Anyone who's a fan of hip-hop automatically knows that when someone mentions the King of the South, it is T.I. It's hard to imagine, but T.I signed his first major record deal back in 1999 with Arista records. A former crack dealer from Bankhead, Georgia, it would be an understatement to say he has come a long way. Few people ever achieve the levels of success T.I has had, and even fewer get to have the longevity of his career. His most recent album, Paperwork, which released on October 21st, was his 9th studio album. He has sold millions of records, signed the immensely popular Iggy Azalea, released a successful clothing line, has continually been on Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list since it started in 2007, and has a successful reality TV show, Family Hustle. This past week he was a guest on Elliott Wilson's CRWN series, and I got a chance to sit down with him before he went up to see what's going on with the Rubber Band Man.
Recently, T.I announced he has a new partnership with Columbia Records, and his new album is titled Paperwork. In talking about whether there was a correlation there, he said;
"I have a new partnership with Columbia Records. It's not a deal I signed, as some people believe, but a true partnership. Paperwork to me man, the word by definition is the certification of things that are authentic. Me being an artist of authenticity, making music that is authentic, I feel that it should be presented to the people and certified by the way of paperwork. So that's the correlation"
T.I had 14 collaborations on this newest album, and speaking on those;
"Listening to the music and feeling like, at my 9th album in my career, people have heard my story. So I want to mix my story in with some angles and approaches, and see how it mixes well with others, and do what's best for the song. I don't have to hold myself to the same restrictions as newer artists. Cats know I could go and put out an album by myself with no features if I wanted. And of those 14 collaborations, about 7 of them are people singing just hooks. And if you would have rather heard me sing at your own risk than Usher then we could do that next time. I was on the hooks first, but then we just agreed that Usher probably sounded better there."
In terms of picking beats and music, T.I has a great approach. Most artists usually decide everything themselves, but he has a group of people around him that he truly trusts. The beats were very different from what he has normally done, so on his selection he told me;
"We have a brain trust at Hustle Gang, with a bunch of young minds that came under the tutelage of our more experienced opinions, and we mix that with artist opinions. Then we add it with a more season executive opinion. So with that brain trust and the mix of opinions, we just, you know, take the best of things and ride the wave."
The interview with Elliott Wilson itself went extremely smooth. It was the first time Elliott Wilson had the privilege of sitting down with T.I one on one. Watching them sitting on two gold antique chairs, that were properly fitting for kings was an experience worth watching. Held in Gramercy Theatre in New York, T.I was radiating his warm smile, which is something we've become accustomed to seeing on Family Hustle. His wife was sitting nearby, smiling and laughing through answers as if it was her first time hearing them. Elliott Wilson asked question after question wanting to know everything. He asked what the standout differences were in this new album compared to his previous works, what it was like giving up some control by handing over the Executive Producer title to Pharrell, dealing with the quick growth of Iggy Azalea's career, his run ins with the law, all the way down to his thoughts on the current state of hip hop.
T.I did not stutter at all, very eloquently answering all the questions and letting us know things that we had no idea about before. For instance, he was very disappointed with selling 522,000 copies of his album King, and how he felt he deserved a Grammy in 2007 for Rap Album of the Year. He told us his hit record, Rubberband Man was actually recorded in a hair salon before he started recording at his wife Tiny's house, and that recording at her house was the real start of their relationship. We learned there is a joint album with Young Jeezy coming out soon titled Dope Boys Academy. His thoughts on music are that it has gotten too electronic, and it's become way too easy for people to make a beat and call themselves producers. And that's not even the half of it.
It's hard to imagine what T.I has in store for us next. It seems like he has accomplished almost everything someone in his position could, but it was clear that he has no intentions of slowing down. It was refreshing sitting down with someone who is so accomplished, yet so humble at the same time. It was also a great addition to CRWN to have someone as legendary as T.I, and you should make the time to check it out.