I’m Real, What Are You?
T.I. is in total control of the crowd situation. Outside the Giant Foods supermarket, where $19.99 can get you any five packages of meat, the 26-year-old rapper and actor and entrepreneur remains calm despite the growing mob. He’s in his old neighborhood, Bankhead, and he knows how to deal with such things.
“I’m happy to see all of you,” he says with outstretched arms. “I appreciate all the love.”
He shakes hands, signs autographs and slaps five with one teenager who gleefully yelps, “I’m never washing my hands again.”
T.I. is here at this dilapidated strip mall—three of the four seats in front of the Coin Laundry are broken—on this Saturday afternoon to pose for a photo shoot. It’s not what he’d like to be doing. After all, last night was the 30th birthday party for Grand Hustle co-CEO Jason Geter. It was at the Body Tap, “one of the hottest strip clubs in Atlanta,” and T.I. was out until 5 a.m. But, hey, this is work, and he’s a professional.
A stylist hands him a navy blue military button-up. He pops the tag, throws it on the pavement and changes shirts. Teenage girls squeal. Grown women snap pics with their camera phones. Little kids mimic his poses right down to the cocky scowl. And one burly knucklehead can’t shut up about how he likes Lil Wayne better. Even this guy’s impressed, though. (Homie actually said, “He aight. He aight, though.” It was like a live-action Mad Rapper skit.) Everyone is impressed.
“He looks like he’s a pretty down-to-earth person,” says Tricia Austin, who was driving down Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, noticed the crowd, and pulled over. “He’s hard, but without being disrespectfully hard. And his last CD was really good. He’s a pretty good actor too.”
After the shoot, T.I. speeds off in his black 2006 Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren, the one he last drove right before Super Bowl weekend.
This is exactly what you would expect from T.I.
T.I.P. is in total control of the crowd situation. Outside of a low-key pit BBQ spot, where $5.50 can get you two ribs, two chicken wings, two slices of wheat bread, a grape soda and a bottle of water, the 26-year-old former drug dealer seems a little agitated by the growing mob. However, he’s in his old neighborhood, Bankhead, and he knows how to deal with these things.
“Ay.” T.I.P. motions to his crew, ignoring the scrum of fans waiting for him. “Let’s go.” He contemplates socializing, but there are too many people to accommodate.
T.I.P. is in this dilapidated strip mall—all the seats at the BBQ spot are lawn chairs—on this Saturday evening to do an interview. It’s not what he’d like to be doing. After all, last night, he was out at a strip club until 5 a.m. So he’s nursing a Heineken as he hops into his red 1969 Chevrolet Camaro “Rally Sport” drop, the one he last drove the day Grand Hustle shot Young Dro’s “Shoulder Lean” video.
Mothers plead with him to sign autographs. Little kids look like someone just stomped their pet puppy. And one guy, whose tank top barely conceals his huge gut, is really mad. “I ain’t waiting here no more,” he shouts, rounding up his family. “I ain’t waiting. I said, let’s go.”
A particularly angry mom who’s been consoling a particularly disappointed kid starts giving T.I.P. a particularly hard time. From the driver’s seat of the Camaro, he tries to explain: He just finished an interview. He’s running late to a photo shoot. It’s his fourth of the day. She interrupts him, punctuating her sentences with her index finger. And then T.I.P. has had enough.
“Ay, ay, ay, listen,” he snaps. “You got to give your ears the same chance that you give your mouth!”
With that, T.I.P. speeds off, the open Heineken still in his hand. He’s not wearing a seat belt.
This is exactly what you would expect from T.I.P.
The man born Clifford Harris Jr. is conflicted. Doesn’t matter that his alter ego, T.I., was the top-selling rap artist of 2006. There are little battles—wars, actually—raging in his head. All his life he was “little bad-ass Tip,” he says, a drug-dealing hooligan who was nice with his hands and even nicer on the microphone. But now, after that skill set (the rapping, not the scrapping) made him a millionaire, he’s T.I. when he’s on the clock. That’s the mature, level-headed musical artist who has released three million-selling albums—the one responsible, as much as anyone, for Atlantic Records’ prominent position in the rap game. That’s the mogul, the co-CEO of Grand Hustle Records—an Atlantic subsidiary home to Young Dro and DJ Drama—the one who brought resurgent New Orleans star B.G. into the fold. That’s the budding actor who opened a low-budget niche film, Chris Robinson’s ATL, to $11.5 million—the one who got advice from co-star Denzel Washington on the set of this fall’s American Gangster. “Don’t act,” the two-time Academy Award winner told him, “just be.”
He’s also a businessman, the owner of a construction company (New Finish), a nightclub (Club Crucial), a car shop (Elite Auto) and a clothing line, Akoo (A King of Oneself), which he describes as “upscale urban fashion” designed to “pick up where Ralph Lauren and Sean John left off.”
It’s a lot to deal with. Especially when the “real” Clifford Harris Jr. doesn’t get credit for his part in all the success. “I couldn’t… Umm…” He pauses. “T.I. couldn’t have been out here calling himself no king of the South if it wasn’t for the groundwork we put down before the rest of the world knew who T.I. was.” So this summer, he’s doing what a conflicted artist should: releasing his demons on record. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dilemma will be explored on his fifth album, T.I. vs. T.I.P.
Problem is, he’s been there, done that. The song “T.I. vs. T.I.P.,” from 2003’s Trap Muzik, captured the split-personality back-and-forth in a concise 3 minutes and 54 seconds. “You need to think ’bout your actions,” T.I. rapped. T.I.P. responded like he would: “Nigga, fuck you!” By the end of the song, though, the two had come to an understanding. Is there anything else to add?
“So much has happened since that song,” he says. “T.I. has a certain take or stance on what has happened in our life and our career since Trap Muzik. T.I. really feels like T.I.P. jeopardizes everybody’s livelihood because of his quick temper. T.I.P. feels T.I. cherishes that luxury shit too much and if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. They both got valid points.”
There are other reasons T.I. is releasing T.I. vs. T.I.P. “I definitely wanted a challenge,” he says. “I feel like this is a point in my career where I had to raise the standards and show people why I should be separated from the rest. It’s like, you sell 500,000 the first week. Cool, Jay can sell that. 50 can do that. You say, I’m a hot rapper. Aight. Weezy is a hot rapper. You say women like him. Well, women like Weezy. You say you got street credibility. Okay, well, Jeezy got street credibility. I’m acting. Andre 3000 acts. Ludacris acts.
“I want to set myself aside from everyone. I want to prove that I am beyond competition. In order for me to do that, I have to do something that can’t nobody else do but me—and this is that.”