"[You] talking much junk like Mr. T is your back, but he’s not so don’t act cute."
-EMPD on "You’re A Customer"
Its hard to determine if he realizes it or not, but Mr. T is indelibly linked to Hip-Hop and many of the culture’s ingrained sensibilities. Legendary lyricists like Slick Rick, Bug Pun and EPMD have name-dropped the 80’s icon or referenced his powerful on-screen persona and others like Ghostface, Big Daddy Kane and the aforementioned Slick Rick evoke T’s penchant for mounds of gold jewelry.
T returned the favor as he even recorded a Hip-Hop album with couple of ultra-positive rap songs, most notably "Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool" and "Treat Your Mother Right." 50 Cent might be a marketing genius, but Mr. T’s likeness has been on everything from action figures to comic books to air fresheners and even chewing gum. On TV, he ran with the motley A-Team of goons that would make any gangsta clan run for his guns and acted as a bodyguard for Michael Jackson and Muhammad Ali. Still, like Hip-Hop, once you get beneath the surface, there is far more to Laurence Tero and the man is far different from his loveably tough, but one-dimensional characters like B.A. Barracus and Clubber Lang. Nowadays, the cancer survivor manifests his true self in his "reali-T" show, I Pity the Fool (On the TV Land network) where he roams the nation performing random acts of kindness.
Now, Mr. T’s spectacular career comes full circle and he spoke to AllHipHop.com about Hip-Hop, reality TV, the A-Team, the youth and even the true meaning behind his mohawk and excessive gold. Readers will find that Mr. T does actually have your back.
AllHipHop.com: It’s a pleasure and an honor to speak to you. I still have one of your Mr. T action figures from back in the day.
Mr. T: Aw man, see that right there that’s awesome stuff man. All that stuff, that’s a blessing from God. When people get to talking about all that stuff, it’s God. God gave me an opportunity, this is my platform for me to reach people. When I had the dolls I would take ‘em to the poor areas in the south side of Chicago, Harlem, and areas like Compton back in the ‘80s and whatnot. That’s what I do with my success, that’s what success is to me. I tell everybody like my mother told me, it’s not what I make, it’s what I share. That’s why I’m still here because I share a lot.
AllHipHop.com: For people that may not know, can you speak on your show I Pity The Fool?
Mr. T: Sure, definitely. [Although we’re a reality show] we’re not eatin’ no worms, nobody is runnin’ around naked – no stupid stuff like that. We’re not trying to see who’s the toughest or something like that. Another thing my show don’t have, we don’t have no nudi-T, no obsceni-T, and there’s a lot of humili-T. But each week I pack my bag and travel the country, I go to people who write me and tell me their problems. I appear whether at their house or at their job site or some neighborhood gathering. I come there and listen to their story and I get hands on as I say. I don t give advice, Dr. Phil gives advice. I give people hope, I build their self-esteem, I motivate ‘em. I inspire them because that’s what I do. I talk to ‘em and show ‘em how to solve their problems and stop sitting around and complaining. So I just give people little T-isms, so that when they hear my story they know where I’m coming from and that I’m real.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like people are getting hopeless or unable to pull themselves up from their bootstraps?
Mr. T: Everybody wants the easy stuff, “Okay, I wanna be a rapper. I wish I could fight in order to get more money.” They see the finished product, they see this guy Derek Jeter hitting the homerun and whatnot and say “Ooh, I wanna make $20 million a year,” but they didn’t see him playing sandlot ball. They didn’t see the fighters fighting at a little disco for 75 dollars at night. As we say we all wanna go to heaven but nobody wanna die.
I joke with people, I say “I like The A-Team for two reasons. 1) They paid me a lot of money 2) We always had a plan. In the A-Team "What’s the plan, Hannibal?" So I challenge the young people, you know the old saying if you fail to plan you plannin’ to fail. You see they have no plan, they have no plan for tomorrow. They wanna wear the bling and be sharp and whatnot, then next year where they at? They have nothing they’re kicked out because they have no money and they didn’t plan for that. So like I tell people they wind up having short term pleasure and long term pain. I’m a tell you what Minister Farrakhan said, "Black people ain’t poor, they just don’t spend wisely" and that’s the truth.
AllHipHop.com: Do you see the tremendous impact you’ve had on the Hip-Hop culture?
Mr. T: I never really think about it, but people tell me about the gold. I hope people have pulled something about me and said "Hey Mr. T loves his mother, hey Mr. T ain’t no dummy, hey Mr. T never grabbed his crotch," when you’re talking about Hip-Hop culture. I did a rap album called Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool, I had a song called "Treat Your Mama Right". All my stuff [has] been positive, if you go back to my early interviews when I did Rocky [III]. They asked me "Mr. T, What’s your goals and desires?" I said "I wanna feed 5,000 like Jesus, I wanna build a community center where the homeless and less fortunate can come take a shower, get a hot meal and a change of clothes. Maybe not new clothes but some clean clothes." I didn’t build a community center but I work a lot with the homeless shelters. Those are my goals, my raps and goals haven’t changed. I’m about helping somebody, I use my celebrity status for the good of mankind. That’s what I do, so for all the Hip-Hop people, if they just pull from me the gold, they’re missing so much.
