The Interview: T.I.
- “The King of the South”
- Representing: the Trap
- Place of Residence: Atlanta, Georgia
- Current Project: Trap Muzik
You’ve seen them before, the artists who have full page advertisements in magazines or they get blurbed as the “next hot thing.” For whatever reason, be it industry politics, no buzz from the single, or just loss of interest by the people spearheading the project, some artists get lost in the sauce. This after having the prize - fame, stardom, childhood dreams - come so close to being realized. Only two choices after that happens: head on down to the employment agency or get back in the mix through alternative means. For rappers it’s an easy decision: go independent and get the streets buzzing.
After losing his first record contract T.I. found himself in that exact situation. He was promoted as The King of the South as early as 1999, but lost his record contract shortly after the release of the album. Early this year he reemerged on Bonecrusher’s “Never Scared” and if you didn’t know his name before.. you at least knew that he held his own on that song.
I headed into this interview not knowing much about T.I., other than what I read in reviews of the album.. so what happens? It’s part interview, part listening session.
I’ve heard good things about the album.. but I gotta tell you I haven’t heard it for myself yet.
It’s definitely one of the hottest things to come out in a minute man.
Yeah the comments I’ve heard make it sound like one of those best kept secrets, at least up here in New York.
Yeah, down south them mufuckas is movin. They can’t even keep enough of em.
I heard about you a long time, saw an ad in a magazine for T.I., then it was like there was no music that followed up with it.
You didn’t hear the first single to I’m Serious  with me and Beenie Man produced by the Neptunes? You need to get that first album. Neptunes on there, I got two tracks by the Neptunes, some Jazze Pha, some DJ Turk, PA. It’s just a hot album. Definitely a classic album for a debut artist coming fresh off the streets, fresh out the trap, record an album.. especially for somebody that wrote their own music.
Like I said.. I don’t know much about you. I was supposed to get the bio package, didn’t get it in time for this interview.
That’s no problem. Let’s listen to the album. We’ll skim through it a little bit.
On the way over, I did have the chance to read a story about you in XXL.
Anything you read about me in magazines, any articles, most of the time, they be trying to down me, just because of the whole King of the South issue. Everybody got they own favorite artist in the south. Like you say, nobody really knows who I am because it hasn’t really been any major label support up until right now. So it’s like, “who the fuck does the nigga think he is saying he’s the King of the South.’ And it reflects on paper, you know what I’m saying?
That was the same buzz around your first album, that you were the hottest lyricist.. the king of the south.. the best to do it.
At the time when I was working on my album there weren’t a lot of people coming out of the South putting they all into they’re music. People were really trying to live off of the South, off of being from the South, off of being from Atlanta. You know just because it was hot at the time.
This is a good summary of how I feel about how I feel about my first album, it’s titled “I Can’t Quit”. How you said you saw the ad, never heard the music, how it never had a chance to reach your ears, this is how I feel about that..
You performed at Speed (a club in NYC) last night, how did that go?
Jammin. JAMMIN. We performed “Rubber Band Man,” “Look What I Got,” “Dope Boys,” “24s”.
Who is the Rubber Band Man, what’s the story behind that?
I’m the Rubber Band Man. It’s basically about being back in the Trap, like when we start our day, we might have two, three, rubber bands on our wrist. According to how much dope we had to sell. By the end of the day, if we sold all our dope we don’t have any more rubber bands around our wrists cause they wrapped around money. So the Rubber Band Man is just my little way of holding on to that lifestyle just a little bit. I ain’t selling no more dope, but I’m still wrapping rubber bands around money.
How did you get into rapping?
I started reciting raps and memorizing songs when I was like 6 years old, then I started writing my own when I was like 8 or 9, recording demos when I was 11, doing talent shows when I was 12. Stopped doing talent shows when I was 14… It took me a long time to get signed, nobody wanted to hear a kid rapping about what I was rapping about. I was rapping about real shit.
What were you talking about, where you came from?
Yeah, you know, going to Juvenile, getting suspended from school, problems with my parents. Like real issues. Nobody really wanted to hear a kid rap about that. At least nobody wanted their kids to hear a kid rapping about that. Wouldn’t nobody buy their kids an album of another bad ass kid. If anything, they wanted to hear a “Jump Jump” something they could use to say to kids, “Why don’t you be more like them.”
