EXCLUSIVE: T.I on Being Hip Hop's Cliff Huxtable

T.I. wasn’t exactly setting out to be the hood’s answer to Cliff Huxtable. But he’s sliding into his newfound role quite well.

The multi-platinum-selling rapper’s malfeasance is well documented: He was released from a second stint in prison just six months ago, and served that time for violating his probation from a federal gun conviction dating back to 2009. Now that T.I. (real name Cliff Harris) is out, he says he’s never going back again. And we believe him. Why? Because the world is seeing a whole new T.I through the lens of his VH-1 reality show, T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle. In the series, we’re introduced to a contrasting side of the rapper with the Down South twang. On stage and in his music, T.I.— though those in his close circle call him Tip—is not to be trifled with. But in his real life, T.I is every bit the loving dad and devoted, doting husband. Most importantly, he’s been rehabilitated. Tip says, and he’s a new man. The rapper and his family signed up for another season of the show, largely because of the positive feedback his family is receiving from fans. In the series (it airs Monday nights at 9 p.m.), Tip and his wife, former Xscape member and Grammy-winning songwriter Tameka (Tiny) Harris, give us a look inside their private family life.

And we love what we’re seeing.

Tip let us hang out with him and kick it in his trailer while shooting a guest-starring role on the upcoming new season of VH-1’s original scripted series Single Ladies (the show is back Memorial Day weekend!). One important thing he says his fans need to know about him is that he hopes showing all this good, minuses out anything bad he’s done. 

Tip will perform at SXSW with his protégé B.o.B  on Thursday in Austin, Texas. But before his trailer took off Texas-bound, EBONY.com got the goods.

EBONY.COM: Talk to me about your fans seeing you in this different light

T.I: It’s a pleasure to be able to share my world with them. I wanted to give them more insight on who I was when I’m off stage, at the studio, because really all they see is what the media portrays me as. There is some truth to that, but, it isn’t the majority, it isn’t my foundational makeup. At my heart, I’m a family man and I just wanted to give them a sense of certainty about the man that I am above and beyond all of the other things, these isolated incidents, moments in time. This is just a grain of sand in my hourglass. This is not my entire life.

EBONY.COM: Does that mean you’re going to come back for another season?

T.I: Yeah, we’re going to do season two and the family is enjoying it. They sit back and watch me do my thing, and now they’re getting their own shine, so they’re enjoying that and I’m enjoying it for ‘em.

EBONY.COM A lot of fans don’t know how to separate who you are in real life versus who you are on wax. And hip-hop is the only musical genre that doesn’t allow people to see that distinction. Does it hurt you as a musician that people get to see you as a normal dad who’s protective of boys liking his daughter?

T.I: No, not at all, because in my music I’m still me. I’m still gonna make some of the most edgiest, urban music. It’s just that my life is going to be a world apart from what you see on The Family Hustle. My next album is entitled Trouble Man. So this is going to be more so about the things that I used to do before I evolved into the person that you see on the show.

EBONY.COM: Is that a little nod to Marvin Gaye?

T.I: Absolutely.

EBONY.COM: Talk to me a little bit about those lessons. What’s been keystone for you?

T.I: I mean, the keystone that’s pretty much been guiding me is that … I only answer to God, you know? I only answer to God. The people’s opinions, they will not determine my moves and my mistakes don’t define me. That’s pretty much it. And just the fact that just because I’ve grown as a man, it don’t mean I’ve lost any edge at all. I’m still like that, and I still represent those people who walk on the side of life not many people can stand on.

EBONY.COM: You’ve always been honest about your trials and tribulations and mistakes that you’ve made. Is Trouble Man going to be an instruction manual of what not to do?

T.I: I can’t say that. It’s just a bunch of jamming a** music on a lot of levels. Most of these records are about things that can get me in trouble or have gotten me