T.I. has come a long way since his early dope boy-turned-hip-hop star persona. While the Atlanta native does still exhibit some of the street edge on which he built his career a decade ago, he’s also embraced a much more family-friendly image in recent years. His latest albums have been more introspective and reflective of his criminal past, while not as brazen and confrontational as his earlier work; and he’s also starred in a hit VH1 reality show (“The Family Hustle”) since 2011. The show details his life as a husband and father.
In a recent interview with XXL, Tip shared that his longtime label, Atlantic Records, wasn’t too crazy about the changes in his image. His sales have dropped significantly as compared to his mid-2000s heyday; and despite the fact that many artists have seen similar declines due to the rise in online piracy, Tip says that Atlantic felt that his mature image was hurting his popularity.
“Nah, [Atlantic Records] hated it,” T.I. said. “Labels love hardcore T.I. That keeps the cash register ringing. They don’t want me to go to prison and caught, though. They want me to be the ‘Teflon Don,’ and I can’t blame them.”
The “Teflon Don” nickname was one given to mafia crime boss John Gotti in the late 1980s/early 1990s, after he successfully avoided conviction in numerous court cases. His luck eventually ran out, however, and he was sent to prison in 1992. T.I. says he understands why labels and fans may prefer that version of him.
“That s–t’s sexy. But I’m older, man. I’m wiser, I’m calmer,” he shares. “I’m better, stronger. I’m ready for whatever tomorrow got coming.”
T.I. reflected on his first album, I’m Serious. It was his only project for Arista Records, and it sold poorly, which led him to consider walking away from music.
“I thought I’d be in prison or dead or back selling crack,” said T.I. “I came so close to getting back in the game after my first album didn’t do what it was supposed to do. I still had people to feed. I wasn’t front lines like I was at one time, but I definitely … [pauses] I’m not going to talk anymore about that.”