So it took me awhile to get signed. I got signed in 99’ to LaFace Records and released my first album I’m Serious  in 2001. Didn’t really receive a lot of major support so I took matters into my own hands, released it independent, promoted that album myself out my own pocket. Shot my own videos out my own pocket and started production on this album with my own money; basically created a demand for my product.
What was the idea behind going independent?
Nobody would give me the support or the funds that I needed to do what I needed to do without some numbers first; without me proving myself. I don’t have no problem with that, alright cool. I know what I can do. I knew that if I wasn’t deserving then I wouldn’t have even gotten this far. I wouldn’t have even.. like, I came out with the first record and sold 14,000 the first week, and now with this one I’m doing 250,000 strong. I don’t know anybody else who sold 14,000 the first time out and ended up with 250,000 two years later.
If that’s the case, if I wasn’t that strong, if I wasn’t really happening like I say I am, then I wouldn’t be here still. I just knew the next thing I released would be even bigger and better, because I knew I could do better. So it was just about me putting the music out there, keeping the streets familiar with who I was and going to other regions, utilizing my resources and making it happen.
Eventually everybody else started to see it from Puff to Atlantic to Def Jam all the rappers respect me.
Did you do some writing on Bow Wow’s new album?
Yeah this time around I wrote some songs for him. Even on the single, “Let’s Get Down.” I wrote the third verse and the hook. Usually how we did it was he’ll write one verse, Bow Wow would write one verse, his homeboy Rocka would write one, and I’d write a verse and come up with the hook.
I can do whatever. I ain’t limited at all as far as style and lyrical ability is concerned. I been doing this since I was 8 years old pimp, I don’t need nothing.
What was your inspiration starting at such a young age?
I grew up around Dope Boys, man. My uncles were like 22 - 23 years old when I was 8. My Pops was in NY, he was up here. So I used to be with them all the time and seeing them and how they kick it and what they listen to and what they like…
Who were they listening to?
Too Short, NWA, LL, a lot of Bob Marley too, when they was smoking that shit.. (laughs).smoking that ganja. But let’s see.. BDP, 2 Live Crew. When I was rapping it wasn’t like I was they lil nephew, it was more like I was one of their patnas. They would be like, “Hey, listen to what Tip just said. Do it again, do it again.”
So that was my way of hanging around and being treated as a peer instead of a little kid. So I kept doing it.
So they would be rapping and you would listen to them and emulate what they were doing?
They didn’t rap at all, period. They would just listen to it. They didn’t rap at all. They was gettin money, that’s what they was into. By me rapping I just found a way to fit in. I always hung around older people. I don’t have no brothers and sisters my age, so I always had to fit in with an older crowd.
How did you get from Tip to T.I.?
Well my name is Tip. Anybody that knows me from the streets or knows me personally calls me Tip. My momma calls me Tip, my grandmomma calls me Tip, everybody. When I rap I say T.I.P. because when I say Tip, because of my accent, people used to think I was saying Chip, Chuck, you know.. so I spell it out T.I.P.
I got signed as T.I.P. but when LaFace Records merged with Arista that put me on the same label as Q-Tip and they didn’t want to work two albums with names so similar. So they asked me to change my name to T.I.
So you were rapping around your uncles who were into getting money. Did you get into what they were doing?
For a minute?
For a long time, all of my teenage years from 13 to 19, I was trappin. All my teenage years.. that was my childhood. That’s how I see it as my childhood. I grew up around that shit, in and out that shit.
Did you find it easy or was it something you had to get yourself up to do?
At first it was easy until niggas started getting locked up. When niggas started getting locked up it started getting hard. But selling dope, yeah it’s easy. You know what I’m saying? Until you see a nigga die in front of you, somebody you was just standing there talking to. A nigga you went to school with going to jail for 10 years, all that kind of shit.
This is another song you might like, Kayne West did this.. “Doin My Job”
I’m good with all types of music, I listen to music from the South, West.. I’m all over.
Nah, I’m not saying that. I just want you to get a well rounded perspective. I don’t just want you to see me as some arrogant nigga who calls himself The King of the South. Most people who don’t know me, who ain’t never heard my music, that’s what they think cause that’s what the media portrays me as.
When you say King of the South, it actually makes people look into the music more. Myself, I would be thinking is he really that nice? Let me listen to what he’s saying. That’s why I mentioned the first album, when I heard similar things about you and then didn’t hear any music behind it.
Well, you know sometimes it could be misperceived.
Nah.. not at all and the verse in Bonecrusher’s “Never Scared” that’s the best verse of the song, baby. That closes it off right. So you know, with that, and the buzz I would have picked up the album even if I didn’t get it for free today.
