For a while, there was actually a debate when T.I. proclaimed himself “King of the South.” Yet, if there was any doubt as to who owned the throne, it should have been eliminated in March of 2006, when in one week T.I. had an album aptly titled King at the No. 1 spot on both the r&b and rap charts, a single, “What You Know,” dominating radio, and a leading role in the feature film ATL.
Indeed, T.I. — a.k.a. Clifford Harris, a.k.a. “T.I.P.,” a.k.a. “Rubber Band Man” — has left no doubt that he is hip-hop royalty, but his ascendancy did not come overnight, or without its share of battles.
T.I. first emerged in the musical landscape in 2001, when, after signing to LaFace Records, he released the album I’m Serious. Although that album featured heavyweights including Pharrell Williams and Beenie Man, it sold modestly. Unfazed, T.I. started his own label, Grand Hustle, and began circulating mix tapes. Those granted him some significant underground buzz, and by the time he’d done a guest spot on Bone Crusher’s song “Never Scared” two years later, he was a bona fide sensation. That’s probably why his second album, Trap Muzik, moved some 900,000 copies, beginning a process that would transform T.I. from a ghetto prince to a majestic mainstream presence.
Unfortunately, legal problems temporarily derailed his ride to the top, but by the end of 2004, he’d released Urban Legend, which debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and contained the crossover smash “Bring Em Out,” which featured a sample of Jay-Z’s voice. That sample was a bold and witty move by T.I. as he had, by this point, earned an informal reputation as the “Jay-Z of the South.” By all accounts, it seemed like T.I. had studied pages from the New York mogul’s handbook, widening his realms of expertise and smartly pursuing new lucrative interests.
In 2005, T.I. launched Grand Hustle Films and signed a multi-artist deal with Atlantic. He also co-executive produced the soundtrack to the film Hustle & Flow, which contains the Oscar-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” by Three Six Mafia. T.I. also has production credits on 25 To Life, the debut album of his group P$C.
But T.I.’s side projects haven’t ended there, and they haven’t all involved making money either. Quite a bit of T.I.’s time these days is spent giving money away; even with his street cred fully intact, T.I. is becoming just as well known for philanthropy as he is for his musical endeavors. He has, for example, provided scholarships to single parents and partnered with an uncle to start a company that refurbishes homes in Atlanta. And after Hurricane Katrina, T.I. famously donated $50,000 to relief efforts while on-air on Atlanta’s V-103 FM.
Part of T.I.’s willingness to extend a hand is part of where he’s from. “I came from nothing,” he told MTV. “Literally nothing. One of my best friends is doing life right now. Another one of my best friends is dead. My cousin is dead. It
With his humility, talent, good intention and street smarts, T.I.’s reign shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Given his trajectory, it may not be long before T.I. isn’t just “King of the South” but, as his current album title implies, King, period.