There is little doubt that Atlanta-bred artist Clifford Harris, aka T.I., has had a career full of ups and downs ever since he entered the stage with his 2001 debut album I’m Serious. His ongoing success — as can be seen through his GRAMMY Award, acting gigs alongside the likes of Denzel Washington and Kelsey Grammer and a clothing company named AKOO Clothing — has been tested by industry barriers but also personal hurdles. The often rocky road of lasting relevance in the rap game is giving the 33-year old enough material to tell his story with his upcoming new album, which will also mark his debut as part his recently-inked deal with Columbia Records. While he hesitates to share too many details, he plans to release the project in three parts along with three accompanying short movies with three different perspectives. We met up with TIP while promoting his clothing line at Agenda Las Vegas. He opens up on some background on his new long-player, Pharrell’s role as an Executive Producer, creative freedom with Columbia Records, and more.
On one of your radio interviews recently, you mentioned your album will be accompanied by three short films that are based on themes found within the album. Can you talk about what those themes or stories are?
Ok, let me see, how can I say something without giving too much away? Now mind you, in production, preproduction and development, all these ideas are subject to change. I don’t want to tell you something and someone hold my feet to the fire when it may change. So I would like to put that disclaimer out there, first and foremost. All things creatively are subject to change until they out. First off, it is three short stories, one of them is themed sort of like the sins of our fathers where I’m basically saying more than just this moment went into me becoming the man that you see before you today. So what we would do is travel back generations and have each place, my lineage. My great great great grandfather back in prohibition days, moving hooch down in South Georgia. My uncle who introduced me to the numbers game in Atlanta when everyone was selling heroin. Me as myself in ‘96 in the crack trade trying to transition over to music. Me as my mother’s brother back in the 80s at the height of the crack epidemic. And me as myself today, as an entertainer. And how all of us have or had the same things to worry about, the same trappings and a different, yet simple swag and approach to success. A different, but simple level of respect. Different, but similar charisma. And how that lineage, that ground, that foundation was laid by my forefathers for me to be the type of me that I am today and their sins have translated into my success. You know what I’m saying? It’s kind of deep, but visually it’s made simple. The explanation is kind of all over the place, but visually it can and will be made simple. That’s only one of them. I have another one called The Return of The King and not as T.I. the king returns with another album. It’s a story of a gentleman, a character that I created by the name of Kevin King, Quincy King, Clifford King, something king, last name king with a c or a k or a q first name. So, this gentleman will have been locked up back in the late ‘90s for lets say 9 to 18 ounces of crack cocaine. Are you familiar with the crack law?
Not at all.
Well, back at the height of the crack epidemic, there was a law placed that said due to the extremity and negative effect that crack was having on the communities and due to the height of the violence and how it was taking lives of our youth away from us, they justified the reasoning of when you get arrested with 1 gram of crack it was like 100 grams of powder cocaine. When it’s the same substance in a different form. However if hit with 10 grams of crack cocaine, 10 grams of crack cocaine probably back then cost like 150 dollars, right? Ten grams of crack cocaine got a motherfucker the same amount of time as 100 times that much, which is a thousand grams, which is a kilo of powder cocaine. So all the people back then who got hit with crack cocaine it was a federal, nationwide mandate that they had to be charged as if they had 100 times that amount. Over time the people who voted and lobbied for this law to be passed saw the effects of this law, they saw how many lower level crack dealers got kingpin-like times. It really did not do away with the problem because you never really got to attack the source. So long story short, over time those laws changed from 100 to 1 to 50 to 1 to 20 to 1 and I think now it’s even down to 10 to 1, where 1 gram is like 10 grams rather than 100. Ok, so the thing is when those laws changed they made them retroactive. Which means if you were sentenced under the old crack law where 100 to 1 got you 30 years for 9 ounces, and now its 50 to 1, your 30 years turned to 15 years. Ok, so if you had already been locked up for 16 years, you got to get out, you got to go. Your 30 years just turned to 15 and you saying ‘well hold up man, I’m supposed to be locked about 14 more years now.’ No, no, no, crack law says you got to go. So, unbeknownst to you, your family or anybody else, you got kicked out of prison. So Kevin King was locked up back then and when the crack law changed he got kicked out of prison and sent back to his neighborhood, hence the name Return of The King – they call him king on the streets. He has to now reestablish his life, his approach back to the neighborhood, back in the lives of his children who probably never expected to see him, his old lady who he thought was keeping it 100 with him and now he finds how she clearly moved on, the young cats in his neighborhood who think they are now the new version of him hoping he now has the answers for them when he refuses to do anything of the sort, and also the young man who snitched on him and put him in there in the first place. All of that will play out in that short story, Return of The King. So we got that, and we got the last one. But in the interest of time, all i would say is it’s a love.
