T.I.

Paper Trail (Atlantic)

While other top MCs have had to create their own boogeymen to battle — Kanye has his ego, Eminem had Kim, Lil Wayne has those cough-syrup Martians — T.I. has real problems. Released from house arrest and in the midst of 1,500 hours of community service, he still has to serve a year in the clink on firearms charges. But embattlement has apparently forced him to appreciate what he has in his life, and the first half of his sixth album, Paper Trail, is as inspired as anything he has released. The chorus-less opening riff "56 Bars" and current single "Whatever You Like" are nice, but "On Top of the World" kills it. The track features Ludacris, and expect to hear it throughout the fall. With good reason, because its wonderful throwback qualities include energetic, Eighties-style "Ohh whoa" exclamations; synths; and an affirmative vibe. The positivity is also exhibited on "No Matter What," an inspirational jam in the vein of R. Kelly's "The World's Greatest"; and "Live Your Life," which features Rihanna and samples "Dragostea Din Tei" — a.k.a. that "Numa Numa" song that went around on the Internet a couple of years ago. The album's second half is mostly a slog, but even so, it's clear that T.I.'s troubles with the law have been to the benefit of his art.

 
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