House arrest would likely slow anyone's daily routine. It probably played a factor in T.I.'s decision to write down his rhymes for the first time since his debut. A year of jail time on the horizon would, just the same, impact a writer's output, and it has done just that on Paper Trail. Plenty of these tracks have nothing to do with T.I.'s federal weapons conviction -- escapist fare like the number one Hot 100 single "Whatever You Like" and the mindnumbing "Porn Star," where he's barely coasting -- but there is a sense of urgency and a new dimension of self-reflection not touched upon throughout the holding pattern that was T.I. vs T.I.P. And when he's just battling, as on "I'm Illy," he reaches a level of indignant rage that manages to top that of "I'm Talkin' to You." The M.I.A.-sampling, Kanye West-produced "Swagga Like Us" features verses from Jay-Z, West, and Lil Wayne, but its chunky, rugged, alien beat could've hit even harder with just T.I., whose pent-up swagger makes for the best vocal fit. The cut with multiple features that is deserving of even more talk is "On Top of the World," where B.o.B. and (especially) Ludacris complement atypical wealth-related T.I. boasts like "Cousins in college -- where you think they get tuition from?" The production work also helps place the album above T.I. vs T.I.P.; Toomp's return provides some much needed punch, as does Danja's slow motion, almost bluesy, organ-drenched beat for "No Matter What."
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
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