It’s mid morning and the self-proclaimed King of the South is in the hallway of the VH1 offices sans shoes. In his socks T.I. rakes through a wardrobe rack in search of the perfect attire for his Big Morning Buzz Live appearance with his wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris. Slightly blocking the hallway I mumble a soft, “Excuse me” in order to walk by. “Oh. I’m sorry sweetheart. How are you?” he asks. The epitome of a southern gentleman to the core.
At 31, Clifford “T.I.” Harris has conquered more than rap. Acting, film producer, CEO of his record label Grand Hustle Records, owner of his own clothing line and reality TV star are only a few of the titles he’s held since his 2001 debut I’m Serious. Nearing the release of his eighth album Trouble Man (with no official release date) and T.I.’s excited again. During an interview with 105.1’s Breakfast Club he said he wanted out of the game. But things change.
“I have found a new motivation,” he said. “The way people reacted to that interview it kind of motivated me. I always said if I was just in it for the money and I wasn’t really passionate, and I didn’t really fit into whatever it is that’s becoming marketable, I don’t want to be the old man at the party talking about how we used to do it in the old days. But people in droves said what I offer, you can’t get it anywhere else. That sentiment drove me to want to do a lot more. So I’m [going to] do at least do 10 albums.”
For Trouble Man, an obvious play on his bouts with the law, T.I. wants to show that if he’s going to be pegged as the guy that’s always getting into trouble, he’s going to be the best one there is. He describes that album as a project for his early and new fans. “I spent a lot of time trying to give the Trap Muzik, I’m Serious fans records they can identify with, where they can think, ‘he’s back in his element of when I first fell in love with his music,'” he said. “And then give the new fans [a record] that will say, ‘Oh, this sounds progressive. This sounds like he’s evolved.'”
He’s enlisted heavyweight collabs from Lil Wayne, Cee-Lo, Akon, A$AP Rocky and Andre 3000. And the list of producers, Pharrell, Jazze Pha and No I.D are veterans in their own right. When asked if the album will include the personal touch to it found in his earlier works he warns he doesn’t want to scare me.
“There’s actually one record I did, I don’t want to scare you, but I have conversations with dead people I care about. I kind of translated their portions of that conversation through the song. Phil, my father and my daughter.” Phil whose full name is Philant Johnson was T.I.’s best friend and assistant who was killed in 2006 in front of T.I. after a nightclub confrontation where T.I. and his entourage’s van was chased and shot at. The daughter he’s referring to is the baby he and his wife lost after delivering the stillborn baby after six months. Heavy topics for the southern rapper to take on. ‘Was it hard to go to that place?’ I ask. “Bittersweet,” he responds softly. “But it makes for great music when you’re able to get in touch with true emotions like that. It’s real. That kind of stuff you can’t fake.”
Now that T.I.’s inspired again he’s juggling between managing his own artist–B.O.B.–with his own career. What folks want to know is will there be a collaboration album in the future. I got records with B.O.B.,” he said. “We have to figure out a right time to do our collaboration album.” In the meantime T.I., or T.I.P. as he’s called by everyone that personally knows him, is focused on fatherhood and prepping for the season two debut of T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle, which premieres September 3 at 9 PM ET/PT. If you watched the show you know he is overprotective of his daughters while his sons get away with it all. But T.I. denies (with a smile) the mere mention of him being too tough on the girls. “I’m not hard on them. How am I hard on them? I don’t think I did anything to be hard on them. You know man I just want the best for ‘em. I just don’t want to get them out there too far too fast. Baby steps.”
T.I. is in a good place. After all he’s been through in his personal life and the industry he’s found peace. With a successful career and loving family, The Trouble Man seems to be everything but that. As he alluded to earlier, baby steps.