Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

T.I.: Paper Trail [Grand Hustle/Atlantic, 2008]
Determined to provide for his dependents during 2009's scheduled downtime, Atlanta's favorite convicted phenom bids subcultural purism goodbye, augmenting King's steamroller anthems with all the hooks we can eat, putting the words on paper before delivery. After three impressive "What You Want" rips, the third of which exploits moral confusions he would never have copped to when he was king, he buries the hatchet with Ludacris, whose rhymes bury his, but who's keeping score? Then it's on to a "Numa Numa Dance" sample foreshadowing the "Paper Planes" sample to come, an obliging sex boast soon converted by YouTube schoolkids into a get-out-the-vote ditty, a chant about designer headscarves, a walk around the block with Usher and Justin Timberlake. He proves he belongs on the same record as Jay, Wayne, and Kanye by hiring them to rhyme in on "Swagga Like Us," which cleans out the taste of "Every Chance I Get," the only misogynist braggadocio on an album that swaggas as a matter of principle. Hip-hop's amoral guardians may bitch and moan. But if you can't get with this expediently excessive piece of rich-get-richer, commercial rap albums are beyond your ken. A-