His debut disc I’m Serious sported production
credits from the omnipresent Neptunes and Jazze Pha, yet the combination of
stellar beats with his laid-back but intense southern tinged delivery failed
to garner widespread recognition (read: sales). Nevertheless it was a regional
success with T.I. being a household name in states below the Mason Dixon line.
His local fame culminated in a bidding war which included major labels like
Universal, Bad Boy and Def Jam actively vying for his services.
With a business savvy well beyond his 22 years,
T.I. Is poised to make another attempt at cracking the rap game’s glass ceiling.
Instead of being courted by the big dogs, he would rather be one of them.
AllHipHop.com: What does the name "T.I."
T.I.: Everyone from the streets knows me as
Tip. When I would call people they would think I said "Chip" so I
would spell it out for them, "T.I.P". That kind of stuck with me.
When I signed to LaFace Records I was using T.I.P. When LaFace merged with Arista,
that put me on the same label with Q-Tip and they felt having two artists with
names that similar would be hard to market. A n*gga had been there longer and
I was the new artist so it would make more sense to ask me to change my name
than it would to ask him to change his.
AllHipHop: Who made that decision?
T.I: L.A. (Reid) asked KP to ask me about it.
At first I bucked for a little while but it became a situation where it was
like do you wanna move forward or stand still?
AllHipHop: So you were with LaFace then when
LA Reid left to assume his CEO/President position at Arista Records?
T.I.:Yeah, some people got dropped some people
went to Arista. I went to Arista.
AllHipHop: Did that effect your situation with
your "I’m Serious" album?
T.I.: Honestly it had a lot to do with LA (Reid)’s
positioning and what he was focusing on at the time. Taking that big job he
was focusing on Pop, Rock, R&B. If it wasn’t Pop, Rock or R&B, he didn’t
give a f*ck about it I don’t think, to be perfectly honest with you. Unless
it had already made him a substantial amount of money and already had a no-brainer
effect to it. A lot of people got caught up in that. I think LA wanted to prove
himself in another genre of music. I think he kind of let the urban music alone
for a little while and I think I got caught up in that. But it’s all good though,
I ain’t got no hard feelings.
AllHipHop: Did you have any trouble getting out
of your contract with Arista?
T.I.: Oddly enough naw, I didn’t. They pretty
much just kept it pimpin’ with me. We had a few meetings. LA was like "Yo,
I don’t want to let you go, I don’t want you to dip." I’m like "I
understand that man but I don’t believe that you know that much about my genre
of music. If you want me to stay it’s going to require this, and if you ain’t
willing to do this, then let me go." I think he understood that and he
let me go, for a small price. But it ain’t nothing to cry over, it could have
been a lot worse.
AllHipHop: What did you do since you album came
T.I.: Sheeit man, grindin’. Acting as an independent
company. Spending my own money, shooting my own video, promoting the product…spending
my own money on posters, pictures, t-shirts, vinyl, promo cds, putting out independent
records, getting records added to radio stations on our own. sh*t man what haven’t
I been doing?! We been doing everything that they [the label] didn’t do within
our means. We ain’t have millions to spend, I think we spent like a hundred
thousand in getting "I’m Serious" to where it is right now.
AllHipHop: Killer Mike spoke highly…how
do you go about choosing who you work with?
T.I.: I gotta respect your craft, I gotta respect
your work. I’m not the kind of person that’s just gonna do a record with somebody
just because they selling a certain amount of records or got a certain buzz
right now. I’m a rapper, but I’m a fan first. I was a fan before I was a rapper.
If I like the sh*t I feel then 9 times out of 10, other m’f*ckers are gonna
like it too. And if I feel like what you do goes with what I do then we can
work. And then again, in addition to that our genres’ of music have to be the
same. Even if I do respect you craft and I do respect your art, it still gotta
go with what I’m doing. The n*ggas who buy my records, they gotta in some way
coincide with the m’f*ckas who buy your records.
AllHipHop: So you wouldn’t do any records with
T.I.: Nah, I wouldn’t. Not because I don’t think
she a good artist. I don’t think n*ggas who f*ck with dope boys and the trap
n*ggas is going wanna hear me with Britney Spears. That can be bent to a certain
degree but you gotta be real careful in that. I might not do one with Britney
Spears, but maybe I would do one with Usher, you know what I’m sayin’?
AllHipHop: You signed with Atlantic, but who
else was in the running?
T.I.: A lot of people thought that I had finalized
a deal with Puff and Bad Boy. Me and Puff got together, we kicked it a few different
places, a few different times and people were seeing us together. The biggest
thing with that was when he did the Bad boy Weekend down here and had a show
at The Bounce. I’m from Bankhead and The Bounce is Bankhead and his people said
you need to f*ck with this n*gga right here if you trying to f*ck with the hood.
AllHipHop: How did you hook up with Puff?
T.I.: I was at one of his parties and he reached
out to me thru my partner Pretty Ken and asked him to come through one of his
parties. Oddly enough, that night a b*tch went in my pocket. I had a big wad
of money in my pocket and she tried to grab a loose twenty or fifty or something.
