T.I. Previews His New Album Trouble Man in San Francisco

Categories: Last Night

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Tamara Palmer
T.I. plays his album Trouble Man at Studio Trilogy in San Francisco.
When T.I. took a seat on a couch at S.F.'s Studio Trilogy last night to show guests the short film that accompanies his forthcoming album Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head (due Dec. 18), he had no idea that he was sitting underneath a photograph of Marvin Gaye, whose own album of the same name was partly an inspiration for this project.

The rapper born Clifford Harris landed at SFO the previous evening and, instead of taking in the sights and flavors of San Francisco, went straight to a recording studio in Emeryville to record the final voiceovers for the film. There he remained until the small hours of the morning, leaving little time before he had to begin the new day's obligations -- typical for a rapper who has been hustling all his life.

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"This is the snapshot of where I am in life and how I feel," he said last night before pressing play on Trouble Man. "Trouble is the sure thing in my life so I'ma be the best trouble man there is!"

"Call me trouble man, always in trouble, man," he raps in "The Intro," a riff on the hook from his 2003 hit "Rubber Band Man." That's followed by "G Season" with Philly rapper Meek Mill, a song about being cut from a certain cloth, and "Trap Back Jumpin'," the song in the short film that depicts what T.I.'s life would have been like had he stayed in the drug game.

As hipster DJs try to lay claim to trap music, an originator of the sound is back with the unadulterated sonics. He entertains the raw, grimy side as well as the slick widescreen side on the new album. The rapper described "Addresses," one of the standout examples of the former, thusly: "This is just the proper application of ignorant shit by way of music."

T.I.'s always been very savvy about his charisma and understands that he's got listeners who come to him for different reasons. And unlike, say, Nicki Minaj, whose straddling between rap and pop can feel very forced, it's clear that T.I. has a broad appreciation for music and pulls off his forays into the mainstream in credible ways that don't come off corny. Case in point, he maintains an edge on "Guns N Roses" with Pink, which has a more mainstream sound, but which he called an extreme love song: "It's basically telling a girl, 'I love you so much, I'll kill you before I leave.'"

He skipped playing the single "Ball" featuring Lil Wayne because he was a bit pressed for time and knew that people had heard it. But we were disappointed not to be able to revisit this New Orleans-inspired jam on a top-notch sound system. After a few false starts trying to get the buzz for this album going this year, this is the song and video that hit the homerun.

Luckily, he didn't skip "Sorry," his new song with Andre 3000, even though that was released a few weeks earlier as a promotional single. Tip (as he's nicknamed) has said that he doesn't mind being slightly overshadowed on this song, because he's gotten the best musical minutes out of the erstwhile OutKast member in several years. While Tip conceived the song to say that he really doesn't have any regrets or anything to be sorry for, Three Stacks flipped the script and uses the time to deeply apologize to Big Boi and Erykah Badu for being a bad partner.

The album's most personally revealing moment is on "Wonderful Life" with Akon. T.I. dedicates it to his late best friend Philant Johnson, who was killed and died in his arms, and his late father, two angels in his life who he says he still talks to in his private moments. His choice to close Trouble Man with "Wonderful Life" and then the spiritually-inflected "Hallelujah" (which features Bay Area singer Neda) fleshes the album out with real humanity.

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Tamara Palmer
T.I. asks for critiques of Trouble Man.
After he finished playing the songs as well as some of the bonus tracks that are on the Best Buy version of the album, he asked for honest critiques. He wanted to know if there was anything that disappointed people or anything they were expecting that he should have done. Most importantly, he wanted to know whether it was worth the wait.

"I'll tell you what I did like about the album!" someone chimed in, but he cut the guy off. Tip didn't want pats on the back.

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Tamara Palmer
T.I. chills by the fire at Studio Trilogy.
He wanted to know whether he made the right choice to delay the album from its initial September release date. After a few promotional singles earlier in the year did not make the intended impact to set the album, we think it was a smart decision to take the time to get the songs and album arrangement correct, which meant losing all of those tracks. Now, he has amassed so much material during the recording process that a sequel called Trouble Man: He Who Wears The Crown has already been announced.

Even as longtime supporters were starting to question whether he could really make another comeback with this album, "Ball" sparked up some of that lightning in a bottle that T.I. has managed to successfully capture many times in the past. It's a good indicator of the whole Trouble Man album. Solid from top to bottom, it was ultimately worth the wait.

-- @teemoney415




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