It goes without saying that T.I. is one of the most recognizable, and commercially successful hip hop artists in the history of the genre. With 7 billboard charting studio albums already under his belt, 7 of which went platinum at least once, and three which peaked at #1 on the US charts, it would be hard to deny the impact that he’s had on bringing Southern hip hop onto the national stage. While guys like Andre 3000, Big Boi, Trick Daddy, and Master P may have originally started drawing ears to the hip hop coming from the bottom half of the map, it’s guys like T.I., Lil’ Wayne, and Ludacris that brought it to the “mainstream” of pop culture.
Even more impressive than his sales success, has been his ability to maintain an unquestionable level of respect in the grittier side of the industry, while still propelling his career with pop leaning hits like “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life”, combined with the fact that he’s been the star of a few reality shows. But, as strange as that dichotomy sounds, it’s probably to be expected from a guy with a ridiculously long rap sheet, who at the same time is known as one of the most charitable philanthropists in the game. With his newly released 8th studio project, Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head, T.I.P. is trying to add another release to his strong legacy of crossover success.
To cut straight to the chase, it’s hard to say that this album is anywhere near his strongest, from either a commercial or artistic standpoint. It’s definitely an enjoyable experience, with a few definite highlights. But, it does feel like it lacks that certain raw, almost cinematic, energy that tracks like “What You Know” or “Rubber Band Man” had, and at the same time, doesn’t really have any sure fire pop hits like the songs we mentioned just a second ago. Granted, those singles were responsible for making T.I. the superstar he is, and would be tough for anyone to follow. But, if that’s what you were looking for here, you might be a little disappointed.
From a lyrical standpoint, and a bit unexpectedly, T.I. goes in much more aggressively and faster than we’ve seen from him in a minute on the Trouble Man album. On tracks like the standout, but deceptively boringly titled, “The Introduction”, “G Season (feat. Meek Mill)”, “Go Get It”, and “The Way We Ride”, along with a few others, we get a set of almost throwback performances that definitely have hints of the type of hunger you wouldn’t expect from a vet like T.I.P. He’s definitely not reinventing himself at all here, with fast paced but simple flows and clever but relatively straightforward wordplay. It definitely makes for some strong, yet not so varied rhymes.
But, that lack of variety definitely holds this one back a bit, to the point where you could probably flip flop T.I.’s verses from one track to the next, and not even notice – at least when he’s taking the high energy approach, which he does on 75% of the tracks. By no means does it ever cause the album to get “boring”, but it can drag on a bit.
There are a few tracks, which are mostly feature driven, that do take a different approach, but they’re largely hit or miss – though mostly “hit”. The Andre 300 featuring “Sorry” is probably the most complex song on the album (which probably isn’t a surprise). We also get some other interesting collabs like the album’s strongest standalone single “Hello (feat. Ceelo), “Widlside” which showcases a more aggressive than usual A$AP Rocky, and “Ball”, which includes a shockingly not lazy verse from Lil’ Wayne.
However, there are a few gigantic misses from a songwriting or lyrical standpoint. T.I.P.’s obvious attempt to gain some crossover traction “Guns and Roses” with Pink, while a decent representation of a bittersweet relationship, just isn’t executed as well as it could have been. “Cruisin” seems to be a spiritual successor to “Whatever You Like”, but falls flat, which combined with its singsong approach, is pretty cringe worthy. While it’s tough criticize his intentions with the religiously themed “Hallelujah” the bible school favorite “Jesus Loves Me” driving the hook feels is a bit misguided.
From a production perspective, the experience is almost exactly the same story as the lyrical approach. A majority of the album is driven by an almost throwback T.I. feel, but it just lacks a certain appeal and energy that some of his classic records carried. There’s a liberal use of snares, which gets filled out with some heavy, rolling bass. However, when that’s the case, it’s tough to differentiate one track from the next. These tracks all boast some quality and polished beats, which sees T.I.’s longtime producer DJ Troop shine on “The Introduction”, and the Hit Boy provided “The Way We Ride” definitely knock the hardest.
When this one really shines from a production standpoint is when it takes a few chances. The more outside the box productions, at least as T.I.’s work would be concerned, might make for the most interesting tracks from a musical perspective. The Jazze Pha provided “Sorry” carries a much darker tone than most of the album – to excellent results – and relative unknown DJ Montay provides a smooth as glass beat on “Can You Learn (feat. R. Kelly). However, and maybe not so surprisingly, the strongest instrumental here is without a doubt the Pharrell production, “Hello”.
Overall, Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head, is a solid effort, and somewhat predictable, album from one of the South’s true legends. It isn’t anywhere as strong as Urban Legend or King, and probably fits somewhere in the middle of his discography as far as overall quality is concerned. Unfortunately for T.I., he has a ton of competition right now for record sales, and it’s probably go to show in how much attention and commercial success this one gets. However, it’d definitely be a solid purchase for any fan of T.I., accessible Southern hip hop, or upbeat rap in general.