I felt it and I went off on the b*tch. So I grabbed the b*tch by her hair piece!
I was acting the donkey and I was standing right next to him, and we hadn’t
formerly introduced ourselves at that time. After that altercation was over,
I was like, "Excuse me man…" Two weeks later I was sitting outside
a car wash and he pulled up in his Ferrari and we exchanged 2ways. From there
we developed a relationship and had been communicating. And when he came down
to Bad Boy weekend he hollered at me and asked me to do the show with him. He
had been trying to sign me and that was the word on the street but it was unofficial.
AllHipHop: Why didn’t you sign with him?
T.I.: My main reason for not signing wasn’t
no indiscrepancies with Puff and it definitely wasn’t money cuz he came with
the paper. But it was like what do I really want to do? If I learned, anything
in my dealing with Arista and what I’ve learned so far in the business is being
an artist is at the bottom of the food chain. I had to do whatever I could do
in my power to change that and to up my value and to up my equity in this business.
I felt that since I had been acting as an independent company for so long it
wouldn’t really make sense to sell myself short as an artist. And I discussed
that with Puff, He understood, much to his dismay, where I was coming from.
He was like "yeah I know what I can do." And I I’m like "yeah
I know what you can do too, BUT I know what I can do." If I was
just in for some money then yeah that would be a no brainer. I already know
Puff plus anything equals TV, promotions. He invented street marketing. If he
don’t know how to do nothing, he know how to make any and everybody in our world,
and in our generation pay attention to something. And I know that. But do you
want ownership? Do you want to be one day in his position? Or do you want to
be up under him? Ain’t nothing personal it’s just sheeit, I’m my own man! I’m
a leader! Kicking it with him for the few days we kicked it and hung out I was
like, "Look, I’m a leader pimp. I’m not fittin’ to be running behind you.
I see that when you move everybody move and that’s how it is with me."
AllHipHop: Were any other labels in the running?
T.I.: Columbia. KP who signed me to LaFace is
now VP of A&R over at Columbia, which is where Killer Mike is which made
it more appetizing and appealing to me. And Shanti Das who worked at LaFace
when I was over there. They were real familiar with me and I was familiar with
them. They came with some paper too but my thing was KP and Shanti, they were
the only feel of urban presence that I felt in the building. I didn’t feel nobody
who had that kick ass, go get it, hustler attitude attitude except for KP and
Shanti. They don’t really push the buttons, they can just try to convince the
motherf*ckas who push the buttons. We sat down with Universal. They capable
of doing the job if they make up their mind up that they want to do the job.
But do I trust them when they say that or is that something they tell everybody
when they come in there? I see you got so many other people that you ain’t really
did that much with. Of course they got Nelly, they got Cash Money, now they
got Bad Boy. Then the type of deal we were trying to do wasn’t just a point
structured deal. If you already got one major entity that’s taking so much attention
and that requires so much money, so much marketing and I already know Puff going
to come and sew the building up! If you ain’t f*cking with Puff you fittin’
to get swallowed. That’s kinda like going to Interscope and you ain’t f*cking
with Aftermath. If Eminem’s record’s dropping, your sh*t’s on hold.
AllHipHop: Anybody else?
T.I.: There are more companies who ain’t worth
mentioning. They had research people pulling up BDS and Soundscan and finding
out I was off Arista and a free-agent and talking to Puff and just for that
reason was trying to get in touch with my manager and lawyers. They like yeah
we really think we could do this that and the other for you and we’re really
interested. And I’m like yeah if y’all so interested what songs you like the
most? Well we haven’t really heard anything. So what the f*ck you know about
me then dog?
AllHipHop: All that attention sounds like a bidding
war doesn’t it?
T.I.: Yeah, but one thing about me, I’m a real
n*gga man. What I’m a tell ya I’m a do and what I say ain’t gone do, I ain’t
gone do. Puffy was like I don’t want to get in a bidding war and I was like
cool. I ain’t going to walk in anybodies office telling them, "Hey Puff
offered me this or you gotta do this," and I didn’t. The same thing with
Def Jam, "We don’t want to get in a bidding war." Hey I understand
that but y’all came in the game late (laughing)…
AllHipHop: So what made you finally choose Atlantic?
T.I.: They had in Mike Caren someone who really
knew a lot about my genre of music. Surprisingly enough, it took a white boy,
to come and lay it down like, "Yeah, I see this and I see that and this
that and another." And nobody had done that but Puff. But Puff couldn’t
offer me what they could offer. Puff could offer me a great career as an artist.
Atlantic could offer me a great career as a company. Just looking at their background,
Intercsope started at Atlantic as an independent company. And they branched
off and did their thing and now their a major label. Their roster, they ain’t
got no big clogged pipeline. They ain’t got a whole lot of m’f*ckas that will
make it hard for you for when you come out to get the attention that you need
to get for your sh*t to do what it need to. It’s room for a priority over there.
