The Warner Sound just posted this old TI interview from the Paper Trail days, and I was excited to see that it was a full half hour long because so many interviews, especially with rappers, are just a couple minutes maybe, and it usually ends up being like when they interview the quarterback after a big game, there’s not enough time to actually say anything. “Yep, I’m excited about this new single I just put out.” “My new album drops next month, it’s gonna be hot!” “Shouts out to .” They don’t get asked good questions so they can’t give good answers, it’s pretty pointless. So I was excited that he put in this amount of time to provide some insight into this particular section of his career. I really encourage all of you to watch this whole video, the things that he says are very interesting and very telling, and the way he says them are even moreso sometimes.
I say that because I feel like his whole demeanor in that interview say a lot about where he was at in that time of his life and career. He says very openly that there are songs on Paper Trail that he made totally with the fans in mind, and that the stuff he’s saying in those songs isn’t necessarily anything he needs to get off his chest or anything, he’s just trying to appeal to a certain demographic. And it worked. Like I talked about in this post, that’s what it takes to get that solid mainstream success, you have to cater to the audience, and Paper Trail is still TI’s most successful album, that is if you measure “success” by how many records you sell.
But look at his body language, his facial expressions, and his tone of voice in this interview. His voice is low and sluggish, his posture is tired and heavy, his smiles seem forced and his face seems to betray hints of embarrassment when talking about his “evolved” style. He doesn’t look like a happy man, and the subjects he brings up don’t tend to be uplifting ones. Here is the song they spend the most time talking about, and I think you can see a lot of the same kinds of things going on in this video. The musical style is noticeably simpler and easy to understand, and he seems to be forcing himself into a format that just doesn’t fit who he really is. Even the super-staged posse shots at the end don’t feel right, you can tell those aren’t his real friends he spends all his time with, they’re hand-selected and positioned by a big-time music video director. I feel like I should let it be known that I don’t hate this song by any means, but I feel like it’s very clear that TI is trying to be something he’s really not in it.
TI – No Matter What
Now compare that interview and how he seems in it to this one, which is from last year and was his first interview he did after being released from prison.
Completely different. His tone is relaxed, he brought his kids with him to the studio, he smiles a lot — really smiles, and he doesn’t seem as world-weary and burdened as in that first interview. And this is him fresh out of the penitentiary feeling upbeat and youthful, unlike when he was making his most “successful” album to date and could barely seem to get excited about anything at all. And he’s very real about what he’d been through lately and where he’s going and seems very optimistic about it. He tells very clearly about how when things started going bad for him, all those people that were around him during the time of Paper Trail and afterward were the first people to turn their backs on him, and now he wants to go back to just making music for the people who’ve always been down with him and his style since day one. And this is the track they debut on that radio show.
TI – I’m Flexin’ (feat. Big K.R.I.T.)
I think it’s undeniable that TI is much more comfortable and at home in this song and video than in “No Matter What“. And his flow is almost unrecognizably different too, it sounds like the example he gave in that first interview of how he originally wrote some of the stuff in Paper Trail but modified it to be more easily grasped by the average listener. I think this song is a beautiful example of someone shedding their perception of what others want them to be and just being truly and naturally themself, it’s really powerful especially after hearing those songs and seeing the videos from Paper Trail. And like I said, it’s not like Paper Trail is a worthless album by any means, there are a lot of moments I genuinely like, but I think seeing what he’s doing now makes it crystal clear that he wasn’t really letting himself be himself on that album.
Just a couple days ago, TI released the first single for his upcoming album, and I think it’s another interesting page in this saga. To my ears, it doesn’t sound 100% like “No Matter What” or “I’m Flexin“, I feel like it’s a new stage of development in his style. There’s still definitely some of the pop sensibility from Paper Trail, but he doesn’t seem to be quite as consumed and limited by it. There isn’t that forced feeling that I get from a lot of Paper Trail songs, it seems like he’s learned from that period, but he’s reintroducing his true self into it, and he might have now discovered a healthy middle ground in his music where he can still express himself honestly but not regress to an older style, to move forward and learn from it all and draw influence from it all.
TI – Love This Life
The King back!