While American rapper Clifford Harris popularly known as T.I awaited trial for federal weapons and possession charges, he started working on his seventh studio album Paper Trail. After the lukewarm reception his previous album, TI vs TIP, had gotten, a whole lot was expected from Paper Trail and it did deliver. The album was released on the 30th of September 2008, under Grand Hustle Records and Atlantic Records and features a host of A-list artistes which include the likes of Jay Z, Kanye West, Usher, Lil Wayne and John Legend. One of the first noticeable steps from T.I’s previous works has to do with the change in production, which was a brilliant effect. The beats present long snare drums, violent bass lines and sample-driven tracks. This didn’t come as a surprise as the album’s production was handled by several high-profile record producers, including Nard & B, Rob, Knox, Danja, Toomp, Drumma Boy, Kanye West, Lil' C, Jim Jonsin, Just Blaze, Justin Timberlake, Swizz Beatz and a whole lot more. The album was well received by music critics, music lovers as it appealed to both hip-hop heads as well as everyone who loves good music. The album debuted at the number one spot on the Billboard 200 with much praise particularly aimed at the production as well as the depth of T.I’s lyrics on this project. Prior to the album’s release, singles like “No Matter What”, “Whatever You Like”, “Swing Ya Rag” and “What’s Up What’s Happening” had already started gaining airplay and were already soaring up the charts. Paper trail saw T.I exhibit a newfound maturity that was laid bare through his lyrics, which seemed less occupied with his cars and more focused on problems concerning politics and more life issues. As opposed to T.I vs TIP that had a few meaningless skits that distracted the flow of the album, Paper Trail exhibited a straight flow that will have you listen at a go without having to skip any track. I remember the first day I listened to this album in my room back in my University days, I had a few friends over and the stereo was on full blast. What was supposed to be a normal evening with friends turned into a party with songs like “Swing Ya Rag” and “Swagger Like Us” getting everyone all pumped up and we ended up freestyling and dancing (aided with a couple of shots in the system though)
The album opens with “56 Bars”, a rap song without a hook or chorus that perfectly introduces us to Paper Trail. The song charted on the Billboard 100 despite not being released as a single and is followed closely on the album by “I’m Illy” - another rap song that might have caught the attention of mainly hip-hop heads. For someone who is often most times referred to as a “trapper” as opposed to a “rapper”, these 2 introductory tracks did pretty good jobs of correcting that notion. “Ready For Whatever” followed, delving into T.I’s personal struggles and he did touch on his famous arrest amongst other issues. The track actually saw T.I. spit some of his best ever rhymes over a stylish modern beat that will have you bob your head slowly and even mutter a few rhymes alongside the enigmatic rapper.