With the never-ending list of incidents that have marked the life of T.I. in the last two years, one would expect to find “No Mercy” one of the more confessional, intimate, courageous and adventurous records on which the artist, in the midst of absolute existential chaos, draws some creative light and inspiration from disaster. It was not so long ago that we saw it with Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak”, Eminem’s diptych “Relapse”/ “Recovery”and Kid Cudi’s (failed) “Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager”, works that captured a very specific moment in the lives of their authors, a descent into the inferno of depression, for various reasons, and which end up becoming reflections –more or less inspired, it doesn’t matter– of a mental, emotional and creative state from which one can take something new, interesting and reflective within the frame of their respective careers.
The problem with “No Mercy” is the absolutely dull, cold and uncaring nature of the MC’s lyrics. It’s as if it were just another album, without it being exceptional or particular. There’s no emotional implications, no inkling of personality, not a trace of anything that could give this return, of which much was expected after all that has happened, any dimension of character. The expectations were high, admittedly. T.I. wrote this record after his first visit to prison, sentenced as he was at the time for illegal possession of fire-arms, after the publication of his problems with cocaine and other drugs, after the humiliating experience of the reality show “T.I. Road To Redemption” –the payment of working for the community during his imprisonment– and a new incident that could send him back to jail. If you listen closely to “No Mercy”, it’s difficult to hear any references to all this trouble.
Only the title track seems to refer to his struggles, but from a victim’s point of view, that doesn’t contribute anything substantial. The overall feeling is that the record lacks truth, consequences or depth, because the tone in almost every song is the same: celebration of life, exaltation of money, carpe diem slogans and systematic attacks. No self-realisation, no hindsight and a total inability to write confessional or imaginative lyrics. It’s a missed chance to show that the king of the south can also be that in difficult times, “No Mercy” ends up avoiding becoming a total shipwreck thanks to the efforts of the producers, handpicked with good taste by T.I. himself, the big saviours of this comeback and main reason to give this disappointing record a listen. Kanye West, Lil’ C and The Neptunes open fire with three surefire hits that give the listener more hope than the record can live up to: “Welcome To The World”, “How Life Changed” –granted, it’s one of the songs of the year, although that’s not very hard when you invite Scarface– and “Get Back Up” are, by far, the best moments on the album, reminiscent of the great T.I. from back in the day and adding some decimals to the final note.
Unfortunately, the musical baggage doesn’t maintain itself at this high level. “No Mercy”, with The-Dream, “Poppin’ Bottles”, with Drake, and “That’s All She Wrote”, with Eminem, could all have been three impressive duets, but the terrible beats make sure that doesn’t happen and render them second-rate songs. They don’t shine, and neither Eminem nor Drake are brilliant in their rhymes. The R&B outbursts of “Strip”, with Trey Songz, and the horrible “Castle Walls”, with Christina Aguilera, a semi-AOR pastiche that ends the party in the worst way possible, don’t work. It’s symptomatic that the ending of “No Mercy” lacks ambition, personality, balls and determination, and contains too much indulgence, frivolity and mediocrity. No redemption, no triumphant return, not even a well-presented revenge. The king is going from bad to worse.