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Album review: T.I., 'Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head'

Ernest Wilkins | RedEye Sound Board

1:10 PM CST, December 19, 2012

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*** (of 4)
 
One of the ironically timeless issues with the rap genre is how its artists deal with aging. Rockers can gracefully mature with time, or, in the case of the Rolling Stones, just never ever ever ever go away. But in hip-hop, whose topics sometimes-but-rarely venture beyond youthful subject matter, popular rappers who are north of 30 either lie about their age--2 Chainz did this for a bit; Birdman still does--or do anything possible to stay relevant (Snoop Lion, I am looking in your direction). Thirty-two-year-old Clifford "T.I." Harris has chosen a third path: Just keep rapping about what you know.
 
T.I.’s new album “Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head” addresses all of the rapper’s recent issues with the law-- a skit on the album recounts his arrest after trying to purchase illegal firearms from an undercover federal agent before an awards show-- and how it's changed his outlook on life. Also, he makes note of faith ("Hallelujah") and relationships, both with friends and his wife ("Guns and Roses"). Unfortunately, the album shows Harris’s growth on one record and then immediately contradicts itself with played-out tales of life slinging drugs (“Trap Back Jumpin”,) which makes the album tough to really get into. Pick a theme and run with it, please.
 
The Atlanta rapper seems to have abandoned the sonic carpet bombing technique ("What sound is popular right now? OK, I'll do one of those!") major label rap artists tend to employ to take his talents back down south. He flows all over a New Orleans bounce-styled Rico Love production on "Ball," gets an exquisite beat from Jazze Pha on "Sorry" and reunites with DJ Toomp (who produced some of T.I.’s biggest hits) on not one but three tracks.
 
As far as features are concerned, they are what you'd prefer from a modern rap album: sporadic yet impactful. Lil' Wayne makes a refreshing return to the style he grew up rapping on the aforementioned "Ball." Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky and R. Kelly also provide welcome additions. Andre 3000 not only steals the entire album on "Sorry" but also provides Outkast fans with some insight: "And this the type of [bleep] that'll make you call your rap partner and say I'm sorry I'm awkward, my fault for [bleeping] up the tours. I hated all the attention, so I ran from it." Seek this song out by any means necessary.
 
This album (and the Nas record earlier this year) are wonderful examples of what can happen when hip-hop grows up. The only hope is that the trend continues, if only so we don’t have to hear 43-year-olds releasing diss tracks anymore.
 
erwilkins@tribune.com, @ernestwilkins