T.I. “No Mercy” Review
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Album Reviews, Music.
The year leading up to the release of T.I.‘s new album No Mercy has been nothing if not eventful. Eventful and well documented. After being released from prison, the drop on King Uncaged was set to come at any moment… and his fans stood by him and waited. In the meantime he released a collection of hurried new material with the Fuck a Mixtape mixtape (which was apparently so fucking good that Pitchfork fucking called it “an hour of T.I. sounding cool as fuck”). And fans waited. Then he released some music videos celebrating turning a corner with his life and getting back into the game. And fans waited. Then T.I. and his wife were arrested on drugs charges. And still, his fans waited. Then the long-unreleased album was given a new title, and T.I. was sent back to prison. Now, as the artist closes out the year just as he rang it in (caged in lock-down), fans continue to support him as the long awaited new material is finally unveiled. And a quick glance at the CD proves that like his fans, many of T.I.’s friends also stuck it out with the beleaguered artist all along the way.
A rundown of the credits yields a veritable who’s who of hip hop and pop stars: Kanye West & Kid Cudi open No Mercy with a dark anthem explaining the perils of celebrity; Scarface joins in to reveal the uphill battle that is leaving your past behind; Chris Brown attempts to add a voice of inspiration in the face of defeat… and from there Eminem, Drake, the Dream, Pharrell and the Neptunes, Trey Songz, Jake One and Christina Aguilera all chime in as well. No surprise then that all of this energy and support translates into some seriously enthusiastic music that largely paints a picture of celebration and excess on par with the level of celebrity gathered behind it.
Drake parties alongside the MC in “Poppin’ Bottles,” Young Dro joins Trey Songz in “Strip,” and while the clothes are off, T.I. encourages the ladies to “lift that ass up” in the saxophone-heavy banger “Everything on Me.” “Amazing” stands as the lone track on the album that fails to deliver musically; the song’s explicitly foul lyrics do little to enhance the laughable hook, “Whatcha gonn’ do, make your face fall off?” Think the viral hit “Pants on the Ground” as produced by the Neptunes and you’ve got “Amazing.” As guests come and go and the mood and sound continually shift, there remains one recurring theme that runs throughout No Mercy however: T.I.’s search for self and his conclusions on how he feels society has treated him.
The album both opens and closes with a track that finds T.I. attacking what he feels to be the public’s incorrect perception of celebrity. The songs do more than simply act as vehicles for expressing the perils of fame and fortune however, they bookend a collection of music that exposes the conflicted mind of a severely confused man. “How Life Changed” finds the MC recalling his rugged adolescence, revealing how he still finds the mindset hard to shake despite being on whole other level from his former life as a street hustler. Over live drums and a solid bass line vocalist Mitchelle’l adds, “I remember hustlin’, tryin’ to keep these crooked cops off us, now I read about it in my office.” As the album settles in further however it’s not a feeling of emotional connection or empathy that begins to develop, but rather a rigid distance from the rapper due to TIP’s ongoing insistance on relying on ill-formed conclusions.
Without even getting into the biblical comparisons used in pleading his innocence—which he’s primarily guilty of in the album’s title track—TIP’s perception of what role he has played in his own downfall continually translates as wholeheartedly misguided. While the Dream carries the harmony behind “No Mercy,” the MC takes on a defensive tone, sounding far more like he’s trying to convince himself of his innocence than anything else. Lyrically he cites a hypocritical society which unfairly condemns his wrongdoings while falling back on his status as the reason for his unfair treatment, “You can be for certain ain’t nobody perfect, but when you rich nobody give a shit: no mercy.” As if to lure his audience of admirers into believing his sincerity, “Get Back Up” finds the rapper appearing to accept responsibility for the legal wrongdoings that have ultimately prevented him from living his life a free man, “Apologies to my fans and my closest friends.” “I’m sorry,” he continues, “I won’t take you down this road again.” After lyrically lashing out at haters for their holier-than-thou attitudes regarding his moments of poor judgement the MC pleads his humanity with words that now likely haunt him, “I accept full responsibility for all the wrong I’ve done/If y’all thought I was perfect, I apologize for being human man/But never again, you can put my life on that.”
In a highly publicized interview with VIBE which took place prior to his most recent sentencing, T.I. was vehemently outspoken against his critics while suggesting how the severity of his offenses are far outweighed by the good he’s done with his life; a portion of the story which he now feels people are overlooking. And he might be right—a positive drug test and arrest for possession isn’t really the end of the world. Clifford Harris, the man behind the persona, is human and as such he’s going to make mistakes. And once the term “addiction” begins to get tossed around (as it has been) the entire situation becomes more understandable and easier to accept. But there is a severe lack of balance between his words and his actions here that reaches beyond the hazy reality of an addict. For half of No Mercy TIP projects a lifestyle of partying and living a life of riches, then he clamps down to provoke an emotional outpouring from his audience with album-closer “Castle Walls,” citing an unseen darkness behind his “Phantoms and Ferarris,” “bet you think I got it made, look again.” He repeatedly tells his fans, who have continuously supported the rapper through his ups and downs, how he’s straightening his life out on the album, yet he won’t be available to publicly promote No Mercy because he’s locked up. T.I. is an unbelievably talented MC whose unique style and flow leave him comparable to none. And No Mercy is a complete album musically, bearing some of the year’s finest production (again, save for “Amazing”). But until Harris begins to understand that his life isn’t being dictated by the actions of others he’ll never fully deserve the mercy that is seemingly bestowed on him ad nauseam. His fans won’t wait forever for him to find his way, and neither will the unforgiving industry that he’s so deeply indebted to. If he lapses once again, offering nothing but another transparent musical apology for his actions, his friends might not be there to unite as an all-star cast to fill out his album. Fortunate for the MC, he’s got about 10 more months of solid time on his hands to get his mind right. As a fan, myself, I’m hopeful that he’s able to do just that.