T.I. is no Marvin Gaye. Or is he? Both men were blessed with supreme talent as musicians and songwriters. Both men exhibit an overflowing charisma and a flair for the dramatic. Both men chose acting as a supplementary alternative expression of their talents.
Both men were also cursed with an unfortunate capacity to seek out dangerous situations involving women, drugs, guns, and death.
In other words, T.I. just might be this generation's rap version of Marvin Gaye. On a relatively warm December evening at Wire Road Studios in The Houston Heights, an eclectic group of rappers, journalists and fans were invited to a listening party for Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head, the eighth studio album for Mr. Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr., better known as the Atlanta rapper and sometimes actor T.I. (or Tip).
Both the album name and the first track of the album are borrowed from Gaye's 1972 song and corresponding soul-cinema classic Trouble Man starring Robert Hooks as "Mr. T.". Both the movie poster and the album cover showcase a handsome, sharply dressed black man menacingly toting a pistol. In T.I.'s case, a purposeful instance of art imitating life.
Most of Houston's rap community was present at the event, including The Honorable Bun B Trill OG, Shea Serrano, Kirko Bangz, Killa Kyleon, Yves and Free of The Nice Guys, TV Johnny and C. Stone, Slim Thug, Doughbeezy, Propain, and fellow Grand Hustle artist Trae Tha Truth.
When Tip finally arrived, he orchestrated the event as the director, actor, engineer, and PR guy. He plugged in his MacBook himself, pressed play, made the introductions, and welcomed all in attendance. We were first shown a short film that will accompany the album, a pseudo Kanye/"Runaway"-like music video with interweaving storylines interspersed with tracks from the album.
"This is an imagination of what my life would be like if I didn't turn to rapping" proclaimed the man of the hour.
"I'm not ashamed of who I am and what I've done. I'm not gonna run and hide. I am who I am".
Indeed, confidence is one of T.I.'s strong points, the catalyst for his success and sometimes cause of his troubles. He wrote "The Introduction" and "G Season (featuring Meek Mill)" while in prison.
The album itself sounds fresh and tired at the same time. Another album about "the trap", dealing drugs, and riding dirty isn't exactly something to praise. But I have to admit, when T.I. is the one performing, I can't help but to listen.
The quality of the beats, the sheer force of the rhymes, and the ability to be transported into an old school drop-topped Chevy while listening to each track is tantamount to cinematic majesty.
The standout track is "Sorry" featuring Andre 3000, a moving and flowing offering that rises above the grittiness of the asphalt and into the clouds. R. Kelly keeps it sexy with "Can You Learn", and the album ends on an angelic turn with "Hallelujah".
Other guest spots include A$AP Rocky on "Wildside", Lil Wayne on "Ball", P!nk on "Guns And Roses", Cee Lo on "Hello", and Akon on "Wonderful Life". No ID, Jazze Pha, and Pharrell Williams contribute as producers.
Does T.I. have another hit album on his hands? As long as he stays out of trouble, man.
Trouble Man will be released December 18th. Below is the album's tracklisting:
1. "The Introduction" 2. "G Season" (featuring Meek Mill) 3. "Trap Back Jumpin'" 4. "Wildside" (featuring ASAP Rocky) 5. "Ball" (featuring Lil Wayne) 6. "Sorry" (featuring André 3000) 7. "Can You Learn" (featuring R. Kelly) 8. "Go Get It" 9. "Guns and Roses" 10. "The Way We Ride" 11. "Cruisin'" 12. "Addresses" 13. "Hello" (featuring Cee Lo Green) 14. "Who Want Some" 15. "Wonderful Life" (featuring Akon) 16. "Hallelujah"