When [artist id="1225081"]T.I.[/artist] announced after his release from prison earlier this year that his next album would be titled King Uncaged, the Atlanta rapper explained that the project would touch on his time behind bars but also hark back to the themes of his earlier material, which leaned heavily on street narratives.
However, when he was arrested again in October — and subsequently sentenced to 11 months in prison — Tip reconfigured the album, including a title change. No Mercy arrived in stores and online on Tuesday (December 7). If the LP's new name doesn't convey the sentiment of the project, the content certainly does. Throughout No Mercy,T.I. is equal parts repentant about his mistakes but also fiery as he attacks his detractors, accusing them of turning their backs on him during hard times that have included two jail stints in less than 12 months' time.
On the title track featuring The-Dream, Tip strikes a good balance, looking in the mirror while also turning it around on those who can't see past his success, where he says he's actually battling demons.
"There's no mercy for me, no crying myself to sleep," The-Dream sings in his airy falsetto. "No mercy for me/ Nightmares have become my dreams."
"His wife and sons and daughter know that every day he tried to be a better person," Tip raps over the measured production. "All they want is better verses/ To market to the merchants/ But when it's closed curtains ..."
"Get Back Up"
The theme of clemency continues on "Get Back Up" featuring Chris Brown. The sprightly number is loaded with rhymes that lash out against the media and blogs, among others, but the lyrics are conveyed in melodic tones, hushing the vitriol.
The Atlanta MC, though, also shows signs of accepting responsibility for his faults, behavior that he carried over from his days in the trap: "I admit, yeah, I done some dumb sh--," he raps in the song. "Disappointed everybody, I know/ Try not to hold that against me, though/ My road to redemption has no GPS/ So guess time must be invested for this to be manifested/ Yes, it's hard living life in the spotlight/ Trying to dodge the haters the same time as the cop light/ The Bible says let he without sin cast the stone first/ The sinners are the ones that judge him, who was wrong first?"
"Welcome to This World"
No Mercy isn't all gloom. T.I. is still an exceptional MC, and he holds his own lyrically with a list of guests that would excite a five-star hotel manager. On the brooding "Welcome to This World," featuring Kanye West and Kid Cudi, Tip and 'Ye trade boastful verses about the high life.
"She coming home with me, she finnin' meet her doom," Tip spits. "She ain't saying I'm the greatest, finnin' to change her tune/ The coldest and the hottest, call me December and June/ Deliver euphoria straight to your room."
"All She Wrote"
On "All She Wrote," Tip and Eminem swap bars about spending time with the wrong woman.
After jumping on Drake's breakout 2010 track "Fancy," the Toronto MC reunites with Tip for "Poppin' Bottles," a woozy strip-club anthem.
And "Amazing" is a bottom-heavy banger, courtesy of the Neptunes, that also finds Tip setting aside the album's weightier themes.
But the best work on No Mercy stems from Tip dealing with adversity. The rapper admitted to a pill addiction in a Vibe magazine cover story and recently penned a blog on his personal website confessing that he's "sick and tired" of being in and out of prison
He teams with Christina Aguilera for the deeply personal "Castle Walls." It's here that Tip confronts the consequences of his actions; a captivating documentation of this chapter in his life.
"Honestly, to me, I think I lose every benefit/ Of all that I've accomplished if my kids never win at sh--," he raps. "Me knowing this, why should the verse I laid/ Be more important to me than the persons I raised?
"I guess I'm saying that to say that opportunity today," Tip continues. "Don't equate to all the time it takes away from your kids."
What do you think of T.I.'s No Mercy? Share your reviews in the comments!