It wasn't supposed to be this way. No Mercy was supposed to represent T.I.'s glorious comeback from a year behind bars, the final act in his redemption story that ended with him victorious and on top of the charts (it was supposed to be called King Uncaged, after all). But then the man born Clifford Harris slipped up again and ended up a guest of the government again. So now No Mercy is merely an interesting album whose themes of liberation and victory come across as painfully ironic rather than victorious.
T.I. is a gifted lyricist with an unquestionably masterful flow, and No Mercy is full of the best production that money can buy care of Kanye West, Alex da Kid, The-Dream and the Neptunes, among others. It's an excellent combination, and it's a shame that T.I. wasn't free to enjoy the excellent critical response so far. In a three star review (out of four), U.S.A. Today's Steve Jones says No Mercy is "at times celebratory, contemplative and defiant" and thought the lyrics about the long road back haven't been tarnished by his recent return to prison. "T.I. admits that his 'road to redemption has no GPS' but chastises critics who rush to judge him. This is a recurring theme, in between boasts about his wealth and clever pickup lines."
Jeff Weiss of the Los Angeles Times was a little more lukewarm in his review, though he can't deny T.I.'s considerable charms. "The highlights arrive from cameos," Weiss writes. "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."
In his review in the Washington Post, writer Sean Fennessey was frustrated by the album's lack of innovation, calling it "confused and dull," adding "When he does find clarity, it's either through the lens of guests such as Kanye West and Scarface, or with qualifications."
In fact, most critics seem to agree that No Mercy succeeds in spite of itself. "This is the kind of material that, cloaked in ripe hooks and sharp beats, can sustain mediocrity," writes Jesse Cotaldo of Slant. "Stocked with smart producers and reshuffled tropes, the album buzzes with excitement and relevance even when it's thematically comatose."
What do you think of T.I.'s new album? Let us know in the comments!