(laughs) Yeah, yeah man. Bonecrusher, Killer Mike, Dave Banner, Youngbloods, all them people my folk.
Are ya’ll gonna do something together again?
We trying to come together and form a compilation called Leaders of the New South. Like, just put it together so people can see who’s really running the streets down South.
Who would be on it?
Bonecrusher, Killer Mike, Youngbloods, Lil Jon, UGK, 8Ball & MJG, Pastor Troy, Trick Daddy, whoever got some real street credibility and really, really holding it down for real. Fuck what you see on MTV. Fuck what you read about in magazines. Like really, really.. if you come DOWN TO the South and GO TO to the clubs, what records are gonna be playing and make mufuckas really react? Them niggas.
The name of your album is “Trap Muzik” just describe the Trap and why it’s called that.
I don’t know why they call it the Trap, but they been calling it the Trap ever since I can remember. As far as why I call my album Trap Muzik, cause it was a big part of my life for a long time. So I had to show people about me, and show people that it’s more sides to the Trap then just robbing, killing, selling dope, stealing, you know..it’s more to that. That’s what this song here is about.. “Doin My Job”
It’s people who sell dope, yeah.. but they just trying to put food on their table like a doctor does for his family. After they leave the Trap they got mommas, daddys, sisters, brothers, kids, just like anybody else. These people are people too. That’s just the best way they can find to support themselves right now.
It’s hard. Everybody ain’t got the same options. You know what I’m sayin?
People that didn’t graduate high school, didn’t go to college for whatever reason, I mean they got to find a way, they can’t just do without. Right now, if I didn’t have any money in my pocket, my kid crying, and I got a pocket full of crack. It’s gonna get sold. My kid gonna eat. You know.. regardless of what the law say.
My instincts say, “feed my family.” So it’s good in all bad and it’s bad in all good.
So you have the independent label working.
We independent in some rights and we major in some rights; we have a non-exclusive joint venture deal with Atlantic. We also have an independent artist working on a project, but their only independent until they get picked up by a major. As soon as a major give us what we want for it then we’re running with that.
We doing it independent first, build up the numbers, build up the demand, so when they come to us and ask us about it when we say we want this much they won’t be like “aww, man we can’t do that.”
I want people to feel like if even if I ask for 10 million dollars, I want them to feel like they got a deal, like they should have paid 20 million. You know what I’m sayin? I just want to make great product, classic music.
When you approach the business, do you ever take what you learned on the streets into the boardroom?
All the time..it’s the same thing. On the streets a nigga ain’t gonna give you no more dope than what he see you selling yourself. You come in and you buying a key, he’s not gonna give you ten keys.. he gonna give you that one key, cause he know you can move that. If you buying an ounce, he’ll give you an ounce, he ain’t gonna give you no more than that, cause he know you can sell that.
So it’s the same thing as the streets. If they knew I could sell 20,000 by myself - 20,000 by myself is what, 200,000 - 300,000 - so you multiply that by however much they think they can add to it. You see what I can do by myself. You being a major company, what do you think you can add to this? How do you think you can benefit from this? And then we go on from there.. it’s the same thing, you know.
“24s” Comes on. It’s the one song I’m familiar with and I say so.. “..Here we go.” :T
What? It’s way hotter shit than this on the album. It’s hot, it’s hot now. Don’t get me wrong. Maybe it’s because I heard it so many times. You heard “Rubberband Man?” We got to listen to that.. that’s a real party song. David Banner did the beat.. “Rubber Band Man”.
How do you come up with lyrics?
This is a paperless album. I don’t write nothing down. Just listen to the beat for a minute like this right here.. and get in the booth and lay it down.
You working on any extensions from this album.. movies.. a tour?
I’m done, this is done, man. I’m finnin to start on my next album. I just got to stay working. We gonna do the PSC album, Big Country, he gonna be the first artist besides myself to be released on Grand Hustle. We got a female rap group the Southern Salt and Pepa, they called Extasy. They got a song that’s hot right now in the clubs in the South. And we trying to put that Leaders of the New South project together.
As far as movies we got footage for a documentary and we trying to put together a “Dope Boys” movie.
We just about wrapped things up. Anything else you want the people to know?
Trap Muzik in stores right now. Grand Hustle Pimp. Appreciate all the support, big things to come in the future.
WHUDAT.com @ September 2003