From The Archive: T.I., “Crown Royal” [Originally Published August 2008]
This past week in hip-hop has tumultuous for a number of different artists. On the business end fo the industry, PepsiCo dropped two rappers - Tyler, the Creator and Lil Wayne - after their respective controversies boiled over. And on the legal side, Gucci Mane found his freedom for the first in three weeks. The hectic nature these incidents prompted use to look back to our 2008 interview with T.I., as the King of the South prepared to serve out a year-long prison sentence after he was caught buying illegal assault weapons.
The self-proclaimed King of the South has a new lease on life. After facing up to 10 years in jail on gun-purchase and possession charges, T.I. just wants to get back to work,his family and his seat on the throne as hip-hop’s hardest headliner.
- Word by Datwon Thomas
￼For someone who’s slept only a few hours over the last two days, Clifford Harris Jr. (a.k.a. T.I., b.k.a. T.I.P.) is full of energy—amped even. At 12:48 a.m. this morning, May 16, 2008, he and the longtime Bonnie to his Clyde, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, became the proud parents of their second child to- gether (T.I.’s fifth). Word has it T.I. was in full doctor scrubs in the delivery room at the Atlanta-area hospital during the ar- rival of his 7-pound-4-ounce son, Major Philant Harris. He’s barely slept since.
After leaving the hospital, he has two early school visits, one at 8 a.m. at Stone Mountain High School and another at 10:30 a.m. at Stone Mountain Middle School. Tip will be talking to young people about preventing teen-on-teen violence and staying away from guns. For a family man, this beats the jail bid he was most recently facing. He’s spent the past six months dealing with major legal issues (no pun intended).
The drama for the actor, rapper and CEO of the burgeoning music label Grand Hustle Records began Oct. 13, 2007, when word spread through the hip-hop industry that the outspoken—and sometimes tem- peramental—rapper had been arrested prior to BET’s Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta, which he was scheduled to perform at. The rumor mill and Internet were working overtime with talk of T.I. getting caught picking up multiple high-powered guns in a shopping center parking lot during rehearsal. (Despite his arrest, Tip won two BET Awards that night.)
Over the next few days, more facts became clear. T.I. had been picked up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives while at- tempting to collect three machine guns and two silencers—unregistered guns bought for him by his bodyguard. The bodyguard had been bust- ed four days earlier, while making the purchase. He told authorities whom he bought the $12,000 in firearms for and cooperated with authorities on their delivery to the hip-hop star that fateful afternoon.
After the arrest, police found three more unregistered guns in T.I.’s vehicle, along with a half-pound of weed. That evening, authorities searched Tip and Tiny’s East Point, Ga., home and discovered six more firearms, some of which the bodyguard claimed he had helped Tip purchase in the past.
The multiplatinum MC, who has had previous bouts with the law and has already served time in prison, was charged with possession of unregistered machine guns and silencers, as well as possession of firearms by a convicted felon, and faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each charge. He pleaded not guilty.
T.I. sat in jail for the next 12 days, before being released on a $3- million bond. He spent the next five months on house arrest, keep- ing himself busy writing his sixth solo album, Paper Trail (dropping Aug.12), spending time with his fam and communicating with fans through streetcred.com, a social-networking site he is an investor in. Back in November, he released the much-talked-about video clip message of himself chilling at home, which was followed by another one for Christmas—both via his site.
On March 27, 2008, Tip’s drama began to subside, when he pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges, as part of a plea deal. He was released from house arrest and sentenced to a year in prison (to be served in 2009), three years of probation and more than 1,500 hours of community service as a public speaker talking to the youth. T.I. has already gotten a jump on the community-service part, attending sev- eral speaking engagements so far.
