Earlier this year when T.I. released “New National Anthem,” an angry, astute response to the Michael Brown slaying, it hinted that this MC might be helping to move the hip-hop dialogue out of caricature and back to dealing with real life. Think again. Despite the inclusion of “Anthem,” his ninth record is a retreat into the familiar: his grand hustles, gangsta posturing, and sexual prowess. At this point, T.I. should be beyond peddling tired thug tales like “All About the Money” and “G [expletive]” or primitive bedroom ballads (“Private Show”). It’s unfathomable that a rapper with such a command of the language and gift for introspection would resort to a song as intellectually slack as “No Mediocre,” ironically featuring another mediocre turn by Iggy Azalea. The music, executive produced by Pharrell, is inviting, soulful, and sonically inventive (the mournful “Light ’Em Up RIP Doe B” is especially impressive). The rhymes and subjects are so stale, though, that when T.I. boasts “13 years of this [expletive]” on “Oh Yeah,” it sounds more like self-criticism.
ESSENTIAL “Light ’Em Up RIP Doe B”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.