[Editor's Note: Part one of this interview appears in the August 2008 issue of XXL.]
At what point did you feel it was time for you to start writing things down again? Did you do the last two albums without writing, or did you just—
I did [writing on] all of my albums except for I’m Serious, but I [do] write. Urban Legend I had to write because I wrote some of it [was done] while I was in jail. I wrote some of it while I was locked up, but the things that I did, the songs that I did while I was out like “Bring ‘Em Out,” I didn’t write that down. “U Don’t Know Me,” I didn’t write that down. “Motivation,” “ASAP,” I didn’t write [those] down. “Be Better Than Me,” I wrote that down, “Praying for Help,” I wrote that down—
“Doin’ My Job?”
No, I didn’t write that down.
When did you feel like, “Aight, I have to start putting it down?”
I came up with that idea in Mexico, I was on vacation—
Oh, this was before—
Yeah, fo sho. In Mexico, man, I was on vacation and I was thinking about how to approach this next project so that I could make it different and just thought, just thought—and this was after T.I. vs TIP came out and everybody was saying—at this time nobody was saying that it was a disappointment, nobody was saying that they didn’t like it. Everybody was just saying we wish we had more of the classic Tip. “This guy sounds like he’s more concentrated on making hits than he is rapping.” It wasn’t until this situation transpired that people said “Aw, T.I. vs. TIP” was a disappointment. While I was out like when “Hurt” came, when “Big Things Poppin;” came—
The idea for Paper Trail came—
Paper Trail, man. I was just thinking about what would be new and what would be different and I was reading people saying how they missed classic T.I. from I’m Serious from Trap Muzik. So I said the only difference between T.I. now and T.I. from I’m Serious is, one, I was just rapping without thinking about the conventional methods of putting songs together—without thinking about whether or not a song would be worthy of radio play—I was only thinking about creating music and I was writing things down. So with King, T.I. vs TIP, even some of Urban Legend, I was thinking about putting songs together—16 bar, hook—16 bar, hook—16 bar—hook—where as on some records on I’m Serious it was just one long verse, just rapping—I wasn’t worrying about whether or not this was gonna be considered a single so I figured, Well maybe if I start writing things down again, it’ll provide some different perspective and make for a new sound.
Sound wise, you got Toomp back, right?
What was that relationship like getting back together again?
I mean, me and Toomp never really went nowhere.
It seemed like there was friction for a little bit between you two, no?
That’s just because that’s what people want just because Toomp wasn’t on that one album and because there was no friction me and Toomp still cool—just the business didn’t work out in the amount of time necessary to make that album. We even did songs together for T.I. vs TIP, it’s just—those songs just didn’t make the album. It wasn’t that we stopped speaking, it wasn’t that we had an argument—none of that—that’s all stuff that other people conjured up and jumped to conclusions and that’s what I’m saying. Man, cats say anything. They just say whatever because they don’t know—they don’t know—so it’s like shit, how can you speak intelligently of a situation that you have no knowledge of? So I mean, anything you say is gonna be stupid, it’s gonna be less than factual and it’s gonna be—just dumb. So when people speak on my situation, whether it’s my relationship with Toomp, whether it’s my legal situation, people speak on these situations and I see it; I mean they just, they sound stupid because they don’t know nothing about it.
Did you feel as though when you got the plea deal, people would think you cooperated with the authorities?
Yeah, of course I did. I knew that.
So the fact that people don’t understand why you did what you did and all the ramifications behind it—do you feel as though—
It’s hard to understand [what I did] with a clear-thinking mind. You have to throw in some paranoia, you have to throw in some concern for your safety, you have to throw in some concern for you family’s safety and well being and you have to throw in some knowledge of certain activities that’s going on in your city that could very well happen to you as well as they were happening to other people—
But most of the time people—
You have to throw all that in before you say that you understand or expect to understand.
People feel like, “Ok, T.I., big rap star, big movie star—he has security to handle that, he has the gated community; he has the entourage when he’s rolling.” Does the paranoia get to that point when—
T.I. was the same movie star, same rap superstar who had security in Cincinnati and what did that do? So, you can’t really say that, that’s not a guarantee.
Are there situations where you have people that may just badger you or you get the phone calls, you get the veiled threats, you get the—
Not now. Not now, they know. I’m being watched more than the president now. Of course not, but yeah, at one time it was like that. And you know I’m not the type of person where I’m “Oh my God, someone said they were going to—Oh man, what I’ma do?” It was just like “Oh yeah? Ok, aight, let me prepare myself for that.” It’s as simple as that.
And not being able to voice that—
Nah, I’m not gonna talk to nobody about nothing—that ain’t happening. That just wasn’t how I was programmed to operate.
And that’s what I’m getting at. Is there a code of the street, or a code of ethics that you grew up in, that won’t allow you to let people see that part and won’t allow you to stay away from that part? That’s that natural, “Hey, I’m from here, I get this kind of threat, this is how I handle it, yet I’m in a movie with Denzel.”
There can be some truth to that. There can be some truth to that. Now, I don’t wanna glorify or glamorize that fact, but there can be some truth to that—just based on my upbringing. I’m just not a crybaby. I’m not gonna cry about it. I’ma accept the situation and find a way to deal with it. Now whether I found the best way to deal with it—is without question. I did not.