Getting his life back in order also means handling necessary busi- ness. There have been a few issues Tip’s had to deal with besides the Case and the arrival of a new baby. Amid his legal problems, T.I. lost a big endorsement deal, when he was dropped by General Motors. Then there’s Shawty Lo, a fellow Atlanta hip-hop artist who has an awkward history with Tip and has been trying to bait him into some controversy through Internet videos, claiming that Tip isn’t from Bankhead, a hood on the west side of ATL. And on the legal front, skeptics have since questioned how T.I., a convicted felon buying and owning such serious firearms and set up in a sting by the feds, could get such an easy deal. Was there any cooperation of sorts on his part?
But regardless of all the drama, Tip’s is revealing facts on a need- to-know basis. He has more pressing issues to deal with, a career to get back on track and an image to clean up. And today it picks up af- ter the Stone Mountain Middle School visit. Once the visit is a wrap, T.I. heads to his gated community, home for XXL’s photo shoot and the taping of an MTV special.
Six days after Major’s arrival, a quick trip to the Atlantic Records office in New York is needed. The scene looks like a spot-date line- up. Andre 3000 (in his stylish farmer best, straw hat and all) slides through for a sampling of Paper Trail, to select the proper beat to be featured on. Also bopping through the halls is Brooklyn upstart rap- per Maino, who has an unexpected kinship with the Southern ruler, T.I. “He’s been giving me really good advice about this game,” he says. T.I. agrees, as the 15-person-deep crew makes moves to New York’s swanky Phillipe’s for dinner. Swizz Beatz, who joins the procession, jumps in T.I.’s SUV and plays 10 solid tracks for the MC’s approval.
After a long night, and as his curfew of 11 p.m. nears, T.I. shows the first bit of frustration. “This is when my current situation is the toughest,” he says. “[If I could,] I’d go to the studio right now and do it to some of these beats.” Once in the comfort of his plush hotel suite, and in between breaks to check his mandatory ankle monitor, T.I. takes some time to ad- dress his court in an open letter, to set a few things (and haters) straight.
TRUSTING HIS INNER CIRCLE
I don’t blame anyone for my mistakes. It wasn’t my inner circle that caused this whole thing. I’m not trying to be the one to point the fin- ger and say, “Well, that guy caused me all this pain and lost me all this money.” Nah. At the end of the day, I’m the head to the body. It was my decision, and a play couldn’t have been made if I didn’t make it, so I got to keep it 100 with myself and man up and accept that re- sponsibility. The people around me haven’t done anything to lose my trust, so they’ve always had it, always will have it. The only thing that got to change [is] me.
I have to be more mindful of my actions. I have to exercise better judg- ment. I have had to really just make it up in my mind that, in order for me to assume the level of success that I’ve been blessed with the op- portunity of receiving, I got to conduct myself in a necessary manner. I was trying to be slick. I was trying to do it my way, assert my own rules into the game, instead of playing by the rules that’s already there. It was just a matter of being careful, and being careful to me could be... It could be translated in different ways. I was being careful in one way, but then in another way I was being everything but careful.
DEALING WITH REGRETS
It’s several different ways to look at it once you’ve already gone through it. But all that really matters is, if I wouldn’tna broke the law, I wouldn’tna gone to jail. Period. You can say, “Well, if I wouldn’tna done this, if I wouldn’tna done that. If I wouldn’tna got caught, then, you know, spoke to this person, if I wouldn’tna answered my phone, if I wouldn’tna made this trip, if I wouldn’tna, you know...” Afterwards, I was like, Man, no use in me beating myself up if everybody else doing it. If I’m beating me up, they beating me up. Somebody gonna have to stand up. So at that point, man, I was like, It’s enough. What’s done is done. Ain’t no use in dwelling on it. Might as well dust yourself off and start moving forward.
The best way I can explain it is, due to the past tragedies in my life, I felt an extra concern for my safety, and with the extra concern for my safe- ty, it distorted my vision. It distorted my judgment. I made decisions based off of that concern that I may not normally have made. That’s the best explanation I can give. Now, specifics and details are not impor- tant. That’s the best explanation I can give. As far as me having a spe- cific problem with anyone in the streets? Absolutely not. As far as me attempting to retaliate for anything? Absolutely not. It’s just past experi- ences, question of my safety, concern for my family’s well-being.
