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?
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 in trouble, and it’s a soundtrack for people out there who are still doing things that can get them in trouble. It’s just something about danger and something about hazardous circumstances and living on the edge that just—it pumps your adrenaline and it provides a certain level of excitement. So to bottle that up and put that in music is just an exciting moment, and that’s what people grew to love about T.I. Just because I changed my life, I don’t want to lose that excitement.
EBONY.COM: So has working on this album been therapeutic?
T.I: I guess so, man. See, before when I was talking about these things, I was doing ‘em. You know? And right now, I remember I used to do ‘em, but I’m not doing a fraction of these things. You know? But the music is still fun. It feels good to — at least — throw caution to the wind and just live in the moment. Even if you’re not going to do it for real. It’s just like if you having a hard day at work and you got into it with your boss, you just say, ‘f— this job!’ You’re not really going to quit, though. You just want to say that right then, just to make yourself feel better. So I think that’s what this album represents.
EBONY.COM: Do you have a drop date for Trouble Man?
T.I: Nah, not yet, but it’s going to be out this summer.
EBONY.COM: What else do you have in your lineup of things that we can let people know about?
T.I: The OMG Girlz, we’re working on their album. They’re getting a lot of support on BET, 106th and Park, number two, number three, soon to be number one. They’ve been touring with Diggy, and with Mindless Behavior. So we’re very proud of that project. This is the part of the project where I’m getting them in the studio and I’m writing and I’m doing some songs and stuff for them now.
EBONY.COM: Aside from your step-daughter’s group and your son’s rap career, you’re also signing and managing a bunch of new acts. Are we seeing the emergence of Tip, the business guy?
T.I: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve been saying it for a long time. But I’m ready to take myself into the next phase of my career.
EBONY.COM: And what’s the next phase?
T.I: Behind the desk, you know, more so than in front. Not to say that I’m going to retire or nothing, because that’s so final. I’m just going to do it when I feel like doing it. I’m not going to be on the clock.
EBONY.COM: And that makes it easier to be just dad, too. Do you like to think of yourself as a role model for other dads?
T.I: If I could be an example, or lead by example, of how to be a father, how to keep families together and how to strengthen the Black community, if I could do that, that could offset some of the wrong I’ve done. So it’s my pleasure.
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EBONY Entertainment Editor