T.I - Illustrious Infamy
Courting celebrity and controversy, T.I is notorious for plenty of reasons, not least because right now he’s one of America’s hottest hip hop properties. 3D’s Tiffany Bakker sheds some light on the man everybody’s talking about.
Right now, it’s fair to say that T.I is perhaps the most successful (and infamous) hip hop star in America. Case in point: the first two singles off of his recently released album Paper Trail, Whatever You Like and Live Your Life (featuring the everything-she-touches-turns-to-gold, Rihanna) occupy the number one and two spots respectively on the US Billboard charts. The album, meanwhile, sits at number one in America (T.I’s third US number one album in a row). True, the Atlanta rapper couldn’t get much hotter... not that you’d know it by the laid-back demeanour of the man sitting in front of me.
“Yeah, it’s cool for sure,” says the 28 year-old, nonchalantly shrugging off his booming success. “I can’t sit here and say that I expected that sort of success, but when you put an album out, that’s what you want. You want people to connect.”
And punters have been connecting with the rapper since he first appeared as a 21 year-old back in 2001 with his debut I’m Serious (Pharrell Williams, who appeared on that album, anointed him “The Jay-Z of the South”). Paper Trail marks the rapper’s sixth album, and it was recorded while he was under house arrest for gun possession charges (he’s also facing a one-year jail term on the same charges come March). This time around, he’s dispensed with the gangsta wannabe persona and embraced a catchier pop-rap. He’s also brought in a who’s who of collaborators (aside from Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Usher make an appearance). “Working with people like that just inspires you to be better,” he says. “You just bounce off each other and it just makes the end result so much better.”
And it’s not just music that’s keeping him busy: there’s his Grand Hustle label to run, the films to star in (he was most recently seen alongside Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in American Gangster) and the TV shows to produce (his most recent project Life on Mars follows the life of young music producer LaMar Edwards). The busier he is, the better, says T.I: “I’ve got so many ideas, so many things I want to do. There’s no way I wouldn’t want to fit it all in.”
In fact, it’s somewhat ironic that just as his career skyrockets, he’s staring down the barrel of a year-long prison sentence. “I’m not worried about it,” he says, of his fast-approaching jail-time. “I’m just trying to live each day in the now, and not think about what’s to come, because if I did that, then that would take away from enjoying what’s happening now and just being with my kids.”
He’d admit that if he had his time over, he’d do things differently, but says at the time he was only concerned with protecting himself and his family.
“The position I’m in, some people would rather kill you than congratulate you. So I’m not saying it was right, but you know, with success comes envy,” he says. “And I’ve got a family to look after.”
And he’s got a few kids to care for: T.I is the proud father of six. Ask him how many he wants and he’s quick to say, “As many as the Lord blesses me with. Being a father is my greatest achievement. I just want to be somebody my kids can be proud of.”
T.I has also been carrying out community service, talking to teenagers about the impact of violent crime, and encouraging them to stay on in school and follow their dreams. He says he’s loved the experience and is keen to continue working with kids after he’s out of jail. “I just want them to realise there are other options, they don’t have to make the same mistakes.”
T.I says he’s frustrated that the hip hop community gets a bad rap from many in the mainstream media, perhaps more than any other music genre. “Look, we’re always out there encouraging people to stand up. We wanted people to vote in the election and I think the hip hop community had a big part in getting people out there to do it.”
Ask him what frustrates him and he sighs.
“The biggest misconception about me is that I’m just a hot-headed thug, another ignorant rapper,” he says. “But I don’t think that’s true of me at all.”
He will admit, however, that he has had occasional problems with his temper. First up, there was an altercation with rapper Lil Flip (T.I had called him a fraud), followed by the on-going feud with rapper Shawty Lo (T.I claimed Lo started the whole thing out of “jealousy” over T.I’s success). Then there was the very public punch-up with fellow rapper Ludacris’ manager Chaka Zulu at a record industry lunch (he later expressed regret at the incident and said, “There’s a fine line between brilliance and insanity”).
The rapper smiles, but reckons that once his jail time is up, he is sure his troubled past will be well and truly behind him. “I won’t get in trouble again,” he says adamantly. “I got it now. I know what I have to do. These days, I promote peace and positivity.”
WHAT: Paper Trails through Warner
WHEN: Out now