"I've learned that one thing about my life that is certain is trouble," said T.I. with a grin. "Be that as it may, I shall embrace that fact and not evade it. We all have faults. Before I let you stand on your high horse and point a finger back down at me, I'm going to give you a big, stiff 'Fuck you.'"
Following a two-year hiatus, legal wrangling and a slew of underwhelming material, Trouble Man (slated for December 18th release) is that defiant exclamation. The rapper previewed several tracks from the forthcoming release at New York's Germano Studios last night, and though he's still firming up the official track list – Atlantic Records reminded him that he has about one week to submit it – the 12 songs played were said to be strong contenders for the final edit.
The album contains a good balance of vintage trap fare for T.I. purists (circa I'm Serious through King), especially courtesy of longtime collaborator DJ Toomp ("Trap Back Jumping" and "Who Wants Some"), as well as radio-ready cuts for those who like their T.I. high on melody and charm. It's the latter material that, upon first listen, piques the most interest. "Somebody That I Used to Know" is a heartbreaker featuring Kendrick Lamar and B.o.B., with newcomer Keno brilliantly sampling Gotye's monster hit of the same name. The sensitive "Guns & Roses," produced by the ubiquitous T-Minus, is sure to be another crowd-pleaser with resplendent, soulful vocals from Pink.
With R. Kelly, Cee Lo, Lil Wayne, Akon and A$AP Rocky all on board, there's no shortage of star wattage on Trouble Man, but it is Andre 3000 who really steals the show. After hounding OutKast's reticent lyricist for some six years, T.I. finally snagged a feature for "Sorry," produced by Jazze Pha. In the song, the two grapple with the ills of fame. Andre's buttery flow comfortably meanders along his verse, to the point where you completely forget what existed before his bars. Dre pokes fun at haters (and even bloggers) with his signature wit and zing.
"He shit on me on my own record," T.I. openly admitted, without a trace of animosity. There's no shame in getting beaten by the best.
Trouble Man is as much for T.I.'s detractors as it is for the man to prove to himself that he hasn't lost his platinum touch. With this album he finally hits that sweet spot, a sonic and thematic balance between past and present. "To expect for me to be one-way every time you see me is to expect me to be a one-dimensional man, which I've never been," he said at the close. "I've always applauded my efforts to be diverse and multi-faceted."