Published Aug 21, 2007T.I. is the biggest selling hip-hop artist in America. Few know it, but many have made that happen. Known for his gifted flow, and various aliases, the Atlanta-born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. found himself becoming a major player in the community with last years King, which not only sold more albums in the U.S. than any other rapper (1.7 million, in case youre wondering). The fact that it also won him a Grammy, for his blazing "What You Know single (he won another for his collaboration on Justin Timberlakes "My Love single), not to mention awards from Billboard, BET, as well as others, helped set up his fifth and most ambitious album. Featuring guest spots by Jay-Z, Eminem, Nelly and Wyclef, T.I. vs. T.I.P. finds the man splitting himself down the middle, to portray his two personalities: T.I., the accomplished business persona, and T.I.P., his dangerous thugging self. Hes called it an opera, not just an album, and T.I. vs. T.I.P. certainly plays out like theatre. Spread across three acts, the tension ebbs and flows, but sets up for the ultimate showdown between the two sides, kinda like DeNiro and Pacino in Heat. Like many in his game, T.I. has had ups and downs. Hes served time in a Georgia prison and had repeated violent incidences with fans and fellow rappers recently. But he has also built quite the portfolio as a multi-tasking entrepreneur; theres Grand Hustle, which works as both his record label and film production company, the King of Oneself clothing label, as well as an acting career (he starred in last years ATL, and will star with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the falls American Gangster) and property development and construction companies. Over a plate of BBQ-drenched ribs and a piece of pie, T.I. was gracious enough to answer some questions on a hectic promotional trip to Toronto.
What led you to write a concept album about your two personalities?
Life experiences. The things that I was going through from last year to this year inspired enough material to create an entire album.
Do you find it difficult to separate those two sides?
Nah. I mean, my first mind would be T.I.P. But when I put thought to a situation, when I apply reasoning to it, calm myself down and rationalise that would be T.I.
!!!You have other aliases. Would you explore those other sides of you in a similar style?
I mean, I believe those have already been explored. "Rubberband Man was more like Trap Muzik, "King was more like the last album, King, so I feel that this is the only part that hasnt been addressed, I believe.
Were you influenced by any other concept albums while you were writing this? Maybe Prince Pauls Prince of Thieves or any of Eminems albums, Tupacs Makaveli?
Maybe those last two a little. [Interrupts to tell his assistant he has the wrong dessert.] I definitely listen just out of being a fan of music, but it wasnt like I had a comparison with mine to theirs. Once I had thought to do an album like this, I had already conceptualised in my head how to bring it all together and make sense. The way they made theirs come together, it wouldnt work with my formula.
You separate the album into three different acts: T.I., T.I.P. and then a showdown. Did you plan out each act before you wrote it? Or did it come together during the writing process?
No, I thought about it first. And then once I could visualise what I wanted to do I could start.
You brought in Eminem and Jay-Z, who a lot of people compare you to. Did it mean a lot to have those two heavyweights working on the album with you?
Sure, it was an extreme, absolute pleasure.
The album debuted once again at the top of the Billboard charts. And it was interesting to see a song like "Help is Coming included, because its essentially a memo to your label ensuring that youre gonna deliver the goods. Seeing as the industrys hurting these days, were you feeling any pressure on your shoulders to "deliver the goods?
They always worry. Thats their job, to worry. Once they put tens of millions of dollars behind something, yknow, they have no choice but to worry. And its my job to tell them not to worry. [Sports a big grin.]
The album seemed on its way to beat a leak before release date but it did leak a week in advance. Does that sort of thing concern you?
Nah, you cant stop the album from leaking that far in advance. Theres nothing you can do. Now if it leaks four, five weeks in advance, then you got yourself a problem.
Thats usually when albums leak these days, it seems
Yeah, I dont usually have that problem.
This is the first album without DJ Toomp. What made you look elsewhere for beat makers?
Me and Toomp did work together for this album, but During an album, usually me and Toomp would get together three or four times, but this time we just got together that one time. And when we got together that one time, and I dont think we found anything that was comparable to what went on the album.
So what exactly do you look for in beats then?
Beats talk to me, they tell me what to say. Or how to approach them. Once Im done with it then I can examine it as a whole.
The beats on "Hurt, which were provided by Danja, stood out the most for me on the album. Hes been coming up under Timbalands wing, producing records for people like Justin Timberlake and the Game. What attracted you to his beats?
Danjas probably one of the hottest new up and coming producers. Yknow, hes got a lot of hits that people dont know he got, know what Im saying? And me being knowledgeable of that fact, I took advantage of it.
Youre often noted for your ability to write a good pop hook. I though King especially displayed this. Is that something you work on?
Who said my hooks are pop hooks?!? [Laughs.]
