people who killed Biggie have never been arrested. The people who
killed Jam Master Jay have never been arrested. No rapper has ever
[been] killed and the crime [was ever] solved. So, I’m looking at
history and saying, well, I’m the easiest person to kill!”
a bright Sunday afternoon, T.I. is sitting inside Woodruff’s Arts
Center’s Rich Auditorium, looking a little somber. He’s on a panel that
includes Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Rev. Andrew Young, and the
conversation is about gun violence. It’s just one of the many
appearances he’s made over the course of the past year — but today,
he’s particularly moved.
“I saw all the crimes that were being committed to people over the
summer — the home invasions, all the people who came from New Orleans
who [were] running through the city having their way with certain
people,” he says of the time leading up to his arrest. “And not only
that, but having the experience of [lifelong friend] Phil [Philant
Johnson] dying in Cincinnati in 2006 [coupled with] my crime knowledge.
The people who killed Tupac have never been arrested. The people who
killed Biggie have never been arrested. The people who killed Jam
Master Jay have never been arrested. No rapper has ever [been] killed
and the crime [was ever] solved. So, I’m looking at history and saying,
well, I’m the easiest person to kill!”
He’s speaking to a theater full of people who have gathered to watch Rev. Young’s documentary, Walking with Guns,
which follows the Grammy-winning star as he visits a New York
rehabilitation center to meet with kids who have been paralyzed by gang
violence. The room is filled with laughter, although at its core, the
situation isn’t funny.
At the height of his career, T.I.
(born Clifford Harris) isn’t supposed to be going to jail again. Sure,
he’d had his run-ins with the law in the past, but those days were
behind him. He was a multiplatinum-selling rapper and budding movie
star with keen business skills. So the idea that he would end up facing
federal time on gun charges was surprising, to say the least. But as
circumstances would have it, Tip is faced with what has perhaps been
his greatest trial so far — and he’s emerged a better man because of
About two months after the Arts Center panel discussion, T.I. sounds oddly upbeat during a telephone interview with rolling out.
Although the fatigue is evident in his voice as he talks about the
future of his business ventures (the Grand Hustle label included), and
his family, he seems to have renewed energy. Over the past year, he’s
been actively putting plans into motion — from the formation of his
sports management company, to the launch of his clothing line and
adding to his label’s roster. The acts that Grand Hustle has signed
over the past 12 months have arguably made the label the most exciting
imprint to watch in a long time. Underground rap hero, Killer Mike;
veteran rap duo, Eightball & MJG; swag-rapper, Yung L.A.; and the
label’s primary draw, the charismatic emcee, B.o.B, all have signed
within the past year. The label’s moves have been critical to its
future success. While T.I. has understandably been focused on getting
his ducks in a row business-wise, his main concern is still his
community, and of course, his family.
“Even more so
than [to elevate] my career, it’s important for me as a man and just a
person to be a man of the people,” the father of six says. “That’s just
my personality type. That’s how I’m made up as a man.”
That’s one of the reasons he’s remained so approachable. One of the few
stars who’s never had a problem mingling with the people while he’s out
and about, T.I.’s reputation with everyday people was rock solid even
before a judge forced him to do 1,500 hours of community service.
“Hiding, ducking and not being out and around as a normal person, just
doesn’t fit my personality,” the 28-year-old says.
From the time that he emerged on the scene with his debut album, I’m Serious T.I.’s
inner turmoil with trying to do the right thing has been apparent. When
he’s succeeded, the results have been astronomical. Whether it’s
building a rap label from the ground up alongside longtime manager,
Jason Geter, forming a sports management company, securing endorsements
with Chevrolet or creating a clothing line, when Tip is on his A-game,
he’s virtually unstoppable.
But, then, there are the moments
when he’s faltered in making sound decisions. Like when he was caught
trying to buy an arsenal of weapons in the parking lot of an Atlanta
shopping center. It’s the kind of incident that seems at odds with the
wisdom he normally exhibits.
“I’ve always called Tip an old soul,” says DJ Drama, whose music is
distributed through Grand Hustle. “For a young dude, he’s an old soul.
Sometimes he says things that sound like an old man. You forget that
he’s in his twenties sometimes, from his vocabulary and his insight.”
