For T.I., spending five months under house arrest on weapons charges clearly provided a creative shot in the arm. The rap star, who still faces a year in prison, comes out guns blazing on Paper Trail. Led by the No. 1 single "Whatever You Like," it's a near-perfect hip-hop album for 2008, loaded with hardcore bangers, pop-friendly hooks, party anthems and confessional lyrics—with a murderer's row of collaborators.
The hip-pop highlight "Live Your Life" features Rihanna (can she do any wrong?) with a hypnotic vocal sample and a rousing chorus that nods to the Naughty by Nature classic "Hip Hop Hooray." Another killer is "Swagga Like Us"—a boastfest with Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne that lives up to its four-star billing. Meanwhile, reflective moments like the Justin Timberlake-assisted "Dead and Gone" find T.I. dealing with his demons—and sounding more vital than ever.