The King of the South: T.I. vs. T.I.P. [Interview] #Throwback
UPDATE: As December will mark our 15th Anniversary online, we’re going to be pulling from the archives to revisit some of our favourite and most popular stories. This is our first interview with T.I. back in 2007. Check it out!
Toronto, ON – Originally published August 28, 2007 – It’s mid-July  and I was heading downtown for an interview with Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. better known as T.I., you know… the King of the South. After successfully being on top of the game for the past 3 years with his albums Trap Muzik, Urban Legend and King, respectively, T.I. returned early July 2007 with his latest project, T.I. vs. T.I.P. The album features banging production from Mannie Fresh, Grand Hustle, Just Blaze, Danja, Eminem and Wycelf Jean and also has guest appearances from Em and Wyclef, as well as Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and St. Lunatics frontman, Nelly.
T.I. vs. T.I.P. – The album comes after a long year of trials and tribulations for T.I. that began with the tragic murder of his close friend and business partner, Philant Johnston, early 2006 in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to T.I., the album reflects a lot of personal growth and a much larger diversification in his sound. His first two singles, “Big Shit Poppin’” and “You Know What It Is” featuring Wyclef have been well received by fans and, not surprisingly, the album held the number 1 spot on Billboard for 2 weeks straight and remained in the Top 10 for a total of 7 weeks.
Aside from his music, T.I. has been investing a ton of time into his acting career and has even opened a new branch to new Grand Hustle Recordings – Grand Hustle Films and this production house is already busy at the work on a movie called For Sale and one named Once Was Lost starring T.I. alongside the legendary Danny Glover [Lethal Weapon, Saw]. Once Was Lost, directed by the same man who did Mark Whalberg’s 2006 release Invincible, is the story of a young man who loses his best friend and finds himself caught in a world of dealing drugs and violence. T.I. is also featured in the upcoming release American Gangster written by Steve Zaillian [Searching for Bobby Fischer, Gangs of New York] and directed by Sir Ridley Scott [Black Hawk Down, Gladiator]. T.I. appears alongside an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding Jr. and fellow rappers RZA and Common. In the film, Denzel portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life heroin kingpin from Manhattan, and T.I. plays the role of his nephew.
One might think T.I.’s schedule would be stretched to the max but, after all that, he still finds time to put some serious work into his community. In fact, his KING Foundation – or Kids In Need Of Giving, has done great things for Atlanta as T.I. regularly meets one on one with young kids and teenagers from the local communities. He’s also putting in some notable charity work with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, Single Parent Initiative and the Make a Wish Foundation, amongst several others.
Looking at things from a music perspective again, 2007 has also found T.I. playing more of an executive role as he prepares for the release of other upcoming Grand Hustle releases including Wyclef Jean’s new solo project, Big Kuntry’s highly anticipated release and the latest album from former Cash Money Hot Boy, B.G.
Is he overwhelmed by everything? Well he seems to be handling it pretty well. He was very cool and laid back during the interview and definitely a pleasure to chat with. Scroll down to take a look at what this young King had to say about the various facets of his career.
Interview conducted by Lola Plaku for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: How long in the making of the album did you decide that that was going to be the name of it? Or did you decide from the beginning?
T.I.: From the very beginning… the last year and a half of my life has been just as much triumph as tragedy; just as much personal as professional and that’s what T.I. vs. T.I.P. is. I thought that it was only right that I put out the album that people wanted to hear. Coincidentally, it was also the last concept of the next album that I spoke about with my partner Phil before he died. Once I actually decided that I would come back and do another album, I decided that this was the album for me to do.
HipHopCanada: What song on the album represents that the most or rather what song in the album is the most personal?
T.I.: All of them… The whole album reads the last 18 months of my life; from the time I dropped King until now.
HipHopCanada: What side of you dominates your character the most?
HipHopCanada: You have a lot of notable names in production on the album including yourself. What was the first beat that you heard and you were like, “Damn, this is me”, right off the bat?
T.I.: Definitely “Big Shit Poppin’”, “Dope man”, “Raw”, and “We Do This”.
HipHopCanada: Who did you enjoy working with the most on the album?
T.I.: Everyone offered such a different… brought something so different to the table, so I really do appreciate everyone.
HipHopCanada: Why Wyclef?
T.I.: Wyclef called me, man. He said he was coming to Atlanta and said he needed a studio. I let him use mine. While he was down there we did 7 songs in one weekend. It was kind of a no-brainer.
HipHopCanada: You are co-producing/executive producing his album. Does he have a release date yet?
T.I.: No, no he doesn’t. We are just working on the creative process. We have plenty of songs done. We have songs with him and Mary – matter of fact, he’s in town, I need to holler at him [Laughing] – him and Chamillionaire, me and him etc. He has real hot shit and it’s really conceptual.
HipHopCanada: What is your role on it?
T.I.: He’s got a really diversified sound. He’s real worldly. I think my job is to focus on his urban sensibility; make sure that’ he’s relevant to what’s happening right now.
HipHopCanada: Your past 3 albums have had amazing success and have all reached platinum status. What type of success do you plan to reach with this album and what does it have that puts it on a different level from all the other ones?
T.I.: I can’t plan on success. It just happens. It’s a concept album for one, which puts it on a whole different plateau from the other ones, and it has a really diversified sound. It’s the only album I have made where not one song sounds like the others. All of them are different.
