Music

T.I.: Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head

T.I. (mostly) returns to trap rap in an attempt to deliver what No Mercy probably should have been. Perhaps not amazing, but certainly reinvigorating.


T.I.

Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2012-12-18
UK Release Date: 2012-12-24
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It's been an odd if not incredibly taxing six years for Clifford Harris since he released King and laid claim to the throne room of both pop and street rap. T.I. vs. T.I.P. followed just a year later and revealed that T.I.'s inner conflict between those two personas may have been threatening to get the better of him. In attempting to make a conversational album on which he opened up to his audience about the dichotomy between a street hustler past and a businessman future, T.I. instead dropped a collection of schizophrenic music that felt limp, always afraid of asserting one side of his artistry over the other. At the time it was a popular lesson to learn, however (remember Sasha Fierce?) and so fans weren't much afraid of Paper Trail, which may have placed all of T.I.'s bets in the pop realm but at least it carried purpose. By dropping the Jay-Z bravado and returning to pen and paper, T.I. may have remained a dividing light musically but it was hard to ignore his reinvigorated wordplay and self-deprecating subject matter in the wake of some very serious federal weapons charges.

Sadly, that wasn't the end of T.I.'s legal kerfuffles, and much of T.I.'s music since has felt somewhat distracted by his real life, one in which he's not pretending to be a gangster and yet still struggling to avoid the law like one. After No Mercy was forced into the marketplace by Atlantic prior to T.I.'s return to prison, fans had to face the facts that for all his technical ability and endearing reality TV programs, the music itself was a far cry from what made T.I. a household name, let alone branded the ubiquitous form of southern gangster rap now referred to as "trap music". Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head is the Marvin Gaye-alluding attempt to rectify all of these trends with the flirtatious signals of a return to form on the Fuck da City Up mixture, as well as incendiary features on tracks like Killer Mike's "Big Beast", Big Boi's "In the A" and Future's "Magic (Remix)". But T.I.'s been trading in regret for half his career at this point, so it's fair to be skeptical of his ability to finally do right by that honesty.

As if he's making up for lost time, Trouble Man starts out as energetic as any of T.I.'s better albums. With its sample of Gaye's "Trouble Man" providing a perfect feel to his newly free exuberance, "The Introduction" is unfiltered T.I. at his near-greatest. Next is "G Season", a Maybach Music banger that stands tall against most of the stuff that's actually come from that group in 2012, all masculinity and thumps, and then "Trap Back Jumpin'", a collaboration with longtime partner DJ Toomp that's not exactly par with Gucci Mane's similar "Trap Back" from this past summer but does its job well enough until its five minute runtime begins to overwhelm, even as Toomp's drums continue to intoxicate. Bloated runtime has really come to be a staple of 2012's second half hip-hop, truthfully, and T.I.'s caught the bug here as well. About a third of these songs can't help but drag on and on. Sadly, the worst offender is the six-minute, twelve-second "Can You Learn?", a song T.I. claims to have had to fight for to include on this album. It's a turgid R. Kelly collab that finds Tip and Kells asking women if they can learn to love a man who makes mistakes, a well-worn subject in hip-hop that's handled about as blandly as possible here. And beyond the music, once you start exposing your family life to the media as much as T.I. has, it's harder to take anything away from a song that's essentially aimed at groupies and thus -- hopefully -- entirely false.

Other extended moments are just…long. "Wildside" features ASAP Rocky for no other apparent reason than his name is hot on blogs right now. His Bone Thugs delivery is just a little too robotic here, and feels essentially tacked on since all that follows is a repeat of the chorus and a skit. "Who Want Some?" comes up near the end of the album with another DJ Toomp track that really doesn't feel too different than "Trap Back Jumpin'" in its aims, except that instead of five minutes long it's six. "Sorry", the other so-seeming "epic" features Andre 3000 with the closing verse and as hard as T.I. tried, at the end of the day it's just four or five spins of the album before you realize you're almost tuning out until Dre drops. None of these songs are disappointing on their own, but all of them stick around a minute or two longer than you'd probably like and that does end up having a negative effect on what else surrounds them. It's not enticing to hear "Wonderful Life" hand Akon the lyrics to Elton John's "Your Song" for half of a five minute track (as tear-jerking as the self-reflective lyrics can be), and adding Pink to the T.I. formula is less shocking than unaffecting, or boring.

All that said, Trouble Man is a pretty satisfying rap album by any standard, let alone the subpar one set by T.I. in recent years. Like many rap artists nearly a decade deep into his career, T.I. is susceptible to a number of small mistakes that add up to endlessly comparing Trouble Man to what our ears fantasize the guy is still capable of. But it's important to keep yourself aware that all these mistakes are ultimately, mostly, fanatic disappointment. T.I. remains one of the four or five most impressive rappers on a mainstream level, and though his attempts to get introspective can often toe awkwardly close to corniness Trouble Man's able to reign that tendency in more than in the past. It's fun to hear T.I. tackle the T-Minus sound that ruled hip-hop radio in 2012 on "Go Get It" even if it's not a world beater, and if you're of a certain mind it's hard not to look at the autotune-crooning "Cruisin'" as a Turquoise Jeep-like parody of Kirko Bangz' Drake biting (I mean, the chorus is about panty colors…and it's absurdly infectious). And if you have your ear to the Atlanta beef scene, then you're well aware "Addresses" exists solely to light fires under the ass of fellow Atlantic-signee Alley Boy and his Duct Tape mixtape label -- it's good to hear T.I. truly mad again.

Trouble Man's not the album you'll be recommending to less devout followers of the T.I. saga the way you would have King or Trap Muzik, but it's easily the most satisfying to fans of those albums in a long time. Fans of Paper Trail might could find less to like here - it's certainly the most angry T.I. music in a long time - but it could still satisfy. More than anything, it's an acceptable sign that T.I. may be hungry again, even as he threatens to retire following a sequel filled with castoffs sub-titled He Who Wears the Crown. After all T.I.'s personal life and career has been through the past half-decade, perhaps that's enough.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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