Though it might not necessarily appear so to the casual observed with “Live Your Life” still ringing in their ears, T.I.’s career has been a shade more interesting than that of many other upper-tier rappers. Pulled away from genuine domination by a real-life predilection for guns and drugs, but never having thoroughly fallen off or been absent from the spotlight for too long compared to someone like DMX, he neatly fits neither the narrative of the globe conquering powerhouse nor that of the of-their-time, faded ex-superstars whose relevance has all but entirely waned.
His greatest asset, and the reason he has not fallen into the latter grouping, is simply the way he works a microphone. He knows how to switch cadence and how to cram any number of syllables into a bar, but more importantly he knows how to make those processes sound totally effortless and smooth. It’s this audible cool that means that if T.I. sounds like he is enjoying himself and letting loose a little, then chances are the listener is going to enjoy themselves a little too.
Despite its title, on Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head this is clearly something that T.I. has become aware of. His legal troubles do, of course, cast a lyrical shadow over a lot of the record, but they aren’t treated with a particularly heavy hand; he doesn’t offer up any apologies, but T.I. seems accepting of his mistakes, content and at times even committed to changing up his ways a little bit, (even though he spends most of the album discussing activities that would almost certainly land him back in the pen for further violating terms of probation).
Put simply he has other, less pressing things on his mind here, and it sounds like he’s having a good time pursuing them, in contrast to his last album, the relatively dour and confrontational No Mercy.There are, expectedly, very few lyrical surprises, but that’s not what this type of record is about, plus it hardly matters when a rapper as good as T.I. is not only present but largely on point. There are lots of drugs, lots of women, and lots of expensive cars, as ever, but they continue to be tackled with flows and drawls that are refreshingly nimble, light-footed and skilfully woven enough to keep things entertaining. Plus he can actually turn a decent phrase when he puts his mind to it, too.
Musically is where the album really lives or dies, and fortunately T.I. is still easily a big enough draw to have access to the better beats crafted by in-demand beat makers, a fact that is largely responsible for Trouble Man’s remarkably consistent first third. “Wildside” boasts shimmering atmospherics courtesy of No I.D. (plus an A$AP Rocky verse), Jazze Pha soulfully laces the already much-discussed Andre 3000 assisted “Sorry”, and on “Ball”, T.I. and Lil Wayne get to wax ignorant over a bananas Rico Love track. Hit-Boy also stops by to drop off the G-Funk update “The Way We Ride”, once again demonstrating why he’s currently top of the class in terms of commercially viable and artistically credible hip-hop.
These are the album’s highlights, the moments that the music coalesces with T.I. at his least serious and most enjoyable. The album is front-loaded and gradually loses steam though, and there are the requisite commercial concessions that vary from middling to frankly pretty awful. T.I. is, obviously, a good fit for more trap-flavored beats, so he can turn less than stellar productions, like the Meek Mill-featuring “G Season”, into pretty decent bangers. Likewise, the overblown ballad “Can You Learn” gets by in spite of its worst intentions, mostly through to the presence of R Kelly. Because, you know, R Kelly.
Unfortunately, they aren’t close to the worst here however, and the P!nk and Akon tracks will be enough to make your toes curl, as will the unrepentantly cheesy closing shot, “Hallelujah”. These are, thankfully, not entirely indicative of the album as a whole though, which despite its flaws functions just fine as a blast of well executed mainstream rap music.