B orn Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., September 25, 1980; son of Violeta Morgan; children: Messiah, Domani, King, Deyjah.
B egan music career after signing with Arista at age 18; released first album, 2001; co-CEO and founder of Grand Hustle Records, 2003—. Film appearances include: ATL, 2006; American Gangster, 2007.
Awards: Vibe Award, best street anthem, for “Rubber Band Man,” 2004; Vibe Award, best street anthem, for “U Don’t Know Me,” 2005; Billboard Music Awards, rap artist of the year and rap album of the year, for King, 2006; Billboard Music Awards, rap album artist of the year, rap song artist of the year, and video clip artist of the year, 2006; BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards, best male hip hop artist, 2006 and 2007; Grammy Award, best rap solo performance, Recording Academy, for “What You Know,” 2007; Grammy Award, best rap/ sung collaboration, with Justin Timberlake, Recording Academy, for “My Love,” 2007; BET Hip-Hop Awards, CD of the year, for T. I. vs. T. I. P., 2007; BET Hip-Hop Awards, ringtone of the year, for “Big Things Poppin’ (Do It),” 2007.
A tlanta-reared rapper T. I. never hides his street-thug past. The Grammy-winning lyricist used to sell crack cocaine before he began peddling CDs in the early 2000s. In 2006, T. I.’s mainstream appeal skyrocketed following the release of his fourth album, King, which was the top-selling hip-hop album of the year. In 2007, he starred opposite Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington in American Gangster and was also featured in a Chevrolet commercial with NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. T. I.’s rising fame also made him popular in the cellular world, with his voice anchoring top-selling ringtones.
Born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. on September 25, 1980, T. I. was raised in the poor Bankhead area of Atlanta by his grandmother. As a child, he earned the nickname Tip, which later morphed into T. I. P. when he started rapping and to T. I. after he secured his first record deal. Early on, T. I. was a budding entrepreneur. In elementary school, he sold candy bars to classmates to generate cash. By junior high, T. I. switched to selling crack. As a teen, T. I. rapped semi-regularly with a group of school buddies.After a friend was killed, the boys recorded a song, “I Miss You.” Cutting the track prompted T. I. to consider a career in music.
In 1999, T. I. met Kawan “K.P.” Prather, an executive with LaFace Records, a subsidiary of Arista. Instantly, Prather knew he wanted to give the 18 year old a chance. Speaking to Sonia Murray of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Prather said, “I believed him before I even heard him rap,” Prather said. “He had the same kind of look in his eye that he has now. Like, ‘I hope you get this because I’m special. Now you can either come along with me, or you can say, “I had a chance to be a part of that.”’”
Prather signed T. I. to a record deal and seeing another way to make it in life, T. I. stopped selling drugs. At this time, he also changed his name from T. I. P. to T. I. to avoid confusion with another Arista artist, Q-Tip. Ready for a fresh start, T. I. was disappointed when he released 2001’s I’m Serious and it failed to generate much interest. The disc was created with the help of the hit-making production duo Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who produce under the name the Neptunes. “When it didn’t blow up, it was like, whoa, we weren’t expecting this,” T. I. told New York Times reporter Lola Ogunnaike.
T. I.’s music, however, gained a small following in the South, so he toured there relentlessly trying to drum up support. T. I. began releasing mixtapes, which are small compilations of songs, and little by little, the crowds grew at the small clubs where he played. T. I. wanted to produce another album, but was dropped by Arista. He courted the hip-hop label Def Jam, which also turned him down. In the end, Atlantic Records signed him to a joint recording venture with his own newly formed imprint, Grand Hustle.
In 2003, T. I. released Trap Muzik. Filled with singsong chants about street life and the drug game, the album sold a half-million copies and was certified gold. It spawned two well-known hits: “24’s” and “Rubber Band Man.” T. I.’s star was rising but he hit a snag in 2004 when he was jailed for a few months for violating probation stemming from a late 1990s drug charge. Stuck behind bars, T. I. was unable to promote the album to its fullest potential.
T. I.’s next album, 2004’s Urban Legend, sold even better. With hits like “Bring ’Em Out” and “U Don’t Know Me,” the album went platinum, selling more than a million copies. The next year, 2005, was a busy one for T. I. He toured with Nelly and also contributed his voice to the Destiny’s Child hit “Soldier.” In addition, T. I. became the first rapper to appear on the television hit The O.C., which was known for showcasing hot, new talent.
