The surprise album has become a tired marketing ploy over the last few years. This is the music industry’s answer to fighting piracy and in ways it has worked. It’s nice to get music unexpectedly but the list of names that have done it do not have the same star power of someone like Beyonce to pull it off. It’s a trick that was fun at first but has grown mundane since its inception. There are artists who can pull it off though and one of those is T.I. The latest Roc Nation signee (and part owner of Tidal) released his socially charged 10th studio album Us Or Else: Letter To The System just days before Christmas. We’ve known T.I. to make trap music and commercial hip-hop but he’s not known for a body of work that contains music that makes you think about injustice.
T.I. isn’t the first artist and he surely won’t be the last artist to address racial discrimination, the unjustified killings of blacks, or the prison system with his music. He is however one of the few artists that is using his platform for a bigger cause and that is applaudable. The sound of Us Or Else reflects that of a conscious artist using catchy beats to get their point across; think if Talib Kweli or Immortal Technique had 808 drums banging while telling you that the system wasn’t designed for you. T.I. is able to change his subject matter without compromising his artistic integrity as he stays true to his sound.
The problem with Us Or Else is one that T.I. has faced in the past with his T.I. vs T.I.P. album. This album suffers from an identity crisis halfway through as songs begin not fitting the format of the album that was set out in the first few records. You’re lead to believe that this will be an album full of songs addressing the issues that blacks face in America with records like ‘I Believe’ and the Quavo, Meek Mill, and Rara featured ‘Black Man’. Then you get the Translee and B.o.B featured ‘Writer’ that features a verse from Bobby Ray that has nothing to do with the concept of the song. ‘Switchin Lanes’ is a solid record featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Trev Case but doesn’t fit the overall narrative of the project either. Even T.I.’s collaboration with The-Dream on ‘Picture Me Mobbin’ doesn’t fit the sound or concept of Us Or Else even though these two have had success in the past.
This album excels when it’s at it’s core point and there are plenty of records that address the overall theme. ‘Letter To The System’ features Translee and London Jae as T.I. drops the pros and cons of being a black man in the United States. To hear and see an artist evolve is rare as most fans hate change. T.I. has changed from this dope boy that we were used to seeing in the early 2000s to a leader in the Hip-Hop world. He’s using his past to teach the youth through his lyrics and Us Or Else: Letter To The System is a good way to begin his next step in music.
Repeatable: ‘I Believe’, ‘Black Man’ feat. Quavo, Meek Mill & Rara, ‘Letter To The System’
Skippable: ‘Writer’ feat. Translee & B.o.B, ‘Picture Me Mobbin’ feat. The-Dream
By Joe Coad