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CD Review: T.I.

No Mercy (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

Fresh out of prison, and now back again after a parole violation, T.I. at least plays it safe on record. Maybe too safe at times. On his seventh album, his reliable rhymes and beats ride the usual grease-free Atlanta bounce, especially the laser-perfect organ and wash-guitar shadings in "How Life Changed." The 30-year-old rapper gets ample mileage out of a scaled-down Christina Aguilera in the pensive, synch-powered "Castle Walls," and the slickly melodic The-Dream helps out on No Mercy's title track, adding crunchy guitars, medieval piano, and fake swirling strings to the mix. Only problem, there's no "Whatever You Like," "What You Know," or "Swagger like Us" — the type of occasionally risky, hook-filled cuts T.I. does best. The closest we get is the outrageously ribald Neptunes cut "Amazing," which briefly busts out of the safety zone. We hate to say this about a guy who's spent plenty of time behind bars the past couple of years, but we wish he'd take a few more chances. Dan Weiss

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