I dont mean that as an insult
Nah, nah, I didnt take it as a compliment. But I just wondered, because most people say the exact opposite. Like think about it: "Big Shit Poppin is that a pop hook?
Well, I think the chorus definitely is. It works
It works, but does that make it pop? You gotta look at other pop songs like, a semi-crossover hip-hop pop song is going down, like Yung Joc. Those arent comparable. Thats not to say that Yung Joc is a pop artist, but that song sounds like it catered to radio than any of mine did. Even "What You Know think to yourself [Interrupted by a South African film crew.] Even "What You Know, that wasnt really instantaneous; it took a while, it had to grow on people. Usually my records, people dont gravitate to them right away. They just become infectious.
So, youre quite the businessman, with your music, your label, acting, producing films, property, construction, clothing. How do you keep all of that up in a 24-hour day?
Well, I have an outstanding team of people that work around me. They fill positions as needed, know what Im saying, and make sure I focus on what I need to focus on right now. And they line up what I need to focus on next. As soon as I finish with this, I can go right into that, and so on and so forth.
How do you prioritise all of those different jobs?
Its usually depending on the nature of the cheque. [Laughs.] If we got a cheque for this then its a high priority. If theres a cheque on the way for this, then its the next priority. And if theres no cheque for this, then its the least priority. Thats how that works.<
As far as acting goes, you got some strong reviews for ATL last year. And now you have American Gangster coming up with Denzel Washington. What can you tell me about your role in that film?
First of all, the movies about the life of a guy named Frank Lucas, who was Bumpy Johnsons apprentice, and assumed Bumpys position in the New York drug trade after Bumpy died. Instead of using the local gangsters to run his crew, he called his brothers, cousins and nephews up from the Carolinas to start running it with him. I play his nephew, the guy they wanted to keep out of the family business because I was a pitcher they wanted me to play for the Yankees. I had other intentions though. I wont give it away though. Its out November 2.
What can you tell me about your clothing line, King of Oneself? When does that launch?
Between October and February. We have our spring and fall lines designed, and were just doing the finishing touches with the manufacturers and working out deals with distributors, setting up accounts here and there.
So tell me, are you still actively ghost writing for other rappers?
Let me ask you a question: Would you ask David Copperfield to reveal his magic tricks?
I guess that answers my question then! Okay, Ill move on.
Youve recently defended the use of the "n-word in hip-hop, while icons like Eric B. and Kurtis Blow are campaigning to bury it, literally. Im curious as to what that word means to you as an artist and a human?
Its a term used both friendly and maliciously depending on the situation and the scenario. And I dont think no one person should tell a black person whether or not they can use the n-word. Thats left up to the discretion of the user. Its like if you go up to a Jewish person and say, "You cant say Jew no more. Yknow, how you gonna tell me? Im Jewish! So, you cant really say or do that. You cant tell people what to say in ways that they describe themselves or their culture or their lifestyle, yknow, their walk of life. You can say, "Dont call me that! And, I wont if you ask me not to. Know what Im saying.
Do you think thats what theyre trying to get across?
If thats what theyre trying to accomplish, then fine, I will respect that. I wouldnt call anyone a name that they wouldnt want to be called.
Youve been known for having public beefs with other rappers. Do you see consider that as healthy competition, just something that happens in hip-hop or -
Its not needed, nah.
Would you say its just an act of desperation for some artists then?
Absolutely. Thats why I try to stay away from it. People keep putting me in that box, I dont know why. I dont need any of that help to gain attention. I dont do anything for the sole purpose of publicity. If I have a problem with somebody then I address them; I dont do it on a record. I do man to man, behind closed doors. If it just so happens to spill outside, thats not my fault. You know, you never seen me calling nobody a name at no show or award show. Just besides that one time, I aint ever got on a record and said anybodys name, you know what Im saying? I dont do that. Its not necessary. I think thats what people do, who dont intend on doing nothing else. If you intend on doing anything else, then all of this talking is just gonna prevent you from doing that. Go do what you gonna do. Talk about it later.
Speaking of attention you dont need, the media really picks up on the negative sides of things, like the incident at the ESPYs and that youve done some time. [He laughs.] But I did a little research and discovered that youre actually quite a nice guy, who in his spare time gives back to his community through Hurricane Katrina, Boys & Girls Club and Make-A-Wish. Do you find the media often overlooks the charitable work youve done and focuses more on giving you a "bad boy image?
They talk about what people put out there to talk about. If thats what people connect me to mostly, then they have no choice other than to talk about. I mean, my reputation precedes me. The things Ive done they speak for me before I can even open my mouth. So what Im trying to do is, Im trying to doing other things that are more positive so they can speak for me as well. Obviously my positives havent caught up with my negatives as of yet, but Im working on it.
Do you wish theyd focus more on your humanitarian side?
I think it could be focused on a little more. At least every time they speak about this they could speak about that.