When T.I. speaks, people are inclined to listen, as the Atlanta native's innate way with words and effortless charm has worked over many a room. The lauded rapper seems to command the attention of all within earshot—on record or otherwise—delivering hard-boiled street testimonials and crossover hits in his catalog dating back to his 2003 album, Trap Muzik. In recent years, his oratorical skills have been showcased beyond the music, with the rapper lending his voice to charitable causes and weighing in on sociopolitical issues.

In 2018, there's not much that T.I. hasn't witnessed or accomplished, which has given him a unique vantage point to share his perspective on the rap game and beyond, making him one of the more outspoken elder statesman in hip-hop. Diversifying his portfolio and building his brand over the past decade with a number of strategic business moves and partnerships, the Grand Hustle CEO is looking to pass on his knowledge of the entertainment industry and what it takes to be a boss to the next generation with his new business competition series, The Grand Hustle.

Set to premiere on BET July 19, The Grand Hustle features 16 aspiring entrepreneurs and executives facing off with one another for the opportunity to become the newest member of the Grand Hustle brain-trust, a position that comes with a six-figure salary. The Grand Hustle, which takes place in Atlanta, is comprised of 12 one-hour episodes.

This new show marks T.I.'s first reality TV endeavor since starring in VH1's T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle—the rapper and his family had a six-season run—and looks to marry the hustler's ambition and street smarts with the ethos of a traditional businessman.

XXL sat down with T.I. to get the scoop on what viewers can expect from The Grand Hustle, as well his own growth and success as a hustler-turned-entrepreneur.

XXL: You recently announced your new TV series, The Grand Hustle. What is the premise of the show?

Well, The Grand Hustle is a business competition show where I took 12 people from all different walks of life—some formally educated, some educated from the school of hard knocks—and I gave them the opportunity to compete by going through different challenges or hustles from different areas of my business entities. It requires a very special set of skills to be diverse enough as an executive to go from film to television to fashion, you know what I mean?

I mean, like, me as an actor, me as an executive, all those things. If I am your client or you represent me as you represent this company, you have to have a very diverse set of skills. So, we ran them through the gamut and the winner receives a six-figure salary and a role on my team of executives.

How did you come up with the idea for The Grand Hustle and what were the steps you took to make it come to life?

I think the idea derived from a conversation of us just kinda talking back and forth about which education was more valuable: a street hustler's education or a formally educated person with a degree and who has the most formidable education that will boost them to getting through the rest of their career. So, I think that that is how it started and as we just began to build on it and build on it, we implemented more elements that helped it grow into what it is today.

Will there be any guest judges or celebrities appearing on the show?

We have guests, sure. Everyone from Chris Robinson to Terrence J. We have the family, Domani, Major, Messiah and the rest of the guys and girls. There was The Hustle Gang artists, Tokyo Jetz, Translee, 5ive Mics Bryyce. David Banner came in for a second. We definitely have guests.


What are some of the traits you'll be looking for in the contestant you'll ultimately choose as the winner?

Accountability is a big thing. Holding yourself accountable for your actions 'cause most times, especially in work settings, people try to evade accountability, pass the buck, point the finger. So that's a big thing, being able to hold yourself accountable for your responsibilities, and that's in failure or flight. Most people wanna claim all the good and shun the bad. I think that shows a lot about your character.

What do you feel will set The Grand Hustle apart from other competitive reality TV shows?

Well, simply because I don't think you can get what you get here anywhere else. I think I'm probably one of the most unique people of my caliber in my industries that you will find in that I'm a very super blue collar millionaire, you know what I'm saying? I pump my own gas, buy my own groceries for the most part. I don't handle it like a lot of other people in my position would handle it, and that's for better or worse.

I think that watching someone from what their expectations are, from what they perceive going into it and what they think it will be and then seeing the realization of what it actually is, how they adjust to that, I think that's interesting.

Basically being able to take it off of the dribble.

You might have to catch it off the backboard, but you cannot drop the ball [laughs].

Without giving too much away, what are some of the competitions or challenges viewers can look forward to this season?

All I can say is that it takes them through most of the parts of my business. I have a lot of businesses I've built, a lot of companies and I have a diverse portfolio. From film, television, fashion, music, they're gonna go through the many, many things that I go through and have to contribute ideas. They're gonna have to execute these ideas and they're gonna have to explain why they did or didn't execute the idea properly. They're gonna have to explain what their vision was.

As they go through it, they're gonna have to explain how they worked with the team members that they had and at the end of it, they're gonna have to explain what made it rise or what caused it to fall. The exchange, that process is entertaining within itself because I'm watching them. I see what they're doing and they're telling me something different.

So, you know, watching them backpedal, it's interesting and watching them deal with each other is also interesting. Some of them have little strategies to plot one against the other and just kind of eliminate people from the house. Watching them, that's also interesting, too.


Just the group dynamics of it all and seeing how they all interact.

Yeah, they create alliances. Some cats will stick together just to get somebody out. You'll
see, like, if you say something bad about one of them. You ask them, "Well, what do you
think about this one?" and they'll be like, "Well, you know, I just think they did they best." Like, man, they were horrible [laughs], so, obviously y'all got something going on, y'all covering for each other. All of that is very interesting to me.

How does it feel to be in the position to give the next generation of hustlers a platform to showcase their talent?

I think it's a phenomenal opportunity, but just to be selfish, I'm doing this because I need more talent on my executive team to help me run my companies. Of course I'd love to help them, but I can't help them if they can't help me. But then, you know, it kind of teeters on one of these two statements.

One is "you will be remembered long after you're gone not for things you've done for yourself, but things you've done for others." And [the other statement is] "the best way to help the under-served is not to become one." It kinda goes back and forth between those, you know what I'm saying? So, yes, of course I wanna help people, but then again, the best way to help people who need help is to not to become a person that needs help.

In what ways have you grown the most as an entrepreneur from the beginning of your career to now?

I think the way I've grown most is I've grown more patient, I believe. I let things kind of...I let them formulate more before I respond in business most times. I used to see one thing that didn't go right and then apply the kind of energy or attention to it that will put it on track immediately. But, sometimes when you sit back and let it just go, it will correct itself or the outcome can be greater than how you anticipated it.

Let the movie play out basically.

Sometimes, sometimes. I think that comes with trusting the people you delegated the responsibilities to a lot.

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