THE LEGAL PLAN
Nobody came into this thing saying, “Oh, we already know we can get you a sweet deal.” Nobody promised me anything. It was an uphill bat- tle from day one. Everybody knew we really must put our heads togeth- er and creatively find a way to bring the best possible outcome to the forefront. We must find a way to lighten the hearts and open the minds of the powers that be. People say I got it easy, but there’s nothing easy about this. It might be easy for whoever giving they opinion on it, and it’s definitely easier than the alternative, but it’s still sig- nificant challenges. Maintaining all responsibilities and criteria of my agreement is very, very challenging and difficult, and it’s not as sweet as people would like to believe.
THE STREETCRED.COM VIDEO
A lot of people disagree with the video, [which I authorized] without other people’s knowledge. A lot of people didn’t like what I was wearing in the video. I was at home. A do-rag and a robe... I wasn’t going nowhere. Now, the cigar could have been a bit much, but I acept that. But as far as my attire, I was comfortable. I didn’t direct the thing. I just showed up. I can’t take no credit for the artistic viewing of it. I only accept responsibility for my wardrobe and what I said. I was just...thanking everybody for their prayers and support and letting them know I was okay. I was always taught you don’t run from adversity, you run to it. You run to it and through it. So I wasn’t about to hide. I didn’t want to hide, you know, make it seem as though I was shying away from the issue. Like I was ashamed of myself. It was just important to me that I say, “Hello, everybody. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you, everybody. Thank you for your support. I’m faced with an adverse time right now in my life, and I’m willing and ready to do what it takes to stand up and get through it.”
I read it. I look. I check ’em out. I separate my feelings. I can’t take it personal. I look at it like that’s how they do everybody. No ex- ceptions—Jay-Z, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy—they do everybody like that. They always got some stupid shit to say, and you got a percentage of people who agree. You got a per- centage of people who disagree. It’s just no way around it. There’s nothing you can do about it.
It was a real quick conversation, like, “You know, GM backed up off of you.” “Yeah, whatever. What else?” It wasn’t no extensive, long, drawn- out, elaborate, lengthy, wordy meeting. It wasn’t no nasty letters. They walked away from me. So, cool, that was that. I would have done the same thing. I don’t have no personal history with Steve Stoute or General Motors, even though me and Steve Stoute was hanging out and party- ing in the club the night before I got arrested. But I don’t expect for him to stand up for me. I don’t expect for General Motors to stand up for me. It was business. I jeopardized the image of the corporation, and it was something that they didn’t want to be associated with. Understandable. No hard feelings. I’ll just charge ’em extra next time.
COOPERATION, A.K.A. SNITCHING
That was not part of my deal. No way. You can read my whole plea agreement. It’s public record. If cooperation was a part of my deal and that was the reason they gave me less time, it would be in black and white.
They not into making me look good. That’s not their job, to help me keep my street cred. If anything, they gonna say, “Yeah, we gave him a year because he told us this, he told us that, he shared with us, he let us know about that.” They would be in a hurry because they catching heat for giving me this deal.
They had a different view of how I could benefit the youth of America—that’s it. They saw that I had been doing it previously. They saw that I had young people’s attention. They knew I spoke the lan- guage. They said, “If this can stop one young person from committing a crime that could have them spend the rest of their life in jail, if it stops one young person, then it’s a deal worth doing. It would be more suc- cessful than any cooperating witness that we cut his time for just be cause he tells on someone else.”
You’re letting a criminal out for locking a criminal up. I guess you could say you letting a criminal out for saving a would-be criminal from becoming a criminal. They said that they saw that as more valuable, and I agree with them and appreciate them for being such forward-thinking people. I really do appreciate it.
