He's given himself the title of the "King of the South." Some may criticize the "Rubber Band Man" for prematurely boasting of such ranks, but as deeper inspection points out, his claims have more credibility than first meet the eye.
Working with the Neptunes (as the production team's stock was rising in 2001) for his slept-on debut, I'm Serious, Pharrell Williams has gone as far as calling T.I. the "Southern version of Jay-Z." T.I.'s sophomore effort, 2003's Trap Muzik, came out of nowhere to receive critical acclaim and provide radio with such hits as "24's," "Rubber Band Man," and "Let's Get Away." As a result of Trap Muzik's success, he has been able to contribute verses on tracks with a diverse list of artists, including Jim Jones, Bun B, Nas, Fat Joe, and Destiny's Child.
After being put under the media's microscope earlier this year due to highly-publicized audio battles with Ludacris and Lil Flip, T.I.'s career is on the verge of explosion. Ready to capitalize on his current buzz factor with the release of his third album, Urban Legend, T.I. is a steadily rising star armed with the focus to gain vast lyrical and industry respect.
Ballerstatus.com: Trap Muzik received high amounts of praise when it dropped. In what ways do you feel Urban Legend improves on that album?
T.I.: I feel like it's more diversified. It has more different kinds of sounds, and a better variety of what you can listen to. If you don't wanna hear something like "Trap Muzik," you're gonna hear something like "Let's Get Away." There is something for everybody on it. It's in the streets and in the clubs, and even in the suburbs. It's all over the place.
Ballerstatus.com: With your popularity at its highest point right now, did you reach out to work with people this time that you weren't able to in the past?
T.I.: Yes, I think so. I reached out to all kinds of cats. People who I felt like wanted to be down or who wanted to support it. In the past, they just couldn't identify with it 'cause they had never been to where I'm from, the Trap. They hadn't experienced that side of life before. So, I had given them something to relate to, 'cause everybody done been to the club, and everybody has wanted to get some p****. Everybody has wanted to get clean, step out, and take a vacation. I gave people all kinds of stuff to identify with.
Ballerstatus.com: Would you say that you went into this album more focused than ever, being that you have more eyes on you this time?
T.I.: I was extra focused 'cause I wanted to prove people wrong. A lot of people thought that once I caught a little case and got locked up for a little while, it was over. Like, I had lost my chance to shine, and I blew it. It was more so a focus 'cause of that, rather than 'cause people had their eyes on me.
Ballerstatus.com: Is there anything that you learned or have taken from your time in jail that you have been able to apply to your career and this project?
T.I.: Just to handle your business, before your business comes out and handles you. You gotta make it happen, 'cause if you don't handle your business, it's gonna come back and haunt you. From now on, I've gotta be extra careful 'cause I got this career to focus on, and I'm ready to see it go to the next level.
Ballerstatus.com: While people criticize Southern artists for favoring style more than substance, you've been able to gain a lot of respect for your lyrical ability. Do you think people still unfairly look past your lyrics, due to whatever stereotype they may have on Southern rappers?
T.I.: I've definitely had to tone it down and like dumb out some lyrics, for lack of better words, to keep from going over niggas' heads. Motherf***ers know what's happening. They might not want to recognize or give credit where credit is due, but they know. Ain't no way in hell that you can possibly listen to a nigga's album and deny.
Ballerstatus.com: On Urban Legend, did you stray away more from "dumbing out" your lyrics?
T.I.: Absolutely. I mean, I still have some simple songs for the simple people, but I definitely have some real lyrical stuff on the album.
Ballerstatus.com: Biggie may have been the best at merging these two lyrical approaches. Like, he could make a basic radio song, but do it with a real lyrical style. Is that something that you think you can easily pull off?
T.I.: I think Urban Legend's first single, "Bring Em Out," is a nice example of something like that. I'm rapping on there, but the track is really commercial in my opinion. Somebody could have got on that track and went way pop with it, but I just said what I had to say. I kept it real lyrical on that track.
Ballerstatus.com: On BET's Rap City recently, LL Cool J was a guest, and he was asked who he thinks, out of the younger MCs in the game today, has the most potential and ability to be great. His answer was, "T.I." How do you react to a comment like that, from such a legend?
T.I.: Sh**, it's flattering as a motherf***er. I appreciate it greatly, but I can't pay too much attention to stuff like that. You can get distracted.
Ballerstatus.com: So you just take it in real quick, and then keep it moving.
T.I.: Yeah, yeah. You soak it in for a second, you appreciate it, and now you got to move on to the next thing.
Ballerstatus.com: Lately, you have been doing a lot of guest appearances, for people ranging from Jim Jones to Slim Thug to Destiny's Child.
T.I.: Yeah, and I can't do them all. I can't do everything, 'cause that's when you oversaturate yourself.
Ballerstatus.com: Has there been any offers that you've turned down, that you look back on now and regret passing?
T.I.: There are some things that I didn't have the chance to do, that I wish I would have done. Christina Aguilera asked me to do something for her while I was locked up, but I couldn't do that. Ja Rule asked me to do something for him, but I couldn't get it done as quickly as he needed to get it done to turn his album in, 'cause I was shooting my video and I all kinds of other sh** to do, like a photo shoot for Vibe. I'm on the cover of Vibe's January issue.
Ballerstatus.com: You got a cover of Vibe? That's crazy.
T.I.: Yeah man. For their January issue. It's definitely a great accomplishment, and I appreciate the opportunity that they gave a nigga.
Ballerstatus.com: Many people were talking about Young Buck's "Stomp," where he originally had both you and Ludacris on the track dissing each other. Then, when Buck's album was released, one from The Game replaced your verse. Looking back on the situation now, how do you feel about what happened there?
T.I.: I was aware of being taken off the song when it happened. I mean, I think that was more of a Lyor Cohen, Jimmy Iovine kind of thing. Lyor called me, and he was like, "Hey, have you heard that Young Buck song?" I was like, "Yeah, I heard it." Then he was like, "Did you know they were gonna put Ludacris on it?" I said, "Not before they put him on it. Buck called me and told me Luda was gonna be on it, after the fact." Lyor said, "Man, they did us real dirty right there. We can't let this go." I was like, whatever man. It is what it is.
Ballerstatus.com: Have you spoken to Young Buck about it since?
T.I.: Yeah, I spoke to Buck. We're cool.
Ballerstatus.com: You probably are asked this question a lot, but I feel like I have to ask it quick. Do you see this beef with Lil Flip coming to an end?
T.I.: I have no intentions, and no reason to end it. I don't want to be cool with him. I want to deal with him, man. He just goes around lying and bullsh**ting. This n**** is just the f***ing worst, man, at least how I see it.
Ballerstatus.com: So, do you truly feel like you are the "King of the South?"
T.I.: Yeah, man. I've always felt that.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you think people mistake that confidence for arrogance, and hate on you for thinking you are the "king?"
T.I.: Yeah, I definitely do think that. For all those people who think that I'm crazy, and that I haven't proven myself enough yet to call myself the "King of the South," keep watching. That's all I have to say about that. Just keep watching, 'cause you'll see why I think that of myself.