Both of us are hungry and wanna win. Me, I wanna win because I feel like I’m
just as good as anyone out there selling any amount of records. I feel like
they wanna win because they feel like they just as good as any other company,
got just as much money as any other company, but they don’t have that multi-platinum
Nelly or 50 Cent. On top of that, they don’t have that boutique label that makes
their label that much stronger like Roc-a-Fella did for Def Jam or like Aftermath
or Death Row did for Interscope.
AllHipHop: What’s the name of label?
T.I.: Grand Hustle. They signed the company
and me through the company. I saw potential in them and they saw potential in
me. If it wasn’t good money I wouldn’t be there. I’m straight, but I got paper
already. I got construction companies, I got real estate, I sell cars down here
[in Atlanta], I got investments. I’m straight. Before any check was cut from
any label, I had just closed on my new $450,000 house off Cascade Road.
AllHipHop: It sounds like you are straight, why
are you doing this?
T.I.: I’m doing this sh*t cuz I love this sh*t.
I’m a hustler anyway! I’m a get money. I’m not really worried about that. What
I’m worried about is my art and my craft and letting it have the effect that
it’s supposed to have. I’m really worried about living up to my full potential.
That can’t be measured by a dollar amount.
AllHipHop: What has been the biggest mistake
of your career?
T.I.: My biggest mistake was signing to LaFace
without shopping my deal. I didn’t really shop my deal at all. I came fresh
out the trap. I was selling dope at the time. I wanted and was looking for a
record deal but I wasn’t banking on that sh*t. I wasn’t willing to put everything
else on hold just to pursue that. Because I had done that at one time to no
avail so I was like "if it comes it’s gonna come," but in the meantime,
I gotta get some money.
AllHipHop: How did you get signed?
T.I.: At the time Jason Jater was working at
Patchwerk Recording Studios in Atlanta. He was telling P.A. [Parental Advisory],
who was in the studio working on they record at that time, that he had the hottest
rapper in Atlanta that no one had ever heard of. I came through and I layed
a verse and they f*cked with it. The 3rd member of P.A. was KP who had his A&R
job at LaFace. He had just signed the Youngbloodz through his imprint Ghetto
Vision and he wanted me to be the 2nd artist on Ghetto Vision. So without shopping
my deal, I was like cool.
AllHipHop: So after you signed were you done
with the drug selling?
T.I.: I still had some dope. I was like I ain’t
selling this sh*t no more. I told my folk and my connect, "I ain’t fittin’
to do this no more, I’m fittin to do this music sh*t full time." He was
like a-ight. Everyone took it with a grain of salt, like alright I hear ya,
but that’s like one in a million. Everybody wanna rap. It’s like how many n*ggas
wanna play basketball, but how many is really gonna make it? I’ve taken the
show me approach in my whole career. I’ve sat back I’m a tell y’all what I’m
a do, I know you probably ain’t gonna believe it? Cool. I’m a show you now.
AllHipHop: You have any good examples?
T.I.: I had with one L.A. He said right now
we feel like your particular class of music has a lifespan of about 3 months.
Whatever it does in those 3 month or 9 weeks, if it don’t recoup by then, there
ain’t no use in putting anymore into it. I was like a-ight cool, I know better
than that, I’m a show you better. I proposed to them what I wanted to do and
it didn’t make sense to them. So we went back and did our own work, did our
own shows, spent our own money and we hopped back on Billboard. We got our sh*t
popping in our little region doing what we could do where we could. And we had
another meeting and they were like "Ok, how about we shoot another video
for it and re-package it and release a new single?" At this point I’m like
hell naw man we said that 3, 4 months ago, it’s time to work on a new project
now. Ok and now I’m saying where I wanted to go and what I need to do to get
this new project up. "They was like nah, that don’t make sense." Ok
cool. Then just let me off the label, just let us go. In the time between he
agreed to let us go and we was actually released, we was recording our own songs,
paid producers out of our own pocket, stayed doing shows, released independent
records, released independent albums, making sure people didn’t forget who the
the f*ck T.I.P. was. We did the "Dope Boy Remix" with Foxy Brown,
We got on the Pac (Better Dayz) album. We did our own sh*t! I took the "I
told you so" approach rather than begging a motherf*cka and sittin’ and
crying about what they ain’t doing.
I recorded 50 songs my 1st album. I got all the
masters to the songs that we didn’t use to that. Out of the songs that I done
recorded right now, it’s like 25 songs. I got like 50-60 songs right now. I’m
still recording, I’m still working. I’m a record. Until a muf*cka feel like
"hell yeah, we go more than enough." I record everyday damn near.
I got a private studio for myself in my house, we got a studio we work out of,
my girl got a set up in her house. It’s more than enough available for me to
do a song a day. It don’t take sh*t to do a song. n*gga who sit and take 2 or
3 days to do a song, I don’t see how. n*ggas who go over budget on recording
costs, I don’t see how. I don’t understand that sh*t. I’m really stong about
working man. I feel that wasted talent. That’s the worst thing a n*gga can ever
have. If you have talent man you should be living up to you full potential.
If you got talent and you ain’t benefiting from it, then there’s something wrong.
You need to seriously sit down with yourself and look in the mirror and figure
out how you can fix that.