Like many a rapper before him, Atlanta-bred emcee T.I. sprouted from the poverty, bleakness and decay all too common to people in urban communities. His rags-to-riches story, replete with the drug dealing and gun-toting themes prevalent in rap music, begins with the young artist garbling out his first raps at age eight, doing talent shows at 11 and, by 14, shopping demos.
His songs, honest and unflinching, dealt with his absent father and the reasons he found the pursuit of cars and clothes more important than school. By 15, the driven but disadvantaged youth was a number in the judicial system, locked away for possessing marijuana and a firearm.
Flash forward to 2001: T.I., nee Clifford Harris, had released his first album, I’m Serious . Largely because of his widespread underground approval, the album made the 24-year-old a knight on the regional scale and a talent to watch on the national landscape.
Two years later, T.I. released Trap Muzik , which again explored working class themes. Only then, with his self-described cockiness and intellectual treatment as trademarks, T.I. was no longer an emerging national talent but a force — precisely why T.I.’s latest work, 2004’s Urban Legend , prompted fans to crown him a “Living Legend” and ‘King of the South.”
These days, T.I.’s aims involve not just making hit records and staying out of trouble, but inspiring new generations of inner city children to see their concrete world through a more optimistic, colorful lens.
With his mentoring to at-risk youngsters, music production company and construction enterprise building affordable housing, T.I. looks poised to become more than a rap star but a cultural influence who’ll measure up to much more than the sum of his previously unsavory parts.