T.I. – No Mercy

written by: December 7, 2010
T.I. - No Mercy Album artwork Release Date: December 7, 2010


With the possible exception of P.O.S., Atmosphere and K’Naan, most rappers love to rap about the illegal things that they do. Dealing drugs, holding weapons, killing people—it’s a sensational medium ruled by the most sensational statements.

For a time, T.I. and his boisterous swagger ruled the land; “loaded .44 on the floor,” “drag you out that Bentley coupe and take it to the chop shop,” “I got keys by the threes when I chirp shawty chirp back.” When T.I. released King, it seemed like there was a Southern sun rising, a power figure to make the stale East Coast-West Coast rivalry a rejuvenated three-way debate.

T.I. was a monolith of Atlanta rap, untouchable and mercilessly confident.

Then he got caught. Then he got caught again.

2010 held many things for T.I. Whether the scrapped King Uncaged would’ve been a return to the vicious “chop you up with a butcher knife” flow T.I. exhibited on King is immaterial. No Mercy is the commercial product, for better or (mostly) worse. In an effort to keep his image as a public figure intact, T.I.’s latest album is a set of half-done tracks with limp-wristed platitudes subbing in for flow.

On top of that, T.I. plays the victim—“How Life Changed,” “Big Picture” and the blasphemous “That’s All She Wrote” carry the message that it’s “hard to be rich, famous, and powerful” because you’re in the spotlight all the time. Suddenly, the picture of who T.I. really is becomes all the clearer—T.I. is rap’s Lebron James. He’s a limitless, powerful, industrial and vicious talent with a knack for making bad decisions and having absolutely no idea how to rebound from them.

No Mercy is a long apology to fans for his indiscretions, when everybody (including T.I.) knows what we really want—that swaggering, competitive soul that showed up Bun B on his own beat.

To be fair, No Mercy at least makes a small effort to recover the Trap Musik sounds of T.I.’s halcyon youth. He makes the best of it at times (thank god for “I Can’t Help It”), then gets showed up by Drake of all people (it’s a crime that T.I. couldn’t figure out how to conquer an amazing beat like “Poppin’ Bottles”). T.I. has two modes that suit him—riding slow and smooth over a massive beat (“What You Know”) or delivering an unhinged Twista-like barrage. Thankfully, the latter shows up at points on No Mercy.

The former is absent, partially because the beats aren’t very good. “Big Picture” is bassless nonsense, “Strip” is a bad Lonely Island cover of “Whatever You Like.” “Get Back Up” is vocoder pop posing as rap, and “That’s All She Wrote” is like bad guitar rap. This isn’t T.I.’s wheelhouse, but the reason for his limp-dicked effort to cash in is obvious—these aren’t the songs T.I. wanted to make, and they certainly aren’t the songs he’s good at making.

Paper Trail was decent because it felt like a goodbye for a while, the big seller to tide everybody over until the comeback. Well, No Mercy tries to be Paper Trail 2 and ends up falling way short. In the end, T.I. needs to face facts—he publicly fucked up twice. Whatever chance he had at being a mentor are gone. Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane both know that it’s not about proving to everybody that you’re reformed so that you can go back to rapping about guns. It’s about fucking the critics and doing what you want because it’s what you’re good at. The travesty of No Mercy is that King Uncaged probably would’ve been great, yet T.I. still feels a responsibility to pose as the good son who just happened to get his hand stuck in the cookie jar—twice.

After the pathetically whiny “Castle Walls” ends, and after you’ve sufficiently scrubbed your ears clean of Christina Aguilera’s increasingly more grating voice, there is a moment when T.I.’s conundrum comes into focus. Like P.O.S. or K’Naan, shouldn’t T.I. feel a responsibility to his community to set a good example, both with his songs and his actions? Yes. But here’s the distinction—the songs shouldn’t come first. The actions speak first and then the songs back them up.

If T.I. is going to continually screw up his life and career and get put in jail, then the least he can do is recognize that his apology rap is a waste of his blessed Southern talent. T.I. is a popular figure, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be as vicious, transgressive or cutthroat as he needs to be. But, somewhat admirably, T.I. has elected to play the role of mentor and make a mixture of limp pop songs and urban platitudes. Fine. More power to you T.I., as it’s good that you’re saying you’re setting a good example. But to actually set a good example, you have to back words with actions.

Like Lebron, T.I. doesn’t know how to act according to his fame or his power in the community. And that is the real shame behind No Mercy, a largely throwaway LP.

No Mercy Tracklist

  1. Welcome To The World (feat. Kanye West & Kid Cudi)
  2. How Life Changed (feat. Mitchelle’l & Scarface)
  3. Get Back Up (feat. Chris Brown)
  4. I Can’t Help It (feat. Rocko)
  5. That’s All She Wrote (feat. Eminem)
  6. No Mercy (feat. The-Dream)
  7. Big Picture
  8. Strip (feat. Young Dro & Trey Songz)
  9. Salute
  10. Amazing (feat. Pharrell)
  11. Everything On Me
  12. Poppin Bottles (feat. Drake)
  13. Lay Me Down
  14. Castle Walls (feat. Christina Aguilera)