In 2006, T. I. released King, which sold a half-million copies its first week. Sales were rapid due in part to T. I.’s rising popularity, but also because of a marketing ploy. “What You Know,” the album’s first single, was not made available though iTunes or sold in stores as a single. Sprint cell phone users could acquire the song, but everyone else had to buy the album to get a copy of the song. Filled with club anthems, street stories, and contemplative cuts, King was the top-selling rap album of the year, out-selling the likes of Jay-Z and Ludacris. The album also showcased T. I.’s poetic side, featuring verses constructed as quatrains (four lines of verse).
Just weeks after King was released, T. I. was riding in his van with his entourage when they became the target of a highway shootout. King’s personal assistant and childhood friend Philant Johnson was killed. The shooting reportedly happened following a nightclub spat earlier in the evening and was also one of a number of gunfire attacks in recent weeks involving hip-hop singers, which served to dampen respect for the genre.
King generated many awards for T. I., including Billboard Music Awards for Rap Artist of the Year and Rap Album of the Year. The hit single “What You Know” won T. I. a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. T. I. was disappointed, however, when Ludacris won the Grammy for best hip-hop album for Release Therapy. Tension between the two rap-pers mounted as T. I. spoke out in public, insisting King was the better album.
Around the same time King was released, T. I. made his acting debut in ATL. The movie follows the lives of four Atlanta teens as they try to escape the hood. In 2007, he took a turn alongside Denzel Washington in the Harlem drug movie American Gangster.
In 2007, T. I. released his fifth album, T. I. vs. T. I. P. As the title suggests, the album explores his alter egos—the street-hardened T. I. P. and the celebrity entertainer T. I. “I think T. I. P. thinks T. I. is a little too concerned with fame and stardom,” T. I. told Rebecca Louie of the New York Daily News. “And T. I. thinks T. I. P. is too concerned with the way we used to live rather than the way we need to live right now. Both of these individuals reside within Clifford Harris. He just pretty much sits back and watches the show.” The album was divided into three acts. The first, laden with gritty verses, features T. I. P.heavy songs like “Watch What You Say To Me” and “Da Dopeman.” The second act is all T. I., with smooth-sounding woman-wooing songs, such as “Show It to Me.” In the third act, the two sides fight with each other. The album, with guest appearances by Eminem, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Ciara, and Wy-clef Jean, did not create as much of a buzz as King.
On October 13, 2007, his alter ego, T. I. P., seemed to rise to the surface again when the rapper was jailed on several weapons-related charges. T. I. was arrested by agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after picking up three machine guns, two silencers, and a pistol from an undercover ATF officer. According to authorities, his bodyguard had purchased them on his behalf. A search of T. I.’s home turned up several more weapons. He entered a plea of not guilty on October 19, 2007. The same day T. I. was arrested, he won two awards from the BET Hip-Hop Awards: CD of the Year (tied with Common’s Finding Forever) and Ringtone of the Year for his song “Big Things Poppin’ (Do It)”.
Besides his record imprint Grand Hustle Records, T. I. is involved in several entrepreneurial ventures. He owns New Finish, a construction company; Elite Auto Concierge, a car customization shop; and Club Crucial, an Atlanta nightspot. He also started his own clothing line, AKOO, which is short for “A King of Oneself.” T. I. has four children—Messiah, Domani, King, and Deyjah. He also considers one of girlfriend Tameka “Tiny” Cottle’s daughters his, though he is not her biological father.
I’m Serious, Arista, 2001.
Trap Muzik, Atlantic, 2003.
Urban Legend, Atlantic, 2004.
King, Atlantic, 2006.
T. I. vs. T. I. P., Atlantic, 2007.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 4, 2006, p. D1; June 24, 2007, p. K1.
Billboard, May 5, 2007.
New York Times, April 12, 2006, sec. Arts, p. 3.
People, April 24, 2006, p. 94.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), August 3, 2007, p. T16.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 22, 2006, sec. Get Out, p. 9.
“A rapper sees ‘big things’ happen when his per-sona pulls double duty,” New York Daily News,http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music/2007/07/02/2007-07-02_artist_has_hot_tip1.html (August 14, 2007).
“MIA T. I. Upstages BETs,” E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/print/index.jsp?uuid=63096652.tif-e555-417e‐beb0-2ea189d3fcd4 (October 19, 2007).
“T. I.; In rap, inner war can be a trap,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/03/arts/music/03sann.html?ex=13411152.tif00&en=15de6cf8ae9fae69&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&-emc=rss (August 14, 2007).
“ T. I.’s lawyers ask for bond, home confinement ,” CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOW-BIZ/Music/10/19/ti.hearing/index.html?iref=newssearch (October 19, 2007).
“T. I.’s new music pits him against his younger self,” Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-0708_tijul08,1,325300.story?coll=chi-entertainment-utl&ctrack=2&cset=true (August 14, 2007).