AHHA: What are your thoughts for your wearing gold?
Mr. T: I know what you’re saying and I can explain it to you. First of all like I tell everybody, Mr. T never wore bling. That’s a Hip-Hop culture [thing]. Like I tell people who knew anything thing about me, I wore the gold for three reasons. One, as a Christian. When Jesus was born, three wise men came from the east. One brought frankincense, one brought myrrh, the other one brought gold. None of them brought bling, no wise man brought bling. Bling is not in The Bible. The second reason I wore the gold is because I could afford it. I could afford the gold, I made millions of dollars on the A-Team every year. The third reason I wore the gold is symbolic of my African heritage. When my black ancestors was bought over here from Africa they were shackled by their neck, they wrist and they ankles in steel chains. I turned those steel chains into gold to symbolize the fight. I’m still a slave, only my price tag is higher.
AllHipHop.com: Another sensation that’s recently come back is the mohawk. Do you still have you mohawk?
Mr.T: I still have the mohawk, brother, and I’m a tell you something else. Even though people still call it the mohawk I say "I don’t wanna be disrespectful to the Mohican Indians but there is a tribe in Africa called the Mandinka warriors." They’re in the west coast of Africa in the country of Mali, and how did I find out about it? I was reading National Geographic Magazine back in 1977, and I saw the warrior standing there with his spear and his beads around his neck and whatnot and the stuff on his ankles. That was what gave me the idea, I said "Wow, let me bring respect to them,” so basically what I wear is called a Mandinka cut. but I don’t get mad if they call it a mohawk or whatever, it’s okay. But that’s the reason, with everything I do, there’s a reason. That’s why I told you about the earrings and the message about the gold. I didn’t just say "Okay that looks good," and put it around my neck. I’m not gonna buy something without planning. If I buy $100,000 worth of gold, I gotta put $100,000 aside for my family in case something happens. You look kind of stupid wearing all that gold and you didn’t have no plan. That’s why I told you the message about the plan. I had a plan ever since I was nine years old, when I said "Mama, I’m a buy you a nice house and pretty dresses.” That was the plan, that was my goal.
AllHipHop.com: Now will you be talking to these sorts of people that really do need your help on your show?
Mr. T: Oh yeah, I would like to take heart to heart issues. We’re not gonna be taking in no drug addicts but I would like to. I’ll do that in my own time, because I wouldn’t want to be using nobody to try and springboard my career or the show. Whatever shows I do, I give the people my number, just like when I go to speak at a school I give the principal my number because I want to have a follow up. I want to check to see how Johnny’s doing, is he picking up on his reading? Has Shirley gotten better, are the kids still picking and bothering at her? If I just do a show and don’t have a connection with the people afterwards, it would be like me raping the people. I’d be like everybody else just using them for a ratings grabber and that’s not what Mr. T is about.
AllHipHop.com: What are your views of television overall? A lot of these so-called reality shows aren’t really reality at all. It seems TV has changed quite a bit since the A-Team days…
Mr. T: A lot of it has changed and a lot of the shows are reality, but like Fear Factor, it goes to show you that people will do anything for money. It’s more like degrading people. When I did the movie Rocky [III], I came back home and they said "Naw Mr. T, they want you back out there. They want to do a show called The A-Team." Before Rocky, I was minding my own business, there was a Tough Man contest. I won that contest two years in a row and I didn’t win because I was the toughest, the roughest or the baddest. I won when I was training for the contest, I told my pastor "They’re having a contest and when I win the contest I’m a give you the money so you can buy food and clothes for the less fortunate people in the community." That was what Mr. T was about, that was back in 1979. I didn’t have a car then but that’s what I’m about.
AllHipHop.com: When you look back on your whole total body of work, what do you see and how do you feel?
Mr. T: I feel good with who I am and what I made of myself. I feel good with the look, I’m not caught up in typecasts. I’m a tough guy, but I’m a good guy, I’m durable because when you play football they want you being tough, not just because you sprain your ankle crying "Mama, mama!" You know me, that’s the toughness. But I never walk down the street saying, "I’m the toughest guy on the block," no stuff like that. There’s hockey and football players tougher than me, there’s gangbangers tougher than me. But my toughness is more, Jesus said "Be of tough mind, but tender heart; be tough as a serpent, but tender as a dove." That’s who I am and what I do, when I look back on my work, I’m proud of what I’ve done. Everything I’ve done was above board, as an actor I wanted to do two things. I wanted to entertain as well as get a message across. I never did no pimp roles, no negative roles, or anything like that. I had fun, everything I’ve done I’m proud to take my mother to.
AllHipHop.com: Did you give up gold?
Mr. T: Yes, I took it off, because as a Christian when I watched the people in Katrina they lost everything. I’m not just speaking about the Black people, I’m talking about White, Chinese, Oriental, whoever lost stuff. My heart went out to ’em. I said as a Christian it would be a sin before God for me to wear my gold around people, flashing it in their face and they don’t have nothing. So I said never again would I wear my gold, I want people to know I have a heart of gold and not the gold around my neck.