That insight has led to his unique friendship with Rev. Andrew Young,
who has said publicly that T.I. has the capacity to reach young people
in a way that he’s never witnessed before. That capacity for
insightfulness is also why fellow rappers refer to him as a brother,
friend and confidant.
“I know his younger and older cousins,” says Killer Mike, who signed to
Grand Hustle in December 2008 having maintained a friendship with T.I.
for years. “It’s a great feeling to be able to see people being
successful who literally grew up six minutes from you. Like Philant,
T.I.’s friend — God bless the dead — he went to school with my younger
sister. He grew up a few streets behind my grandmother. Having the
ability to be around people and share success with people who you
literally have seen [most of your] life is a great feeling.”
The same feeling that T.I. has evoked in his industry homies, is what
he gives the people that encounter him. That’s probably why it’s been
so easy to help change kids’ lives with the work that he’s done
recently. As he’s traveled from state to state, sitting on panels,
handing out presents during the holidays, giving anti-gun speeches and
spending invaluable time with the wayward youth that need him most, it
seems natural that the time he’s putting in would start to wear on him.
But he says it’s really the opposite.
be honest with you, it’s not draining at all,” says T.I., whose
outreach reality show, “Road to Redemption” began airing on MTV in
February. “It’s fulfilling in a lot of different ways. I enjoy and
appreciate being able to impact people’s lives in a positive way. The
more you can focus on helping others, the more you can take attention
away from you and stop worrying about what’s going on in your life.”
And those are the very lessons that he plans on instilling in his own
kids. Yes, he may be in trouble right now, but his legacy and impact
goes well beyond any gun charge. His positive presence in his own
children’s lives overshadows any prison cell he may temporarily
“The most important thing I’ve taught my children is the value of
education,” he says easily. “I’ve taught them that all things are
possible through hard work, sacrifice and determination — and that if
you don’t dream, you won’t have.”
With only days left before he begins serving his sentence, T.I. is
preparing himself mentally for the year he faces. Drama, who refers to
him as a brother, says that while he’s spoken words of encouragement to
him, he’s confident his friend will be all right.
“Tip knows what he needs to do,” Drama says. “I tell him to keep his faith and stay positive.”
And that’s exactly what he plans to do. His trials and tribulations
have made him stronger than ever, and he’s prepared to face the future
with his head up.
“As a man, my focus is [putting] one of the darkest periods of my life
behind me and moving on with my life,” he says solemnly. “That’s the
most important thing to me right now — to get back to my family and my
business and life as I know it.”
He Sought A Greatly Reduced Sentence For T.I.
If you believe that U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias let superstar rapper
T.I. off easy because of his celebrity, you’re only partially right. If
you believe that an ordinary defendant would have been treated
differently, you’re right — and you’re wrong.
Nahmias admitted that he recommended a much lighter sentence for T.I.,
aka Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., than he could have imposed on the
Atlanta musical icon because he wanted T.I. to leverage his massive
fame to dissuade at-risk youth from criminality. “And what we did after
discussing [it] with defense counsel, [is] attest that Mr. Harris is
not just somebody who could reach a few people. He had the potential to
reach literally thousands or tens of thousands of at-risk people with a
message that we thought could probably convince at least a few of these
people out of tens of thousands to maybe not commit a crime,” Nahmias
reasons. “And [if] we thought we could give the same kind of credit if
he had told us that ‘Joe’ had a gun. That’s the logic behind it.”
Nahmias said it’s routine for the U.S. Department of Justice to
significantly reduce federal sentences of defendants in negotiated plea
deals. “We give credit all the time to defendants who cooperate in the
traditional sense of telling us about the criminal activity of some
other person,” he says. “We gave a very significant sentence break to
the bodyguard of T.I. who provided the information that led us to T.I.”
T.I. has already served a year of extremely restricted home
confinement. He has to serve a year in prison, has to complete the
1,500 hours of community service, and will have three years of
supervised probation when he is released next year. So T.I. didn’t get
off. But Nahmias said he has received scores of letters and calls about
T.I’s uncanny ability to reach and impact at-risk youth. “I keep
hearing from people that I respect a lot — like Andy Young, the former
U.S. Ambassador and civil rights hero. And he’s been trying to reach
kids for 50 years — and [Young] says that T.I. does it better than
anyone he’s ever seen.”