HipHopCanada: DJ Toomp has been working with you for a very long time…
HipHopCanada: How come he’s not featured on this album and is it true that you are working on an album together?
T.I.: [Laughing] We’ve talked about an album where he produced the whole thing and I rapped on it. We’re working on it man. We haven’t exactly come to terms with what it is going to take to make that happen. Creatively we have spoken about it and we’re both in agreeance to it. Now we just have to see what it would take to make that happen.
HipHopCanada: Why wasn’t he on the album again?
T.I.: Why wasn’t he on the album? We did record together. We have songs; DJ Toomp produced songs. But usually when we go in together, we go in 3-4 times and this time we only went in once. I guess he was ripping and running and I was ripping and running and we never got a chance to get back in. The songs that we did that one time didn’t make the album.
HipHopCanada: Is he going to be on the next album?
T.I.: I’m working on the album right now and we have to go in again. We have to see Toomp’s availability. [Laughing]
HipHopCanada: Can you clarify any feuds that are circulating on the internet right now? Chaka Zulu, Ludacris, Lil’ flip, Lil’ Wayne? Are they all valid?
T.I.: Let me see, who?
HipHopCanada: Chaka Zulu?
T.I.: Nah. Water under the bridge. I left that where I left it.
T.I.: Nah, we never had a problem
T.I.: Umm… pfftt… where is he? Huh? Who?
T.I.: Nah, me and Wayne cool. We actually did record a song together which didn’t make it on this album, but will be on the next one.
HipHopCanada: Umm, what made you punch Chaka Zulu in the face at the BET Awards pre-party?
T.I.: [Laughing hard] That’s a T.I.P. question. Respect is mandatory man, watch what you say to me.
HipHopCanada: Okay, stepping away from the beefs and focusing back on your music.
T.I.: Thank you.
HipHopCanada: You have produced and ghostwritten for several other artists as well as producing and writing your own tracks. What keeps inspiring you?
T.I.: Life… the pursuit of success. I want to continue to outdo myself and grow and evolve and expound on what I’ve built already.
HipHopCanada: Since 2003 you have released an album for every year. What is in your opinion the key to staying relevant?
T.I.: The ability to connect with the people sincerely; being sincere, honest, vulnerable, triumphant, but yet when tragedy strikes you have to be strong and show your face. You have to take it how it comes. You have to accept the great times as well as the not so great times. That’s what I’ve done. You have to look good doing bad just like you look good doing good. I think there is a respect that you find and an admiration that people connect to.
HipHopCanada: There have been recent disputes and calls for rappers to be more responsible in their lyrics. How much of an average rapper’s image is actually a gimmick and how much is actually real?
T.I.: Most of it. There’s very few of them out there that be living that shit that they be kicking. It depends on the artist. For instance Common is who he says he is. 3000: same thing. Lupe: same thing. Nas: him too. Jay: same thing. DM X: same thing [Laughing]. There are certain people out there that really are who they say they are and then there are others that are not so much. Kanye: same thing.
HipHopCanada: There’s a lot of discussion going on about the new music coming from the South. Many claim that it’s all recycled beats and watered down lyrics. You’re well respected as an excellent lyricist coming from the South. What advice would you have to give to new artists coming up to get that respect?
T.I.: You have to be hard and work hard. Perfect your craft and constantly challenge yourself. Push yourself to follow new patterns and tackle different subject matters. Constantly perfect your craft.
HipHopCanada: Cool. Tell me about American Gangster. You play the role of Frank’s nephew. In what way does your character relate to you as an individual?
T.I.: Well I was a hustler’s nephew. Stevie was a different kind of nephew than I. He was someone who wanted to be something. This was something that came natural up on to me. They couldn’t keep it away from me. Stevie was someone that wanted to hustle up on to his uncle’s eye. I had to hide from my uncle to hustle. I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to show them that I could do it just as well as they did. I knew that joining the family business was absolutely positively out of the question. That would never happen. I had more of a sense of independence. I did it on my own two feet a little more.
HipHopCanada: You have been working on a lot of movies lately. What are some tips that you have learned from actors like Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe?
T.I.: Well, Denzel told me to keep it simple. Just do me and that’s what I’m going to do.
HipHopCanada: Awesome. Anything you have in the works for 2007-2008, for you or for Grand Hustle and its artists?
T.I.: Sure, DJ Drama – The Official Gangsta Grills Album coming real soon. Big Kuntry’s My Turn To Eat coming real soon. Young Dro’s second album Young And Restless coming real soon, JR’s Get Moneyunder Grand Hustle and Universal coming real soon and B.G.’s To Hood To Be Hollywood under Chopper City and Grand Hustle coming real soon… and of course Wyclef! [Laughing]
HipHopCanada: You contribute on a lot of community projects and try to help the community a lot. Why do you do it?
T.I.: Because I came from the same hoods I’m trying to help and it didn’t seem like anyone cared about helping them day-to-day when I was there. I want to change that.
HipHopCanada: Do you plan to go in other countries outside of North America?
T.I.: I would love to, but I think if you want to change the world you have to start from your corner.
HipHopCanada: Cool and thank you for taking a seat with HipHopCanada.com.
T.I.: Right on. Thank you.
Interview conducted by Lola Plaku for HipHopCanada