10 Biggest News Stories of 2009 #3 T.I. Begins 366-Day Prison Sentence

For a guy who wasn’t physically on the scene for much of 2009, T.I. was just as present as any rapper in the public eye.

With a hit album (Paper Trail) and a string of popular singles (“Whatever You Like” “Swagga Like Us, Live Your Life” featuring Rihanna and “Dead and Gone” featuring Justin Timberlake) to his credit, life was good for the Atlanta-based lyricist.

However, the dark shadow of an October 2007 arrest for possession of three unregistered machine guns and two silencers, and possession of firearms by a convicted felon could not be escaped as T.I. pleaded guilty to the federal charges and was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for the crime on March 27, 2009.

The plea bargain was a viable substitute from the 10-year maximum sentence and $250,000 fine the entertainer originally faced. T.I., who was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and serve 1,000 hours of community service, began serving his stint behind bars at a federal prison in Forrest City, Arkansas on May 26, 2009. The rap star chronicled his last days of freedom on MTV on the reality show T.I.: The Road to Redemption.

During this time, T.I. visited 25 states where he attended more than 260 events, spoke at 58 schools, 12 Boys and Girls Clubs, nine churches and the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice. The day before he reported to prison, the entertainer headlined a farewell concert at the Philips Arena in Atlanta.

Prior to being sentenced, T.I. secured a Grammy award for “Swagga Like Us,” an all-star collaboration featuring Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Paper Trail resonated with fans with 568,000 copies during its first week of release in 2008 while the rapper was under house arrest.

In addition, T.I. entered prison without the added baggage of a beef with longtime rival Shawty Lo. The pair put an end to their much-publicized conflict in March by appearing onstage together at Club Crucial in Bankhead, for one of T.I.’s last performances. Despite his incarceration, T.I.’s grip on his Grand Hustle record label remained firm. In May, the rhymesayer booted fellow rapper Alfamega from the label amid learning he worked as an informant for the DEA in Atlanta. 

While he wished his former affiliate well, T.I. emphasized how Alfamega’s situation was a prime example of the standards set by him and his label. Documents published on the smoking gun.com reveal how Alfamega offered information pertaining to “the illegal activity of several individuals within the City of Atlanta” when he contacted the United States Attorney’s office through his attorney.

In November, Grand Hustle’s offices were at the center of an incident involving two Molotov cocktails found by authorities. The label’s CEO Jason Geter stated the building’s alarms went off in the early hours of the morning after someone threw a 40-ounce bottle at the office. Authorities believe an aspiring artist may have been behind the incident.

Although he remained in prison, T.I.’s music career continued to thrive. The rapper collected a BET Award for Viewers Choice for in June and an MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video in September, both for “Live Your Life.”

T.I. also garnered BET Hip Hop Awards for CD of the Year (Paper Trail), Best Hip-Hop Video and Hip-Hop Collaboration (“Live Your Life”) in October. In December, the rapper was named Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Decade and Top Hot Songs Artist of 2009 for having four top 5 singles (“Whatever You Like,” “Swagga Like Us,” “Live Your Life,” and “Dead and Gone”).

Occasional updates on the T.I. were given through his wife, former Xscape member Tameka “Tiny” Cottle. Fans got an early Christmas present when the rapper was released early from prison on Dec. 22, 2009. According to reports, T.I. will serve his remaining time at Dismas Charities Atlanta West correctional center in Atlanta.

At the end of his time at the correctional center, the rapper/actor must complete 500 hours of community service, in addition to another 23 days of house arrest.

With T.I.’s release coming on March 26, fans will be waiting to see what the rapper’s next move will be. The entertainer will appear on the big screen alongside embattled R&B crooner Chris Brown, Idris Elba and Zoe Saldana in the crime thriller Takers. The film, which also stars Matt Dillon and Paul Walker, is slated to hit theaters on May 14.

Whether he hits the ground running or generates further anticipation, 2010 looks to be a year of infinite possibilities for Mr. Harris.