I mean, I should go and sit down for 10 years because people gonna think that if I take a deal that’s in my best interest to take... People who don’t know any bet- ter are gonna think something that I didn’t do, that I said something that I didn’t say. I can’t live for other people and what oth- er people think. People are stupid. Period. That’s the bottom line. People don’t know no better, so they just speak what they know, and they only know a little, so they only speak a little. They make up the rest.
SHAWTY LO SITUATION
Man, I’ve actually gotten to the bottom of what all that is about. And, for real, I think dude was just mistaken, and he just went out there, and it wasn’t until he was already out there that he found out he was mistaken. And so now you out there, you gotta go with it. At the end of the day, man, it’s really stupid. I’m trying my best not to get involved in it. I know that, if situations were different, if my situation was different, we wouldn’t be dealing with this. It wouldn’t even be this problem.
I’ve always represented Bankhead. Bankhead is a long strip, and on that long strip there’s only two projects on Bankhead: Bankhead Court and Boeing Homes. He’s from Boeing Homes. I’m from the oth- er end of the strip—not even the other end, probably about 10 blocks down on side streets. Everyone else from Bankhead on side streets, little houses on side streets. So just because he’s saying that he’s from those projects, which are on Bankhead, but I’m not from those projects, so I’m not from Bankhead? That’s preposterous. Those proj- ects are not the maker of the Bankhead community. There are several streets. You got [DeBleuff], you got Commodore, South Grand, Church Street, Centre Hill, which is where I’m from—Cedar Road.
I did spend time up in Riverdale [Ga.]. My mama moved me out to Riverdale for a year. I got expelled from Riverdale, and I got moved back to Bankhead. My grandmama been living on Bankhead for 43 years. I was born in that house on Centre Hill—same house still there. I mean, there are people in my hood that know me, people in my hood who grew up with me. This shit is stupid. I’m trying to prevent it from becoming a neighbor- hood thing, where it’s not just me and him. It’s cats who I went to school with from the side streets going to cats who he went to school with or who he know from the projects, saying, “Oh, so y’all saying just ’cause we ain’t from Boeing Homes we ain’t from Bankhead? What that mean? You think we soft or something?” See, that’s gonna incite a whole ’nother level of ten- sion that I’m trying to avoid, because it’s all... It’s stupid.
TALKING TO THE KIDS
I can’t be preaching to them how to deal with anger, how to deal with situations, how to handle haters—I can’t preach that to them and then go out and do the exact opposite. I wouldn’t be able to live with my- self. I offer a different perspective. I offer a different way of viewing things, a different way of thinking about certain things. Sometimes you can tell that certain kids are just stuck on that ignorant shit, but it’s not enough of them to overshadow the good that’s being done. Those kids, it may take for them to get into a little trouble—sit in back of a police car—to hear me talking.
Some of them ask you how to deal with being surrounded by nega- tivity and remaining positive. Valid question. And I tell them to start in they mind. You gotta believe that you are capable of doing the thing. When you surrounded, for your environment’s sake, you gotta be able to say that you want better for yourself. And once you know that you want something better for yourself, you ain’t got no choice but to act like it. Some of ’em say, “Well, when people constantly hatin’ on me, man, how do you keep your- self from resorting to violence?” When you understand that they only hatin’ on you because you doing something that they can’t.
I’m looking forward to moving forward. I know for a fact it’s way bright- er than my past, and I’ve had conversations with more and more peo- ple who just know that this is a small part of my story. This is just con- tributing to the man I’m destined to become. And I’ve heard this from everyone. From Jay-Z to Eminem. I spoke to Eminem privately more of- ten than I spoke to anybody. [He said,] “It doesn’t matter what people think. You can’t please everybody. Do what’s best for you. Focus on what you got to do to get yourself back to where you know you ’posed to be.” Just sharing his experiences with me, like, “I was once in a posi- tion where people thought I had blown it all. And people thought I was gonna go to jail, and I came back from it bigger and better than ever— learned from it, grew because of it.” All of that. So far he’s been right. My future’s way brighter than my past. Me telling people, that ain’t gon- na do it no justice. I got to show ’em. So here we go.