T.I. - Biography
T.I. may have not even hit his thirties yet, but his history as both an artist and a felon are accomplished enough to have been the work of a man twice his age. Born Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. on September 25, 1980, T.I., sometimes referred to as T.I.P., is a rapper, songwriter, producer, actor, and co-CEO of Grand Hustle Records. His life has already been filled with as many hits as it has misses, and this seems to be the juice that keeps his machine running.
Starting life off in the Bankhead neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia did little to put T.I. on a path to success, but through a series of good breaks and a ton of talent, he managed to work himself out of his dire beginnings. Raised by his grandparents, T.I. dealt drugs, specifically cocaine, as a teenager. With a bleak, yet all too common life for his surroundings, T.I. was the recipient of a tremendous break when record exec Kawan “KP” Prather discovered the teen. He quickly signed with LaFace Records, a subsidiary of Arista Records, in 2001 and officially started his career as T.I.
The rapper’s debut album, I’m Serious (2001 LaFace Records), was released later that year, giving life to the title track single featuring reggae and dancehall artist Beenie Man. Under the guidance of Arista Records, the album had considerable star power right out of the gate. I’m Serious included collaborations with Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes (who has famously referred to T.I. as the “Jay-Z of the South”), Jazze Pha, and Youngbloodz. I’m Serious only reached number 98 on the Billboard charts and sold a paltry 163,000 units. Upset by the poor sales, T.I. sought leverage by requesting a joint venture with Arista or to be let out of his contract. The label complied, but not in the way T.I. expected, and he was consequently dropped. After being let go from Arista, T.I. took matters into his own hands and created a video for the track “Dope Boyz,” unleashing it to the viral market via YouTube.
Aligning himself with Grand Hustle Records in 2003, T.I. released Trap Muzik, which proved to have quite a different initial reception than his debut album. Trap Muzik debuted at number four on the Billboard charts and sold 109,000 units in the first week of sales. The singles include “Easy,” “Let’s Get Away,” and “Rubberband Man,” which was T.I.’s nickname when he was a drug dealer due to the rubberbands he wore around his wrist signifying how much cocaine he was dealing. Jazze Pha came back to collaborate on this sophomore effort and was joined by Bun B, Kanye West, David Banner, Madvac, DJ Toomp, and Eightball & MJG. Shortly after the album’s release, T.I. was sentenced to three years in prison for violating probation from a drug charge. While away, he granted permission to have a video filmed for “Let’s Get Away.” Trap Muzik was eventually certified platinum by the RIAA.
Urban Legend (Grand Hustle), the third album from the rapper, came out late in 2004. The single “Bring ‘Em Out” was the most successful of the album’s tracks. “U Don’t Know Me” received a Grammy nomination in 2006 for Best Rap Solo Performance, but the other two singles from the album, “ASAP” and “Motivation,” did not reach the meteoric success of previous singles.
Debuting at number one on the Billboard 200, T.I.’s fourth album, King (Grand Hustle), sold 522,000 units in its first week of sales in 2006. The singles from the album worked double time to also promote T.I.’s foray into acting on the silver screen in ATL, in which he plays an orphaned high school senior in Atlanta. King received a Grammy nomination in 2007 for Best Rap Album and the track “What You Know” won Best Rap Solo Performance. T.I.’s collaboration with Justin Timberlake on the smash hit “My Love” garnered a Grammy Award for Best Collaboration.
Going in for a repeat performance of the success of King, T.I. released his fifth album, T.I. vs. T.I.P. (Grand Hustle) in July of 2007. This album also debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B Albums chart. Guests on T.I. vs. T.I.P. include Busta Rhymes, Wyclef Jean, Jay-Z, Nelly, and Eminem. This also marked the first album T.I. put out without production by DJ Toomp and The Neptunes. Once again, just at the height of his game, T.I. was brought down again. Only hours before the 2007 BET Hip Hop Awards, T.I. was arrested and charged with two felonies. He had been in possession of three unregistered machine guns and two silencers. This was compounded by the fact that he was in possession of these items as a convicted felon.
In the early part of 2008, T.I. was sentenced to prison for one year, a year of house arrest, and 15,000 hours of house arrest. Never one to let an opportunity slide from his fingertips, T.I. leveraged this sentence into an MTV show called T.I.’s Road to Redemption. During his house arrest, the rapper also took time to reevaluate his writing and recording style, returning to his old ways of writing down his rhymes instead of just going into the studio with them in his head. He says that this change in process is what informed the title of his sixth album, Paper Trail (Grand Hustle), which was released in September of 2008. Paper Trail, like T.I.’s two prior albums, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and featured the number one Billboard Hot 100 single, “Whatever You Like.” “Swagga Like Us,” “Live Your Life,” and “Dead and Gone” all also hit the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite his brushes with the law and a past peppered with drugs and controversy, T.I. has also made community service a part of his life. Granted, 1,500 hours of the service has been court mandated, but his work has extended beyond that to include time spent in helping with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Paulding Detention Center in Atlanta.