It’s been a hard couple years for T.I. After spending time in jail for firearms possession, Tip went into damage control mode on his last album, Paper Trail, apologizing to fans and rationalizing his actions on tracks like “Ready for Whatever” and “No Matter What”. It wasn’t his greatest release, but it was a solid statement of purpose. And now here we are again, a mere nine months after his release from jail, on the eve of another imprisonment. And instead of reestablishing himself as the so-called King of the South (that title most firmly sits in Big Boi’s lap at the moment), we get more apologies instead of the kind of classic fans have been itching for since King.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with No Mercy. It’s not a “bad” album, per se – there’s some solid production, and T.I.’s rapping is more-or-less consistently entertaining. The main problem is that the fierce energy he showed on albums like Trap Muzik, King, and even T.I. vs. T.I.P. is lacking. T.I. was rumored to have cranked out over a hundred tracks during the recording process for No Mercy, and now that that figure has been distilled to these fourteen songs, it’s hard to believe that this is his best material he could have given us. “Get Back Up” becomes cringe-worthy within the first ten seconds, as Chris Brown sings “Hello out there/ Can you hear me?/ It’s an S.O.S./ To let me believe” while T.I. repeats “I’m only human, y’all” in the background. A lot of what goes on here highlights exactly what T.I. shouldn’t be doing right before he goes back to jail for eleven months. The fans want unforgettable stereo-blasters like “What You Know” or “Rubber Band Man,” not sappy apology ballads. Similar problems plague the title track, which boasts a chorus that sounds a bit too much like Evanescence, a group that should never, ever be associated with T.I.
Songs like “Strip,” “Salute,” and “Poppin’ Bottles” stand the risk of getting lost in the shuffle along mainstream rap acts that normally wouldn’t hold a candle to T.I., and “Everything on Me” might just be the most generic rap track of the year with its been-there-done-that chorus of “I want your body/ You want it I can get it all over your body” (where have we heard that before?). This is all too mundane and forgettable for a guy with so much sheer rapping talent. The good news is that the rapping that’s there is mostly solid, with catchy lines aplenty like “Rocket ship lift-off/ Come sit on my launch pad/ G5 mile-high group sex jet lag”. Not the most sophisticated stuff, but it might bring a smile to your face, which certainly won’t happen on woe-is-me downers like “Castle Walls”. The album does boast a few winners which capture T.I. at his swaggering best, like “Big Picture,” with its loping horn-fueled production and “Amazing,” with its spare Neptunes beat that feels wonderfully like Clipse circa Hell Hath No Fury. “How life changed” is a solid piece of reflection from a drug-dealer-turned-rap-superstar, but it hardly sticks out as a must-have in T.I.’s canon.
Knowing that we won’t see any new music from T.I. For almost another year, it’s hard not to be a little bummed that No Mercy didn’t turn out to be more of a banger. Hopefully some more time in the can will let T.I. bust his ass on new material, and eventually deliver the classic we all know he has in him. Then again, maybe “Castle Walls” will go triple platinum and end up being another excuse for Tip to rest on his laurels while more interesting rappers like Kanye West and Big Boi leave him and his radio-friendly hip-pop in their creative dust.
You can purchase this album locally from Twist and Shout, Independent Records, or Angelo’s CDs for $16.99.
OR, if you want to hear T.I.’s better 2010 release for FREE, download “F*ck a Mixtape” here.