From just glancing at the tracklist for T.I.‘s No Mercy, you can tell he wanted this to be a party. The rap king of the south invited a host of friends, from Kanye West to Christina Aguilera (seriously), to collaborate on this feature-filled disc, which was formerly called King Uncaged. T.I. had intended No Mercy to be a blockbuster celebration of freedom and a middle finger in the face of his haters, but continued legal trouble will find T.I. back in prison when No Mercy (pre-order here) drops December 7. But the context doesn’t alter the content of No Mercy, which has a spectrum of quality just as wide as the range of guests.
“Welcome to the World,” the appropriately titled first track, kicks off with Kanye West and Kid Cudi on board with Tip. Despite T.I.’s suggestion that he wouldn’t be talking about drugs or guns, the hook finds the rapper welcoming you “to the world of fast money, flashy cars, big guns.” Although the backing instrumentation is a bit uninteresting, the lyrics on this one are top-notch, with T.I. and Kanye’s verses dripping with attitude and swagger.
The funky “How Life Changed” follows, and this track provides a nice change of pace, some wah-infused guitar and a trip down memory lane for T.I., Scarface and Mitchelle’L. T.I. offers some honesty here, detailing the journey from dreaming about being a drug boss to living his dreams as a rap superstar. “When I think about all we’ve done, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come,” T.I. says, although given his current incarceration, it seems that some things aren’t so different.
“Get Back Up” finds T.I. apologizing to family and friends, laughing at haters, and dropping a couple of references to Twitter. The track offers an intimate look at T.I.’s state of mind, as he points out that only those without sin should be denouncing him and admits that his “road to redemption has no GPS, so guess the time must be invested.” Still, T.I. doesn’t lose his edge or humor, rapping, “I accept full responsibilty for the all the wrong I’ve done…I apologize for being human man, but never again partner.”
T.I. “I Can’t Help It” ft Rocko – Video
The next track, “I Can’t Help It,” isn’t much of a highlight, although the following song, “That’s All She Wrote,” features a fierce two-pronged attack from T.I. and Eminem. Despite their drastically different styles and backgrounds, when these two get mad, they don’t get even, they get better. Case in point: T.I. drops a number of clever, cutting lines, such as, “I get rich off living life, you check to check reciting rhymes. So call me what you want, wanna hate, have a nice time
while I get stupid paper, hey my dough ain’t in its right mind.” Eminem doesn’t disappoint, either: “Buy you a bag of Fritos? I wouldn’t let you eat the f*cking chip on my shoulder. If you was bleach and I was hair I wouldn’t dye for ya.”
“No Mercy” features The Dream showing off his singing abilities, while T.I. explains that the world has shown him no mercy, but since “God with me partner, ain’t no one for me to fear.” It’s a solid track, straight forward and entertaining.
“Big Picture” offers big blasts of horn and an upbeat, catchy feel. This is a classic T.I. track, with a comfortable, relentless flow, and you get the feeling T.I. could have just rapped on this beat for hours if he didn’t have other songs to get out of his system.
The following track, “Strip,” is destined for heavy club play, with Trey Songz and Young Dro offering what could be next year’s ultimate grind-anthem, with a hook that doesn’t mince words: “After the club, strip, when I get you home strip…baby hop up on this…I’mma take your clothes all off.” At times, the lyrics are so over the top that they become more hilarious than alluring, but this track will undoubtedly enjoy popularity as a steamy single.
“Salute” isn’t much of a standout, and oddly, “Amazing” isn’t overwhelmingly impressive either, despite (or perhaps because of) the guest appearance from Pharrell. T.I. does all of the work himself on “Everything On Me,” which is catchy and heavy on studio effects. It’s not one of the best tracks on the album, but it is catchy.
Drake drops in for “Poppin’ Bottles,” which features the most epic lines on the album: “You see him standing on the furniture doing his thing, tell the club owner, f*ck yo’ couch, Rick James.” This is a lyrical toast to, well, toasting, and it’s worthy of a toast itself. This will definitely have you hitting repeat, and not just for the Rick James line.
Perhaps the immense entertainment factor from “Poppin’ Bottles” is what makes “Lay Me Down” seem as though it pales in comparison, or perhaps because it’s basically a less raunchy version of “Strip.” Either way, it suffers a bit because of the high standard T.I. set on other tracks on No Mercy, in terms of depth and enjoyment.
The final track on No Mercy has a completely different vibe, kicking off with Christina Aguilera narrating the perils of fame and forced isolation: “Everyone thinks that I have it all, but it’s so empty living behind these castle walls, these castle walls. If I should tumble, if I should fall, would any one hear me screaming behind these castle walls?” T.I. expounds on the “agony” and “damaging” nature of this life and suggests that he’d give it all up to ensure a respectable legacy. This is an ideal track to close the album, as it shows T.I.’s depth and ability to craft a catchy track that is honest, emotional and unexpected – who would have put Christina Aguilera and T.I. on the same track?
T.I. – “Castle Walls” ft Christina Aguilera Exclusive Sneak Peak Video
It’s a shame that T.I. will be locked up when No Mercy drops, because this one is worthy of a raucous release party. Although No Mercy isn’t flawless, it shows a lot of growth from T.I., as he digs deep and delivers big on many of the tracks. T.I. shares his innermost thoughts but shows that he hasn’t forgotten how to have fun, either. Despite the impressive cast of guests, T.I. rises above the rest and stands out on every song. No Mercy offers something for everyone, with steamy club bangers as well as more serious, cerebral and honest explorations of the imprisoned rapper’s life.