Finding The GOAT Album: Clipse’s Lord Willin’ vs. T.I.’s Paper Trail. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Clipse debut Lord Willin’ and T.I. quick-comeback album Paper Trail are two strong examples of Gangsta Rap crossing over without compromise. In both cases, these gifted MCs found music and broad writing techniques to carry their message beyond the block, and show their visionary capacity. Each 2000s album has adorning plaques and hits that helped define their release years, respectively. Collaborators, T.I., Pusha T, and Malice (n/k/a No Malice) are products of the same trap-to-board room trajectory, influencing countless others. With different aesthetics and styles of rapping, which article of evidence best holds up in the democratic court of opinion? (click one then click “vote”).
Lord Willin’ by Clipse
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, The Neptunes helped move the sound away from a sample-reliant style and back to the language of the drum. After packing heat for Jay Z, Mystikal, N.O.R.E., and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the Virginia duo put up a shingle as Star Trak Records, and looked within their network. The Brothers Thornton, better known as Pusha T and Malice were just what the ‘Tunes needed—and an act who they had worked with on the indefinitely shelved Elektra Records album, Exclusive Audio Footage. At a time when Jay’s hustling exploits were strongly resonating with the mainstream Rap consciousness, the duo known as the Clipse were riding dirty with stories in the trunk, and fiery flows to deliver it hard and raw. Lord Willin’ combined the cinematic drama of Blow, the fervent rapping of Hip-Hop’s park cyphers, and the back-to-the-future mastery of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, all at once.
“Grindin'” proved to be the demonstrative calling card for Clipse. In an era of ostentatious music-making, this record traded St. Tropez for the schoolyard lunch-room. The Neptunes used tabletops and lockers as inspiration for Terrence and Gene to rap about their cocaine exploits in a way that stashed the evidence. The record had the same pop-savvy qualities as Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” three years later, but this was a literal narco-rap. The two MCs used their voices as percussion instruments, the perfect complement to an album driven by drums. Songs like “When The Last Time” needed no dope to prove their dopeness, as the group slowed down their flow, but emphasized their cadences and compound rhymes. “Virginia” showed a different side of the state than heard from Timbaland, Missy, or Skillz. The place where The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay proclaimed they broke bread in the ’90s was the same environment Malice and Pusha called home. In total, this showed a new level of musicality in Gangsta Rap. Elektra’s disbelief in Clipse in the ’90s proved to be Star Trak’s enterprise. Lord Willin’ remains a zenith for the group, the producers, and the V.A. label.
Album Number: 1
Released: August 20, 2002
Label: Star Trak/Arista Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #4 (certified gold, October 2002)
Song Guests: Pharrell, Lil Wayne, N.O.R.E., Birdman, Fabolous, Jadakiss, Styles P, Jermaine Dupri, Faith Evans, Rosco P. Coldchain, Kardinal Offishall, Kelis, Fam-lay, Sean Paul, Bless, Ab-Liva
Song Producers: The Neptunes (Pharrell & Chad Hugo)
Paper Trail by T.I.
T.I.’s discography has been a critical hopscotch. Following 2006’s magnum opus, King, the Atlanta, Georgia Trap star returned with T.I. vs. Tip. A critical misstep, the album preceded a difficult year professionally and personally for what had become Atlantic Records’ flagship MC. Headed to prison for a major weapons charge following the murder of close friend, Clifford Harris was a man apart. At a time when Hip-Hop was scattering towards its current fusion of singing, blue melodies, and melancholy, Tip’s Paper Trail emerged as a triumphant and cathartic comeback album. The “king” was back, just two years after he took the throne, and more than just stylized posturing, the Grand Hustle founder wrote his life in a way that not only justified his mistakes, but gave Rap fans another mogul to whom they felt they could palpably relate.
Paper Trail hardened up the expectations of popular Rap. Songs like smash hit “Swagga Like Us” reverberated in the clubs with an EDM-informed sound, and an all-star lineup showing Tip’s elite status. “Live Your Life,” made no secrets about its pandering to playlists with its samples, but T.I.’s unwavering sincerity not only spoke to Wartime in America, but the hustler’s manifesto of getting it done. As effectively as any of his platinum peers, T.I. proved that he could make massive hits, without compromising his message or menacing growl. Just as Tip had crushed rival Lil Flip early in the decade, he put Shawty Lo in the cross-hairs on Paper Trail. In a beef that T.I. didn’t start, he went right back to Bowen Homes and laughed at the D4L artist in TKO upper-cut “What Up, What’s Haapnin’.” Undoubtedly heading up north for a bid, T.I. knew his warm seat would not get taken by anybody. T.I. got intimate with his millions of fans, despite the grandiose sound. Songs like “Ready For Whatever” explained the loaded weapons, “Dead And Gone” was a mourning man apart from his world, and “No Matter What” was a promise to the faithful fans. Paper Trail certified T.I.’s longevity. Already an artist with lauded albums under his belt, he rose to the top again, with distinct themes, sounds, and attitudes to his discography. As the shelf-life of Hip-Hop stars felt odd in the 2000s, thanks to retirement, hiatus, and popcorn resonance, T.I. made it abundantly clear, even to skeptics, that he was in it for the long haul.
Album Number: 6 (solo)
Released: September 29, 2008
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, December 2008; certified platinum, December 2008)
Song Guests: Jay Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Rihanna, B.o.B., Ludacris, Swizz Beatz, John Legend, Eliza Cho, Ghislaine Fleishman, Emma Kummrow, Peter Nocella, Stevie Salas, David Siegel, Igor Szwec, Gregory Teperman
Song Producers: Kanye West, Just Blaze, Swizz Beatz, Justin Timberlake, DJ Toomp, Drumma Boy, Jim Jonsin, Danjahandz, Nard & B, Chuck Diesel, Lil C, Blac Elvis, Rob Knox, Mike Caren, Rob Gold, The Individuals, Elvis Williams
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums