Just hours away from his scheduled performance on the 2007 BET Hip-Hop Awards, T.I. was arrested for attempting to purchase several unregistered machine guns and silencers. He was bailed out, but required to stay inside his home at all times. While under house arrest, T.I. decided to make good use of his time. He cut an album called Paper Trail. The title refers to the technique of writing down rhymes, something he has abandoned after his 2001 debut, I’m Serious.
Although T.I. has proved his lyrical skills without the aid of pen and paper, his rhymes get more complex and evocative when he takes the time to write them down. The John Legend assisted “Slide Show” provides snapshots of T.I.’s life in vivid details as well as some retrospection: “If I only knew back then what I know now / how much better life would have been if I slow down.” The jazz-inflected “You Ain’t Missing Nothing” is a devotion to his hommies who are locked behind the walls counting months after months. The stories are eloquent and sentimental, but T.I. managed to throw in some light humors: “The club on hold and the bras on pause / You get home it’s going to be waiting on y’all.”
Still, T.I. is at his best when he boasts his braggadocio. On “I’m Illy,” T.I. presents his virtue in rich rhythmic flow and doses of arrogance: “hip-hop champion,” “five-star general,” “OG veteran,” and “stack cash like US treasury.” One of T.I.’s assets has to be his swag. He knows it and never shies away from displaying it. On a contagiously catchy “Live Your Life” with Rihanna holding down the hooks, T.I. boosts: “I am the opposite of moderate… Spirit of a hustler and a swagger of a college kids.” On “No Matter What,” T.I. spits with confidence: “Never have you seen in your lifetime / a more divine southern rapper wit a swag like mine / Facing all kind of time, but smile like I’m fine / brag with such passion and shine without trying.” If those aren’t showcasing enough swag already, T.I. invited three more swaggers (Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West) to join him on “Swagga Like Us.” Unfortunately Kanye and Lil Wayne killed the track with the use of Auto-Tune.
Paper Trail suffers when T.I. throws a bone for the ladies (“No Matter What’), drops a club hit (“Swing Ya Rag”), and reveals his horniness (“Porn Star”). Toss out the mainstream fillers, the album is quite impressive. With his virtuosic flow and articulate lyricism, T.I. lives up to his self-proclaim title: “king of the south.”