Do you have a tentative release date?
I don’t have no script or nothing, this shit is all in my head. I need to have it written out scene my scene so we can begin to set days for shooting. That’s why I haven’t given myself a date yet. But when I’m able to execute properly, the connection of these stories, with my album and music incorporated within, I feel like that’s a game changer. So those are my intentions and that’s what’s taking me so long, so forgive me. But the music is incredible. This is my best album yet, that’s hands down. I said that with a clear conscious and a clear heart. This is my best album yet. This is my best work yet. Because you know, T.I. traditionally has always been kind of like a street dude, who made southern street music, but sometimes he comes outside the lines a little bit. But for the most part, he was expected to make the “What You Know About Thats” “You Don’t Know Mes” and so on and so forth. But I feel like this project man, is so much more than that, it’s such a plethora, it’s such a wide variety of different approaches to music, but together.
Will you be acting in these short films?
Oh yeah, definitely, as different characters. Three stories, three different sets of characters, three different directors. It’s going to be like a Grindhouse, sort of like a Quentin Tarantino film, like a Tales from the Hood, if you will, or something like that.
Can you attribute that to your new deal with Columbia? Do you feel like they are giving you more creative freedom?
I think so, man. And I also had Pharrell on board as the executive producer. I felt kind of like people let us do us. Pharrell’s recent success, him being the producer of the year kind of allows us, for a lack of better term, go in the building and put our nuts on the table. In a respectful way, of course. And also, the success of Columbia as a whole, whether it’s Daft Punk, whether it’s Adele, whether it’s J. Cole, whether it’s Beyonce, whether it’s Pharrell with his new G I R L S record, the success of Columbia gives them a more relaxed tone. They’re not pushing and scratching and clawing for a taste of success because they been winning all year and all last year. So it’s like ‘take your time man, we all ready know that’s what you do, when it’s ready you’ll break. And we’ve heard the music, we know its phenomenal, and whenever you feel it’s ready to be released we going to get the moving.’ And that’s their approach. ‘Let us know what we can do and how we can be of assistance, until then, we know ya’ll got it, so go head.’ As an artist, that’s the best environment to be inspired in. When you find a corporate partner that is comfortable enough within their own skin and ain’t really pressing, then it frees your creative spirits enough to do what you may not have been able to do prior to that.
Lastly, rumors have been circulating for a few months around a possible ATL sequel. Can you comment on that?
Hey man, I just ran into Albe (Albert Daniels) or Brooklyn just now at Revolt earlier today and I spoke to Chris Robinson over text yesterday. I’ll see him probably sometime over the weekend in Atlanta, I mean, everybody down, it’s just who gonna put the bread up? If they want to put the bread up, I guarantee you we will get this band back together and we’ll put it together real easily and quickly. We gonna put on for the motherfucking city. All they got to do is entrust us to do what we do. Whoever will entrust us in doing what we do, we will be eager and willing to do it. I think just like the first time, when we shot ATL it was really supposed to be a write off. They didn’t expect it to be a staple, they didn’t expect it to be successful. So right now, I think that maybe they will be underestimating the possibility for success. We will probably have to lobby the same way they had to lobby to do Best Man Holiday. We will probably have to really go hard and tell people they should, they must do this. And I think you guys will have a lot to say or a lot to do with that as well. The more articles that are written, the more attention that is brought to it, the more positive reception that it is getting or it receives, I think that strengthens our chances, astronomically.
Well, TIP I want to thank you for your time today, and have a great weekend.
I appreciate you, homie. Love.