Nahmias says if T.I. continues to abide by his plea agreement, then
T.I.’s reduced sentence will more than pay off in the long run — for
him and for the thousands of youth that T.I. positively impacts. –terry shropshire
How Did Prison Affect 2Pac,
Slick Rick And Others?
As hip-hop star T.I. prepares to begin his prison sentence, ro
took a look at some other high-profile hip-hop stars who have served
time — and the effects jail had on their careers. The aftermath of
T.I.’s incarceration can’t be predicted, but history has shown that the
fate of his career lies largely in his own hands. Stay tuned. rolling out’s T.I. cover story will examine how he got to this juncture and what’s ahead for the superstar.
Charge: Second-degree attempted murder
Sentence: Six years
Making his debut rapping on classic singles by Doug E. Fresh like “La
Di Da Di” and “The Show,” the British-born MC dropped his classic debut
album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, in 1988, and was one of the rising stars of hip-hop entering the 1990s.
His career momentum was significantly slowed by his jail term and although his 1999 comeback album, The Art of Storytelling, was critically acclaimed, he never released a follow-up.
Charge: Sexual assault
Sentence: 18 months to 4 years (served eight months)
His star had been steadily rising ever since he released his 1991 debut, 2Pacalypse Now, and appeared in several popular films. But he was equally known for his many arrests and controversies.
He exited prison a bigger star than he had been before, but with a
brasher, confrontational persona. Unfortunately, at the height of his
fame and notoriety, he was murdered — only nine months after his
release from prison.
Charge: Second-degree murder
Sentence: Life in prison (later reduced to $500,000 bond and house arrest until retrial)
Was a high-profile artist on the No Limit Records label, which was headed by his mogul brother, Master P.
Has been under house arrest since 2006, releasing three albums (to
little fanfare), and awaiting his retrial, which is set for April 2009.
Charge: Felony sexual battery
Sentence: Six years
Was one of the first successful rappers from New Orleans, and a star on
Master P’s No Limit label, before finding bigger commercial success
with hits like “Shake It Fast.”
The rapper has not released any material since his incarceration, and
was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to an additional year in
prison, which he served concurrently.
Sentence: One year, one day
Rose to fame as the brash protégé of the Notorious B.I.G., and although
her solo musical career was wildly uneven, she became one of the most
recognized women in music.
Has yet to put out an album since her release, but she has made a few
high-profile television appearances, most notably on the current season
of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Fans Offer Support
Bay Area, Calif.
“The work you’ve been doing to turn around the lives of youth prior to
starting your sentence is admirable and will be a part of the legacy
you’ll create for yourself and your children. Thank you for showing
that even in the face of adversity, a setback can always be a setup for
a comeback. Keep your head up — we love you!”
Dee Dee M. Cocheta
“T.I., I love your transformation and growth. While in prison, keep
seeking knowledge, truth and enhancing your wisdom, which will keep
your mind and spirit free. Much respect!”
“Tip, I was not a die-hard fan of yours from the jump, but with ‘No
Matter What’ from your ‘Paper Trail’ album, you’ve made a new fan out
of me. I’ve seen your growth and maturity in the last year. I wish you
the best, brother. Hold your head [up] and continue your journey with
the courage and strength of a king!”
Jae Uno, urban nerd
we all make mistakes — it happens. You’re a good brotha at the end of
the day, and it shows. Stay strong and we’ll be here when you get back
out — count on it. One love.”
“T.I., you have found opportunity in your ‘difficulty.’ You have
definitely taken a negative and turned it into a positive. I love your
show, ‘Road to Redemption,’ and the positive outcomes for the kids who
were headed down the wrong road. I’m sure you will have more great
music for us once you return. Until then, I will continue to ride with
you in numbers 1–4 (those are your slots in my CD changer)!”
“As Frederick Douglass said, ‘There is no progress without struggle.’ Stay positive!”
“Stay up Tip! You are truly an inspiration to [me] and millions of
others. Wish you the best, [and] see you soon!”