Bearing down in 28-degree weather (customary with the pre-Christmas season in Wisconsin) rapper, T.I. (Atlantic Recording Company) greeted Kenosha with both a curiosity and a southern courtesy and warmth only Georgia could bring. He is as confident and playfully confrontational in person as he his with his lyrics from his sophomore album, Trap Muzik.
Barely 22-years old, Craig Harris (T.I., formerly T.I.P) verbally takes on the music, drug and entertainment industries with attitude marked with wisdom, first-hand experience and real, raw talent.
“Rap. That’s it. That’s all I ever wanted to do. That’s all I wanted to be, an entertainer,” T.I. said flatly, from his hotel room. And since he wrote his first rap as an eight-year old, he is now riding the latest wave swell as a national recording artist, with few regrets.
Judging by his more-than-gold, glistening bicycle-chain bracelet, he is enjoying the luxuries his talent affords him but he still doesn’t ignore the illusive and dangerous paths he journeyed to his personal success. The rubber bands he wears on his right wrist are reminiscent of that journey. His music chronicles those stories, some as gripping, captivating, and familiar as the ones told by Kurtis Blow in the 80s, but as relevant and as poignant as the tales Tupac had just begun to unleash, before his murder.
Contrary to the sensationalism and glorification of crime, that signatures other rappers, T.I. is candid about the true destruction in his experiences. There is little emotion in his voice as he tells his story, almost as if he downplayed the incredible accomplishment his life change has made.
“You just get tired of being thrown in and out of jail, and when I quit [selling drugs], I quit. No one [else on the street] got mad at me,” he said, throwing salt on the notion that it is always so hard to get out of the game.
“I got mad at me, at first, when I had to go hungry for a few days after I quit,” he added lightheartedly. After going to Los Angeles for the Source Awards, he returned to Atlanta with a new hustle — his music.
From his royal place in the Atlanta musical kingdom via Grand Hustle Records, to his honorable place as owner of New Finish Construction (a construction and rehabilitative company that renovates homes for low-income families) T.I. has visions that catapult him into a world beyond police, prostitution and poverty.
“I want to be the best for my shorties,” he said without hesitation. It is now that he becomes softened somewhat when he talked about his ultimate drive for a better existence being tied directly to his three children, whom he publicly warns to choose a different path to security and wealth than he did.
Just as he begins to reflect on their veritable importance in his life, he is joined by an awestruck boy of about five years old — eyes as wide as swimming pools. It wasn’t clear if the child was seeking an autograph, or just a glimpse of T.I., but the reaction of the “hardcore, menacing” rapper became demure.
The boy could not manage to speak in complete sentences to T.I., yet he would sneak an occasional backwards peak at the rapper, whom he’d previously only seen on television videos, he was overcome and muted. The boy’s dad encouraged him, his star struck awe shifted to genuine affection, when T.I. spoke to him directly.
“Little dog, why are you facing the wall,” he asked. As he turned away from the wall, smiles and grins overtook the room, and T.I. began to converse with the boy about everything from sports to playful a taunt about little girls. Grins turned to giggles and T.I. turned his attention back to the interview — complete with the signature rapper “mean mug”.
T.I. is an unapologetic supporter of “Life” as the best teacher, balking at the idea of any more formal schooling for him. He left high school as a junior, yet speaks in metered rhythms laced with a refreshing eloquence and the non-traditional spiritual calm, contradictory to his “hard rapper” image, about his unique relationship with his mother and God.
“I’d like to think he [God] likes me. I’ve been through a lot, I should have been dead.” He paused for a moment, then declared, “I know he exists.” His personal relationship with God is as real and honest as his heartfelt lyrical monologues, even if they describe an existence totally incongruent with what most people associate with religious righteousness.
Of his mother, T.I. apologizes both in his music and in deed, for his failure to see school through as she’d desired. “She is a cool lady, with a sense of humor, I guess,” T.I. laughed. Again, defenses dropped, he became malleable and humble, reflecting. “She wasn’t real strict or anything, growing up, as an only child, we almost had a brother and sister relationship,” he concluded.
While, T.I. has no family or direct connections to Midwest, specifically, other than collaborating with Kenosha’s G-Love Productions, he seemed open to the idea of exploring the beer capitol of the world again one-day. He also has dreams of his side business expanding and becoming more viable, visible and productive outside of his hometown, perhaps even in our direction.
“Everything is positive and negative. I’m looking and investigating into what I want to invest my time and paper [money] into,” he said.
And when he isn’t investigating and delving into the depths of how to restore the neighborhoods in the community that he erupted from, he is busy collecting classic Chevrolet’s. His collection is waning because he lacks the time to restore cars because of the demands of his increasing touring schedule, which recently included The Razzle, a popular night club in Kenosha.
“Dude brought the heat. He didn’t use a CD for his show performance, he made sure people got their moneys worth,” said Dr. B. of B-Boy Productions in Milwaukee. As one of the premier DJ’s in the Midwest for over 20 years, Dr. B has seen rappers, “rap in and rap out” of the music scene quite rapidly.
“He’s got a dirty south feel but a nation wide appeal, his music is more universal. His production is more complex, yet has street credibility,” according to Dr. B. He added, “I see him as a strong player in the rap music scene, as long as he stays focused, he’ll be a steady player in the game — solid and stable, similar in caliber to the group EPMD (Def Jam Records).”
But it is T.I. that has it most in perspective. He acknowledged the instability of the rap music industry, but still remains positive.
“I wanted to rap, that’s all. I am being the best I can be and I might not be here tomorrow, either way it is not the end of the world.”
By Yolanda D. White for HipHopHotSpot.Com