The story behind T.I.'s new album "Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head" (Grand Hustle) actually gets summarized by R. Kelly.
"Oh, baby," Kells sings emotionally in "Can You Learn." "Could you learn to love a troubled man?" Not only does the line offer a soulful nod to the Marvin Gaye album "Trouble Man," which inspired T.I.'s concept, but the lyrics refer to his life, following his prison stint last year for violating parole on a weapons charge.
"Can You Learn" also shows how important his collaborations are on "Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head," the first of two "Trouble Man" albums T.I. is planning. ("Trouble Man: He Who Wears the Crown" is expected next year.) Pink turns up on the album's poppiest song, "Guns and Roses," singing a melancholy hook about a struggling relationship. Akon reconfigures Elton John's "Your Song" into "Wonderful Life," words of advice from a father to his son from beyond the grave. Cee Lo Green cobbles together some soul for the breezy "Hello," and Andre 3000 pushes the envelope with the brainy "Sorry."
T.I. also uses guests to develop a tougher persona. Meek Mill toughens up a hard-hitting "G Season," while A$AP Rocky helps deliver a hazy ode to weed-smoking in "Wildside." The first single, "Ball," featuring Lil Wayne, sounds like a Dirty South spectacular, but falls short on the rhymes.
For his part, T.I. enters every situation with the same laid-back, nimble style, communicating throughout "Trouble Man" that his well-publicized troubles have taken their toll but haven't knocked him out.
"Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head"
BOTTOM LINE Rapping with a little help from his friends