HR reps or those bureaucrats in Washington might go full Pavlov’s Dog when they hear the word “paperwork,” but for most of us, we react inversely: hands cramps, eyes feeling like the Sinai Desert, and the bitter taste of wasted hours dancing on our tongues. The perfect choice for an album title!
In a play on the traditional meaning of “paperwork,” T.I. refers to the actions one performs to earn paper money. If you find this wordplay clever, nothing else on the album will exceed your amusement, but if you find it inane, you’ll think Paperwork’s only slightly more tolerable than doing actual paperwork. In fact the album probably works well as a soundtrack to doing paperwork – it’s familiar with nothing astonishing or dreadful you need to hear to believe.
According to T.I., Paperwork: The Motion Picture serves as the first part of an upcoming trilogy of albums with an actual motion picture to follow. If we’ve learned nothing else from rappers, we know to take any declarations about upcoming projects with a grain of kush. While a hunk of the album chugs along with few dazzling bars, no flamethrower verses such as his guest appearance on Killer Mike’s “Big Beast,” or massive hits he churned out on Paper Trail, the opening tracks reflect the cinematic nature set up by the album title.
The opening credits roll in the form of the familiarly titled “King” (remember that monster album?). He begins dramatically with a voiceover proclaiming, “No man, woman, child, nor animal walk a lifetime on God’s green Earth and not expect to be tested.” Very true, T.I. Then, the bombastic beat bursts in full of orchestral drums, vigorous keyboards, a dramatic soul sample and even a firework (not a pun) to set the screen for T.I. to reiterate for the umpteenth time that he’s the King (capital “K”) in rapid-fire flow. He still manages to be convincing in that area, though.
The confidence continues on “G Shit,” featuring a now grown-up Jeezy and Pharrell, the album’s executive producer, on his Neptunes shit that swaggers and wobbles down to the neighborhood bodega under a scorching sun. In grand hip-hop tradition, the song is dedicated to the gangsters, pimps and hoes who keep our economy going. The best track, “About the Money,” continues this strutting display with the rising force of Young Thug, who’s “goin’ fishin’ with these little bitty shrimp dips.” Thug’s melodious tinge compliments T.I.’s sneering, hot-shit rapping about his tunnel vision to do that paperwork.
Unfortunately, Paperwork takes a turn for the worst with “New National Anthem.” T.I. claims on his introductory ramblings that his song won’t receive radio play, but Skylar Grey’s overwrought chorus, its topicality and a marching, sentimental beat make the song a prime candidate for radio play. T.I. is well-intentioned but, for the most part, doesn’t illuminate too much either. He does offer a few poignant lines about the the United States’ racially challenged justice system, though: “Homicide he’ll ride, they’ll put him on trial/Let him have a life sentence then do it with a smile/And he only 19, he ain’t even a child.”
On “Let Your Heart Go (Break My Soul),” T.I. comes back with a chorus from The Dream for some sober self-reflection over a bubble gum beat we’ve been chewing since the early-oughts; this one will definitely blend in on the radio. “Private Show” is a middling Chris Brown-assisted slow jam, and the Iggy Azalea featuring “No Mediocre” sets us all up for the easy mediocrity joke and delivers.
T.I. covers worn-out, trap, Southern territory elsewhere like on “Jet Fuel” and “On Doe, On Phil.” He provides the traditional drive-under-the-speed-limit jam, “About My Issue,” which does have a smoky chorus marked by soothing horns from Victoria Monet and a respectable guest verse from Nipsey Hussle. A couple other members of the supporting cast — Boosie back from doing his time on “Jet Fuel” and the low rumblings of Houston rapper Trae the Truth on “On Doe, On Phil — put in work. “Light Em Up (R.I.P.)” is another highlight due to its steady rolling beat and muted mix of grief, anger and somber storytelling. Pharrell gives “Paperwork” a pleasant, languid pace thanks to a soulful beat of simple keyboards and unhurried drums, interspersed with more spirited drums that give the middle of T.I.’s verses a little kick.
Paperwork ends on an embodying note: He and royal thespian Rick Ross boast and bluster about their kingly and bossly personalities on “You Can Tell How I Walk” like we’ve heard for years. Predictability can easily trap a musician, especially an elder statesman like T.I. Judging by T.I.’s future plans for music, he hasn’t lost the motivation, but Paperwork begs the question: Okay, so what else you got?
2.5 out of 5
You can purchase Paperwork on Amazon.