69 — [Rating Scale]
The entire music community has been waiting patiently, all year long, for the follow up to 2008's highly successful Paper Trail. T.I. had first announced in January that the formerly titled King Uncaged would come out April 15th. In March, in his return to the rap forum after a ten month incarceration, Tip dropped “I'm Back,” and prepped his legion of fans with news of his upcoming “comeback” full length that he promised would include an extensive roster of rap artists and pop stars. The album then got pushed back to summer, giving T.I. the chance to drop his controversial Fuck A Mixtape. With September's drug charges, parole violations, and the famed rapper receiving an additional eleven months to his sentence, King Uncaged became No Mercy, and T.I. found himself again paying for his actions, unable to personally promote the most anticipated album of his career.
In an interview with VIBE Magazine right before he began serving his sentence, Clifford Harris discussed how he feels society has turned on him, the negative reactions surrounding his drug addiction and being sent back to prison. “In all of this chaos and this mischief and lawlessness, the person who was just in jail for machine guns and silencers turns his life around. And now you want to crucify him—for what? Three pills? I mean, of course it's wrong and unacceptable and inexcusable. No problem. But in the grand scheme of things, it's rather petty.” This feeling of betrayal is portrayed throughout No Mercy as Tip tries to prove that contrary to popular belief, there is no distinction between celebrity and human being.
No Mercy begins with “Welcome To The Word” where Tip joins the hottest artist around these days, Kanye West and his protege Kid Cudi. The song is a fitting introduction to the album's premise, Kanye welcoming you to the world of fast money and fast cars but with a stern warning: “If you're looking for real love, don't come around here.” Cudi's classic crooning reiterates this statement, a thesis of sorts that holds true on No Mercy. On first single “Get Back Up,” T.I apologizes to his fans for letting them down, admitting he's at fault for what's done, and admonishes the haters who judge him. Tip repeats “I'm only human dawg” as Chris Brown enthusiastically sings “when they push you down, you have to get back up.” Tip gives a soliloquy at the end of the song, apologizing for being a human being.
There are, of course, moments of partying and living the high life, the T-Minus produced “Poppin Bottles” with Drake, where a line is borrowed from Dave Chappelle's Show (“fuck your couch!”), Tip displaying his signature Southern swagger on tracks like “How Life Changed,” featuring the recently came-out-of-retirement Scarface. “Everything On Me” and “I Can't Help” sound evocative of his earlier albums, the latter as erratic as an early Young Money track, the former enlisting Rocko in a menacing, tear the roof down beat. “Amazing,” produced and featuring Pharrell, is the grimiest Neptunes track in years, following the formula of “Drop It Like It's Hot” and N.O.R.E.'s “Nothing.” On the title track with The-Dream, Tip returns to the confrontation but with aplomb, comparing himself to 2pac and crowing himself the King, claiming “When you're rich, no one really gives a shit.”
On No Mercy's outro, the poignant “Castle Walls,” T.I. encapsulates how misconstrued celebrity life is viewed as, how society loves to build a hero up just so they can tear him down. Alex Da Kid crafts a riveting beat that is half electro, half rap as Christina Aguilera passionately conveys Tip's thoughts: “Everyone thinks I have it all, but it's so empty sitting behind these castle walls.” Despite the celebrity appearances, No Mercy is not musically groundbreaking in any way, though the lyrics do inspire a sort of social consciousness. Through the drugs, partying and misdemeanors it seems T.I. has really learned his lesson this time, and promises never to disappoint us again. Even if he does though, we really can't blame him. After all, he is only human.