Despite a Grammy nomination, a hand in an Oscar win, a new album and film debut, this Atlanta rapper says he's only beginning to build his kingdom.
Rapper T.I. is too busy getting his career hustle on to ponder where he expects to be in five years.
"I couldn't have predicted five years ago that I'd be where I am now," the Bankhead, Ga., native says. "So it's hard for me to judge. I'm just going to keep grinding like I've been doing."
That grinding is paying off. At the end of 2005, T.I. (born Clifford Harris) became a first-time best rap solo performance Grammy Award nominee for "U Don't Know Me." He also co-executive-produced the "Hustle & Flow" soundtrack, which yielded the newly minted Academy Award-winning best song, "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp." The soundtrack was released last year through T.I.'s Grand Hustle joint venture with Atlantic Records.
But there is no time right now for glory-basking. T.I. is in the midst of a promotional tour for his third Grand Hustle/Atlantic album, "King" (March 28), as well as his feature-film acting debut in "ATL." In theaters March 31, the Warner Bros. Pictures film was co-written by Antwone Fisher and directed by noted video lensman Chris Robinson. Robinson is also a producer of the film together with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment, music producer Dallas Austin and TLC's Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins.
In "ATL" T.I. plays lead character Rashad, one of four friends dealing with life's challenges after high school. Much of the comedy/drama's action takes place at the local roller-skating rink, Jellybeans. OutKast's Big Boi portrays a drug dealer in the film.
T.I. says he tried out for the part after "pretty much bugging people until they gave me a shot."
Ask him how well he thinks the movie will do in the wake of recent artist film ventures like 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" or Usher's less successful "In the Mix," and he says simply, "I'm not them. Usher's movie was definitely in its own lane. So was 50 Cent's. This is a different kind of movie. It has more of a sense of timelessness to it. But I'll let the people decide."
There is no official "ATL" soundtrack; however, several tracks from "King" are heard in the film including first single "What You Know" (which is No. 10 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart), "Front Back" and "Ride Wit Me," which is featured in the film's trailer.
For the new album, T.I. says, "what I set out to do was keep everything that people appreciated from my other projects. Then I just added whatever I thought was missing."
"King," whose title is derived from T.I.'s self-anointed sobriquet "king of the South," is primed to deliver on the promise of his first two Atlantic albums, 2003's "Trap Muzik" (featuring "Rubber Band Man"), which peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and 2004's "Urban Legend" ("Bring 'Em Out" and "U Don't Know Me"), which reached No. 1.
Offering up a mix of street anthems and club jams, the album includes cameos by Jamie Foxx ("Live in the Sky"), UGK ("Front Back"), BG and Young Jeezy (both on "I'm Straight") and Pharrell and Common ("Goodlife") plus Grand Hustle artists Young Dro, Governor and PSC (Pimp Squad Click). Producers include longtime cohorts the Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kevin "Khao" Cates, Swizz Beatz and Mannie Fresh.
The album will come packaged with a bonus DVD featuring footage from T.I.'s concert last fall with Young Jeezy, new video footage shot with UGK and a "Ride Wit Me" video.
"King" will receive a lot of exposure via the "T.I. Sprint Takeover" campaign. Sprint cell-phone customers will be able to download "What You Know" and "Ride Wit Me" from the new album before its release and also have access to exclusive ringers, call tones and images. Patrons will also have exclusive access to a video shot by T.I.'s crew during the album's launch week and be able to view full T.I. music videos and "ATL" clips. The rapper will be Sprint's April artist of the month.
T.I. has been steadily building his star quotient since 2001. That is when Arista Records released his album debut "I'm Serious." After the title track featuring Beenie Man managed to reach only No. 72 on the R&B chart, T.I. left the label. Before signing with Atlantic in 2003, he self-issued several releases and mix tapes. He also recorded a guest appearance with Killer Mike on Bone Crusher's top 10 R&B hit "Never Scared." Then he hit with the R&B top 15 single "Rubber Band Man."
A side trip into a work release program soon after to satisfy a probation violation for a 1998 conviction on a controlled substance charge did not impede T.I.'s drive. "Urban Legend" followed. T.I. also made the rounds on a number of projects by a variety of artists including Cee-Lo, Slim Thug, Mario and Destiny's Child, whose "Soldier," also featuring Lil Wayne, nabbed a 2005 Grammy nod for best rap/sung collaboration.
As CEO of Grand Hustle, T.I. is also responsible for upcoming albums by such label acts as R&B singer Governor, R&B newcomer Rashad and rapper Big Kuntry King. This summer, T.I. is sponsoring two teen girls through the "It's Cool to Be Smart" program. This inaugural T.I. music sponsorship project helps support the local Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta.
Future business plans include a clothing and shoe line, in addition to such ongoing enterprises as a construction company, a nightclub and a car concierge company. T.I. says it all boils down to one thing: vision. "I've just always had a vision," he says. "I think things and try to make them happen."
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