Born Clifford Harris in Bankhead, GA; children, Messiah Ya Majesty, Domani Uriah, Dejan Iman, and King C'Andre. Addresses: Record company--Grand Hustle Entertainment, PMB 161541 10th St., Atlanta, GA 30318, phone: (404) 456-1778, fax: (404) 522-5114, website: http://www.grandhustle.com.
Through his music, rapper T.I. expresses an honest view of growing up black and poor in the South, providing a raw view of life as a drug dealer. T.I. (born Clifford Harris) grew up in Bankhead, Georgia. He lived in a family that existed in a constant struggle to survive. In an article for the America's Intelligence Wire, he described them as hustlers: "When I say hustle, I don't mean necessarily broke the law and sold drugs but, I mean that they didn't know where their next check was coming from. They had to get theirs day by day, and they got it, some more than others."
T.I. was interested in rap music at the young age of seven, and found that he could entertain his relatives and feel included. He was making demos of his music by age ten or eleven. But street life interfered, and by age 14 he was dealing drugs and had been arrested numerous times.
Signed with Ghet-O-Vision
Despite the troublesome upbringing, T.I. was still drawn to music. He got a manager and was heard in an audition by Kawan Prather, better known in the music business as K.P., who was working on a spin-off of Arista Records called Ghet-O-Vision Entertainment. After the audition, T.I. was quickly signed.
His 2001 debut album, I'm Serious, was loaded with featured guest appearances by P$C, Jazze Pha, and Too Short, with the title track featuring Beenie Man. Although there were a lot of guest appearances, T.I. considered I'm Serious to be an autobiographical album. "It talks about how I grew up and what made me the man that I am," he said in the September 29, 2001, issue of Billboard. Interview called the album "a refreshing blast of streetwise bravado."
T.I. wanted to become the "King of the South" in rap music. He was thrilled to have an album released, but disappointed in the sales of only 150,000 copies. He left Ghet-O-Vision and Arista Records and started his own company, Grand Hustle Entertainment. In 2003 he coordinated a deal with Atlantic Records to distribute Grand Hustle Entertainment artists. "We've been functioning as an independent label since we didn't get the major-label support that we thought my first project deserved," T.I. told Billboard in 2003. "After we split from my first situation, we set out to do our own thing," he added. "We didn't want to sell ourselves short by signing another artist deal. So, we did our own work, recorded an album, got a hot single in our region and then saw who would be interested in taking on a partner more than just signing an artist. That's why I decided to go with Atlantic. They weren't intimidated by that."
In August of 2003 he released Trap Muzik on Atlantic Records. A "trap" in Southern slang is the place where a drug dealer does business. T.I. tried to explain about the allure of the drug dealing community: "No one ever talks about the unity of the neighborhood," he told the America's Intelligence Wire in 2003. "The drug dealers that I knew in my trap, and in the traps I have been in, weren't just selling dope, they were also making sure that nobody else who wasn't from here wasn't coming in and messing up our neighborhood. It's like stuff that, that people never touch on." Hits from the album included "Rubberband Man" and "24s," a song about cars with 24-inch rims on their wheels, which attracted an audience of car fanatics as well as rap fans.
Trouble with the Law
T.I.'s past life came crashing in on him when a warrant for his arrest was issued in December of 2003. "I was doing a little living on the wrong side of the law, so I got a lot of loose ends to tie up legitimately before I can further my career," T.I explained in a radio interview before heading to jail, according to the Yahoo Music website. "Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you, you just gotta deal with those skeletons in your closet. ... I don't anticipate doing any time. It ain't like I stand a chance of doing 10 years or any of that." T.I. turned himself in on March 30, 2004, and was sentenced in April to three years of prison for violating the terms of his probation from a 1997 arrest, and for a subsequent conviction for distribution of cocaine, manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance, and giving authorities a false name. After this, he received a number of probation violations for various offenses, including possession of marijuana and possession of a firearm.
T.I went on to make further news by filming a video in a neighboring county jail while out on work release. The video showed T.I. in a jail cell, apologizing to fans for not appearing at a concert because of his incarceration. The video gained further notoriety because an inmate escaped from the prison at the same time the film was being shot, in an unrelated incident. However, the incident brought a firestorm of media attention to the lack of security that had allowed T.I. to bring a camera and crew into the prison in the first place, even though escapee was caught a few hours following the incident.
T.I. was able to convert his sentence to a work release program and get back into the recording studio. In 2004 he released Urban Legend, in which he laid out his claim to be "King of the South," as well as his attitude toward other rappers. His confrontational attitude and public comments alienated other high-profile rappers, including Ludacris and Lil' Flip. This created a lot of negative publicity, and T.I. quickly mended his ways, telling the America's Intelligence Wire, "I made a decision not to even speak to no more rappers on records. It's not my style. That creates the kind of attention that I don't want."
As the father of four children, Messiah Ya Majesty, Domani Uriah, Dejan Iman, and King C'Andre, T.I. has recognized that he does not see as much of them as he would like. "I might not have much time to spend with them now," he told the America's Intelligence Wire, "but later on I might be rich beyond my wildest dreams, never have to work and be able to be there every day of the week. I'm investing this time right now and it will pay off later."
As T.I.'s career grows, he has started giving back to the community where he grew up. He has formed a partnership with an uncle, who also spent time in prison, to develop a construction company that builds low-cost homes in his old neighborhood. In 2005 T.I. was nominated for a Black Entertainment Television (BET) Award for Best Male Hip-Hop and also for BET.com's Viewer's Choice Award for his song "U Don't Know Me." It appears as though T.I. is working hard to fulfill his own dream of becoming "King of the South."
by Sarah Parkin
Signed with Arista spin-off Ghet-O-Vision; released I'm Serious, 2001; created Grand Hustle Entertainment; released Trap Muzik, 2003; released Urban Legend, 2004.
- Selected discography
- I'm Serious Arista/Ghet-O-Vision, 2001;
- Trap Muzik Grand Hustle Entertainment/Atlantic, 2003.
- Urban Legend Grand Hustle Entertainment/Atlantic, 2003.
- America's Intelligence Wire, October 20, 2003; February 25, 2005.
- Billboard, September 29, 2001; August 30, 2003.
- Interview, November 2001.
- "Congratulations to our BET Award Nominees," Atlantic Records, http://www.atlanticrecords.com/ti/article/?article=32200004 (June 22, 2005).
- "T.I. Behind Bars After Turning Himself In," Yahoo Music Website, http://www.music.yahoo.com/read/news/12057398 (June 8, 2005).
- "The T.I. Trilogy," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/bands/t/ti/news_feature_june_2004 (June 14, 2005).
June 27, 2006: T.I. won the BET award for best male hip-hop artist. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, June 30, 2006.