye, but acknowledges, “the danger’s so excitin’,” about his well-documented street life. Kelly swoops in with a soulful refrain reminiscent of the Gaye song that inspired T.I. for this record, spotlighting the moral questions of the song with his prodding chorus.
T.I.’s growth on this album – as a lyricist and as a man – is blindingly apparent. You could say it was worth the wait.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene