Review and track-by-track breakdown of T.I.’s “Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head”

T.I.-Trouble Man Heavy is the HeadFresh off two year-long prison bids, Atlanta rapper T.I. returns with “Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head,” an album that plays to his strengths, but in the process, reveals his weaknesses…

The Introduction: The title of T.I.’s eighth studio album draws inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” soundtrack, and the intro kicks off by sampling the song of the same name. It’s hard to go wrong with Gaye’s voice echoing in the background while the King of the South reminds listeners his swag is still intact.

G Season: This is a boastful/menacing track with an O’Jays sample, an irritating Meek Mill guest appearance and reassurances from T.I. that recent prison bids haven’t crushed his spirit: “Cop cars by the threes/bxtches call me Papa John ’cause I keep that extra cheese.”

Trap Back Jumpin’ – The always dependable DJ Toomp lets us know what a trap party would sound like in a haunted house. T.I. spits rapid-fire rhymes about drugs we know he isn’t dealing anymore. He sounds hungry and promises to show us how to move a lot of blow.  Thanks, Uncle Tip.

Wildside – Tales of weed, cocaine deals and chrome along with some coming-of-age reflections dominate this laid back track, which sounds like something No I.D. cooked up in Outkast’s dungeon. A$AP Rocky appears for a marginally awkward guest verse, thus fulfilling the requirements of T.I.’s hot young rapper checklist.

Ball – “This club so packed, these hos so drunk!” T.I.’s dissertation on bottles, models, mollys and blunts features another blastable beat, and if you listen closely, you can hear elements of the SOS Band’s “Just Be Good To Me.” Lil Wayne drops a verse full of b-grade metaphors and analogies (“shake that ass like a salt shaker/I keep a L lit up like a elevator”). And in the end, we walk away with nothing we didn’t already have.

Sorry – This is Grown Folks Music About Life Choices. Jazze Pha brings the orchestra to the trap, T.I. reflects on the past and Andre 3000 drops in for a two-and-a-half minute appearance that will keep you reaching for the rewind button. Stacy Barthe on the hook is an added bonus and an indication we need to find out who she is.

Can You Learn – R. Kelly wants to know if you could learn to love a trouble man. This song will make you want to say yes. T.I. accompanies Kells’ urgent pleas with more contemplation of past drama and some warnings to potential ladyfriends and ride-or-die chicks that he’s trouble, man. The DJ Montay beat samples “I Choose You” by Willie Hutch, also sampled on UGK’s “Int’l Players Anthem.” Thank you, sir.

Go Get It – This features an eerie, highly addictive beat from T-Minus and talk of hustle and girls. The hustle talk is believable. The girl talk, not so much. One has to wonder: Is T.I. aware that he has a show on VH1 featuring his wife and family? So we all know he’s married? And probably not out running the streets and juggling bxtches? Moving on…

Guns and Roses – T.I. explores the pleasure and pain that accompany this thing called love. Strong contributions from P!nk and producer T minus give this song a bittersweet edge.

The Way We Ride – This is where the album seems to drop off in content. Here we have another swollen trap beat with a G-funk bass line. This is rider music, and you can definitely “put the top down and ride clean” as the song suggests, should you be the lucky owner of a convertible. But the lyrics = dull.

Cruisin – “She had on purple panties, blue bikinis, and we were cruising in my Lamborghini,” T.I. sings with an Auto-Tune glaze. Smooth, laid back and uninspiring.

Addresses – Another T-Minus production that goes extra hard, with more tough talk to match. Subtext: I may be rich and famous, but you can still get it.

Hello – T.I. toasts to success and waves ‘Hi’ to the haters with help from Cee Lo Green on the hook and our good friend Pharrell on a uniquely excellent beat.

Who Want Some – Just in case you weren’t paying attention to previous threats, T.I. reminds listeners that he’s got pistols in the duffle, and anybody can get it if they want some. DJ Toomp returns for some more paranormal production. This is one of the songs that makes you think T.I. has run out of ideas.

Wonderful Life – Tip delivers personal messages to his children and himself (via his alter ego, T.I. … duh) with help from a sample of Elton John’s “Your Song.” I appreciate the candor, but hearing Akon sing Elton John lyrics just makes me feel uncomfortable.

Hallelujah – The final track on the album is also the deepest and most powerful. All defenses are stripped as T.I. reflects on imprisonment and the power of faith, revealing what’s behind the bravado he spent the last hour establishing. Newcomer Netta Brielle delivers a gospel-inspired hook. If this one doesn’t give you chills, just stop listening to music.

The Bottom Line: With its top-shelf production, potent lyricism and standard T.I. swagger, “Trouble Man” is a well-crafted album that likely won’t disappoint T.I. fans. The booming beats, quotable lyrics and grimy trap tales that have become T.I.’s trademark are all here. Which, ultimately, is part of the problem. By relying on what he’s always relied on —  threats, boasts and recycled talk of drug deals and bad women that’s no longer believable or even interesting — T.I. lives vicariously through his past instead of allowing himself to evolve as an artist and embrace the realities of his present life. And that’s unfortunate. It’s the moments when the masks and the thuggery flashbacks fall away that are the most compelling.


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