tip2.jpgT.I.’s 2006 is about as good an example of self-fulfilling prophecy as you can find. Five years after declaring himself the “King of the South” (this back when his first album, I’m Serious, was selling a mere 50,000 copies its first three months in stores), the young Atlanta rapper watched his fourth album, King, sell a remarkable 500,000 copies its first week. Released in March, powered by DJ Toomp’s majestic mountain of synth strings, “What You Know,” and follow-up singles “Why You Wanna” and “Top Back,” the album would go on to top the 1.7 million mark (in a year when exactly two rap albums would crack a million). His realm had expanded, too, and his star further brightened with his well-received acting debut in Chris Robinson’s coming-of-age roller-skating tale, ATL.

But as they say, heavy lies the head… On May 4, T.I. and his crew were involved in a shoot-out outside a Cincinnati nightclub that took the life of longtime friend and personal assistant Philant Johnson. The tragedy had T.I. thinking about quitting rap.
He kept on, though. And the success kept coming. While T.I. dove in to recording his next album, T.I. vs. T.I.P., Young Dro, the first solo artist off his record label, Grand Hustle, had a Top 10 single with “Shoulder Lean.” Then, in November, T.I. crossed another threshold, guesting on Justin Timberlake’s No. 1 pop hit “My Love”—a song that would earn the former cocaine dealer his first Grammy Award.

Indisputably, at the close of the year, there was only one person sitting on that throne. He wasn’t just the king of the South, he was the king of rap. Today, a year into his reign, he grants XXL an audience.

2006 was a big year for you. How did the success and the tragedies shape your mind state?

It definitely made it to where a nigga had to work harder. I mean, for a moment I questioned how much I wanted to still do it. But it also presented a challenge as well. And a challenge is something I’ve never backed down from.

What made you change your mind and refocus?
That was just what you call, I guess you could say, the twilight of my career. That’s when things got very different for me. The game wasn’t just… [Pause] It lost all its glory, all the luxurious parts of it. You know, from the outside looking in, you think about being on TV and having the fancy cars and the jewelry, and that’s all you really think it is. You know, the game can do no wrong, especially once it took you out the hood and offered a whole ’nother lifestyle. But then once you have been living well for a while and already made your arrangements, as far as business is concerned, and money is no longer an issue, you start to see the game for what it’s really worth. Man, it’s a job. And in some ways, to some people, it is not as rewarding as the work you put out. Ya dig? Once I stopped expecting for the game to be perfect, I could accept it for what it was, and I could work within it. That transition is what inspired the album T.I. vs. T.I.P.

------- Read the rest of our T.I. feature in XXL’s September 2007 issue (#95)

XXL Staff Picks

Songs of the Year:

“Hustlin’,” Rick Ross
“It’s Goin’ Down,” Yung Joc featuring Nitti
“Snap Yo Fingers,” Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz featuring E-40 & Sean Paul
“What You Know,” T.I.
“It’s Okay (One Blood),” The Game
“Touch It (Remix),” Busta Rhymes
“Shoulder Lean,” Young Dro featuring T.I.
“Ridin,” Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone
“We Fly High,” Jim Jones
“Tell Me When To Go,” E-40 featuring Keak Da Sneak

Albums of the Year:

King, T.I.
Fishscale, Ghostface Killah
Doctor’s Advocate, The Game
The Inspiration, Young Jeezy
Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, Snoop Dogg