T.I. will be the first to admit that he has a way of getting into trouble. The Atlanta rapper’s bouts with the law have been well-publicized through the years—most notably, when he was incarcerated in 2009, released in 2010, and then arrested for violating his probation that same year. He dropped No Mercy in December 2010, but with his name was doused in controversy, it didn’t make the impact that the Grand Hustle honcho’s previous projects had. Back to tell the story of his troubles, T.I. is following up that album today with his eighth solo LP, Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head. Over the weekend, he spoke with XXL about how he chose which songs made the album, being unable to get Jay-Z on it, what to expect from Hustle Gang and more. —Adam Fleischer
XXLMag.com: I know you’ve said you recorded over 100 songs for this album. How did you go about narrowing them down?
T.I.: Sort of like an NCAA Sweet 16 bracket. We get categories: street, trap-music-type records; then you have your records talking to the women; then you have your conceptual records; then you have your hip-hop, rap, lyricist records; and then you have your all-around just dope records—ride out records, smoke records. Anything that you can’t categorize in these first few columns, it falls into this. This is your, for lack of a better word, extras. And we just kind of say, OK, this is the best in this column, these are the best records we have that fit in this column, these are the best records we have that should fit in this column, and these are the extras. We play that game until we get it down. The whole committee seems to agree from 120-something all the way down to like 30. When it get down to 30 and you gotta chop them 30 down to 16, that’s when we usually get to butting our heads.
On “G Season,” it sounds like you just came home. Was that something that you recorded a while ago, or did you just have that mentality?
That was one of the first records I recorded when I just came home. The first record I recorded was “I’m Flexin’.” That was the very first record I recorded when I came home. If not the second, then the third record was “G Season.”
And you knew from the beginning you’d hold onto it for the album?
Did Meek get on that early on?
I asked Jay to get on it. I sent word to Jay-Z, I asked him to get on it. I know he had a lot of shit going on, so he never got around to it. I finally ran into Meek in the club—we was at, when Kanye did that thing at the post office about five, six weeks ago. We was there together and I was like, Hey, man, I got something I want you to do. We left there, got something to eat, then we went to Just Blaze’s studio in Harlem and laid the shit down right there.
On “The Introduction,” you kind of revisit that line from “Rubberband Man”: “Trouble man, stays in some trouble, man.” Is that a title you’ve been with for a while?
It’s a moniker that I feel like I’ve grown into, man. People called me that before I was even T.I. I’ve always been that guy. When wouldn’t nobody else do some shit, “Go get Tip, he’ll do it.” I was always that guy. Sometimes I got away with it, and more times than not I got caught [laughs]. But that was always me. I was gonna push the motherfuckin’ limit all the time.
The album has a few Biblical references, too. Particularly on “Hallelujah.”
It was several Biblical references. Lazarus, I’ve risen from the bed of death again. Job also. It’s several.
Who’s singing the chorus on “Sorry”?
Stacy Barthe. She wrote it and sang it as a reference, but after she sang it, I couldn’t find or think of anyone who could have possibly sang it as good—not even better, but as good.
How did the R. Kelly record, “Can You Learn,” come together?
I went in the studio, he recorded it with DJ Montay. And DJ Montay, he came in the studio with me to play some beats, and he played that one, and I was like, Nah, this is it. This is it right here. We gonna record this now. It was instant. Like, Oh, hell yeah. This is it.
Do you know what the next single is going to be?
Probably the R. Kelly record. Between the R. Kelly record and “Hello” with Cee Lo.
Are those your favorites on the album?
It depends on my mood. If I have something that I’m targeting, that I’m going for. If you say, What’s your favorite pop- or mainstream-sounding song? I would say the Cee Lo record, “Hello,” or “Guns and Roses,” or the R. Kelly record, or “Cruisin’.”
You got a lot of favorites.
That’s like asking me what’s my favorite body part. I’m using all of ’em right now [laughs].
What can we expect from Hustle Gang?
We gonna do a Hustle Gang compilation. We gonna do a Hustle Gang G.D.O.D. album: Get Dough or Die. Chip, he’s gonna release a mixtape, London Boy, right on Christmas. We have B.o.B, he just did the mixtape Fuck Em We Ball, with the record “We Still in This Bitch” with me and Juicy J. D.O.P.E., the three members, we are releasing solo projects from them. Trae Tha Truth, The Blackprint is available for download now. We continuing on.