Album review: T.I.'s 'No Mercy'
Though its opening track offers entree to the world of “fast money, fast cars and big diamond rings,” “No Mercy” is largely consumed with penitence and a looming penitentiary sentence. Recorded in the interval between T.I.’s twin jail sentences, even ostensibly euphoric odes like such as “Poppin’ Bottles” are leavened with taunts to suckers “who wish the judge threw the book at him.”
Originally titled “King Uncaged,” the Atlanta rapper’s frequently postponed seventh album was quickly re-branded “No Mercy” — a commentary on his inability to escape the centripetal force of the penal system and the unyielding puritanism of his new approach.
The salacious “Strip” still boasts of “buying the bar out,” and an October arrest for drug charges indicates that T.I. hadn’t abandoned the high life, but the erstwhile Clifford Harris’ wary circumspection reveals someone unwilling to truly cut loose.
Levity was never the strong suit of the man who named his debut “I’m Serious,” but “No Mercy” never even pauses to smirk. Whereas he once toyed with tricky time shifts, his flow lingers conservatively in the pocket. Repeatedly confessing to his own fallibility, T.I. turns his attacks on gossip website TMZ and people who post Twitpics — uncomfortably interrupting his own celebration to snarl.
Too often he leans on stale templates aiming to replicate the success of “What You Know,” and “Whatever You Like.” Accordingly, the highlights arrive from cameos (see Scarface’s Old Testament oratory on “How Things Changed”), or when T.I. test-drives the seraphic soul of Jake One’s “Salute” and the xylophone thump of the Neptunes’ “Amazing.” They represent the rare peaks of possibility beyond the walls, both self-imposed and otherwise.
— Jeff Weiss
Two and a half stars (out of four)