T.I. with his son King in Atlanta (Photo: Leeman LeClair)
"I'm embracing it," T.I. tells me of the persona that is the title of his eighth studio album, "Trouble Man." A minute into the title track, before I could ask why, Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" comes through the speakers of Atlanta's Darp Studio Inc and we both nod our heads in understanding. As Marvin smoothly croons, T.I. smiles and nods his head yes.
All eyes are on T.I. and he's well aware of it. After serving his 10-month prison sentence for a probation violation -- "second hiatus" as he called it during his Billboard.com's The Juice interview -- Clifford "Tip" Harris, is making moves better than the ante, sensible and strategic. The 31-year-old rapper/actor has been in front of the lens for his family-orientated VH1 reality show, "The Family Hustle," and recently released his first novel, "Power & Beauty: A Love Story of Life on the Streets" (Oct. 18). "The Family Hustle," which airs Dec. 5, gives us a glimpse at T.I.'s day to day since freed, focusing on the nourishment of each of his family member's talents while empowering his own.
T.I. is also cautious of where he is and who he's with, not only for probationary obligations (Terrence "Snake" Hawkins, T.I.'s assistant, mentioned T.I. couldn't be around anyone smoking), but even more so when having his family around. After putting his son, Clifford "King" Harris III, to sleep in a quiet room near our interview area, T.I. made sure Snake kept eye on who was coming in and out of the studio. Tip isn't playing around.
"Every where he goes, he stops through the studio," Snake says. After finishing up his interview for Billboard's The Juice, the King played five of the 45 songs that he's recorded for possible placement in "Trouble Man." The 45 don't include the countless remixes he's jumped on (Meek Mill's "I'ma Boss," Jay-Z and Kanye West's "N---as in Paris," Drake's "Headlines" and more).
"I'll let you listen and you can tell me if I'm on the right track," T.I. said before giving Billboard the first listen of the track that he says "could be dropping as soon as Monday" (Nov. 22) and more from "Trouble Man." "I have this one record [titled] 'Pyro' that I'm proud of," T.I. told Billboard.com's The Juice. " 'Pyro' is a straight party record. It's nostalgic of those crazy nights, early mornings [but] just turned up." "Pyro" will come after the release of T.I.'s two singles, "I'm Flexin'," featuring Big K.R.I.T. and "Hear Ye' Hear Ye'," featuring Pharrell Williams.
"A lot of times I'm taking myself out of my element, " Tip continued about "Trouble Man." "This is the first project where I'm talking about things that I've experienced before that I'm not necessarily experiencing now 'cause I'm not doing a whole lot of partying. I do a little bit but not a lot... nothing like when I was in that life." Ã¢Â€Â¨Ã¢Â€Â¨As soon as T.I. hits play on his iTunes, B. Kang, one half of the production duo Two Band Geeks, began to shake his head. "We sat down, while high off Capri Suns, and focused on making a record or Tip,"he said of Two Band Geeks, consisting of Stroud and B. Kang. "It's a beat that matches his flow and a style that's ATL but could go anywhere. That same night, he went in the booth, recorded, and finished the song," he said.
Judging from the five songs I heard, Tip is surely on the right track. The King of the South aims to please his fans who have been patiently waiting by giving them what they want: a mix of the old T.I. (circa '06, "King") and somewhat new (two steps ahead of 2008's "Paper Trail" (2008). There's something for the streets, for the ladies (a song reminiscent of "Why You Wanna"), and for the charts. Also in the vault is a Dr. Luke-produced track which opens with dance-pop synths, reminiscent to Ke$ha's "Sleazy." The T.I. and Dr. Luke (who recently produced and wrote for Rihanna's "Talk That Talk") collabo sounds ready for a Ke$ha feature, especially after T.I. told XXL he plans to remix that same song of Ke$ha's but along side other rappers including Andre 3000, Wiz Khalifa and Lil Wayne.
Check back in to The Juice later this week for what T.I. had to say about the progress of "Trouble Man," notable collaborations and more.