Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Trap Muzik [Grand Hustle/Atlantic, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • King [Grand Hustle/Atlantic, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Paper Trail [Grand Hustle/Atlantic, 2008] A-
  • Paperwork [Grand Hustle/Columbia, 2014] *
  • Da Nic' [Grand Hustle, 2015] ***
  • Us or Else [T.I./Roc Nation EP, 2016] ***
  • Us or Else: Letter to the System [Grand Hustle/Roc Nation, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Trap Muzik [Grand Hustle/Atlantic, 2003]
"Be Better Than Me" Choice Cuts

King [Grand Hustle/Atlantic, 2006]
"What You Know" Choice Cuts

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-

Paperwork [Grand Hustle/Columbia, 2014]
Docked a notch for disrespecting pubic hair ("No Mediocre," "New National Anthem," "About the Money") *

Da Nic' [Grand Hustle, 2015]
Just to prove he's lost neither knack nor professional standing, an enjoyable EP no one expected or, I admit, needed ("Broadcast Live," "Ain't Gonna See It Comin'") ***

Us or Else [T.I./Roc Nation EP, 2016]
Intelligent black man goes straight conscious while wisely ceding the EP's most intelligent rhyme to Killer Mike ("40 Acres," "Black Man") ***

Us or Else: Letter to the System [Grand Hustle/Roc Nation, 2016]
In an odd move commercially but a fortuitous one culturally, the well-fixed ex-felon absorbs all six tracks of the political EP he dropped in September into a doubly unexpected 15-track album. The new songs are no stronger than the old ones and never top the Killer Mike throwdown "40 Acres"; they make room for the regrettable hook "You know why you broke you niggaz is lazy" and the provocative refrain "Pain just a weakness when it leavin' the body." Yet the bubble-funk of the opener eases its iconoclasm down, the tongue-in-cheek patriotism of "That's my story and I'm stickin' to it" adds cred to the title track's Black Lives Matter, and the don't-trap-like-I-did admonitions gain cred by association. Between its timing, its heft, and its complexity, the whole is more than equal to the sum of its parts. A-