Since his emergence in 2001, T.I. has been a bit of a mystery, an elusive chameleon of sorts; like an illusionist who has mastered his sleight of hand magic so flawlessly that you can't really tell where he is at any given point in time. Now you see him, now you don't. One minute you think you understand him, the next you're totally baffled. Today he's a street kid skirting the law, tomorrow he's a creative genius churning out timeless hip-hop classics. And although it may seem that way, none of it is smoke and mirrors. Rather it's a man revealing his many dimensions and indulging his own evolution.
Based in Atlanta, T.I. has made a name for himself simply by being himself. Not with gimmicky, quirky facades, not with hype and hoaxes. He has earned the respect of his fans and his peers because he is a man who reveals himself wholly - warts and all - and holds it down for the streets even, sometimes, in the face of adversity.
In the summer of '03, T.I. exploded into national prominence with the release of his acclaimed sophomore album, "TRAP MUZIK," his first for Atlantic. The set debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 album chart and went on to earn RIAA gold, spawning such top-charters as "24's," "Rubber Band Man," and "Let's Get Away." Now, the "King of the South" is back with his eagerly awaited second Grand Hustle/Atlantic outing, "URBAN LEGEND," which has quickly confirmed T.I.'s superstar status - making an explosive debut in the #1 spot on Billboard's "Top R&B/Hip-Hip Albums" chart and in the #7 spot on the Billboard 200.
The legend we know as T.I. seems like the stuff tall tales are made of, but it's all true: the good, the bad, and the ugly... and anyone who thinks they've got T.I. pegged had better think again.
On "URBAN LEGEND," T.I. digs deep to uncover his true identity, reminding his fans and his colleagues that, like most of us, he is a complex individual who has far more layers than you can ever see by looking at his boyish face. "First of all, I just want people to know that no matter how much you see me, no matter how much you hear about me, if you haven't really been on a one-to-one personal level with me then you don't really know me. You may know things about me, you may know things I used to do, you may know some things that I put out front... but don't take that and run with it and feel like you can categorize me because I wear my hat a certain way or because I talk with a certain slang or a certain accent or because I wear my pants down low. Just as soon as I can put on a white T-shirt and some Jordans, I can put on a tailor-made suit. Just as soon as I can wear a Rolex, I can change up and put on a Frank Muller King Conquistador. Just as soon as I can ride in a Chevy, I can go and get in a Benz. This is not just in music, this is in life. I never wanted to be predictable or pre-determined, for somebody to think of me and automatically say 'this is him,' 'this is his arena,' 'this is his lane.' I can do what I wanna do."
That's the T.I. that we've come to know: outspoken, brash, and confident. To say that he laid his own groundwork is a major understatement: he's been rapping since age 9, signed a record deal at 19 and released one major-label album (I'm Serious, Arista, 2001) before joining Atlantic with his own Grand Hustle imprint. Under the name T.I. and the P$C, he generated a powerful underground buzz with the hugely successful Grand Hustle Records release, "IN DA STREETS, PARTS 1 AND 2." He increased his growing street credibility with a number of guest appearances, including such tracks as Baby's "Keep Spinnin'" and 2 Pac's "Changed Man," as well as Bone Crusher's hit single, "Never Scared." With the success of "TRAP MUZIK," he dramatically clinched his reputation as one of the South's most electrifying young rappers.
Now, with "URBAN LEGEND," T.I. kicks it to the next level. On song after song, T.I spits out his innermost thoughts in that charming southern drawl that distinguishes him from his peers. His goal on this CD, he says, was to "elevate." "I feel like 'TRAP MUZIK' was an evolution from 'I'M SERIOUS,' and I feel that 'URBAN LEGEND' should be the same from 'TRAP MUZIK.' I just wanted to do it bigger and better and more efficiently," he says. "I wanted to give people the same emotions, the same feeling, the same intensity, the same urgency, and the same top quality jammin' urban music."
For T.I., the album's title has a double meaning: "One, an urban legend, by definition, is a myth: something that may hold no truth to it but you hear it so much that you think it's the truth - like if you eat Pop Rocks and drink Coca-Cola your stomach will blow up, or the Loch Ness Monster, or me having three years in prison and a lotta other stories that people just conjured up about me. The other meaning for it is based on the fact that I'm seemingly a legend or approaching legendary status in urban areas across the United States."
"URBAN LEGEND" shows the many dimensions of T.I., taking us beyond the 'trap,' behind the beefs and deep inside the corridors of his heart and mind. "It's somewhat contrary and conflicting at times," T.I. says of the CD, "because just like I could go and make a record like 'U Don't Know Me' or 'ASAP,' I can go and make a 'Prayin For Help' and 'Motivation'... I got a lotta different dimensions. 'T.I. vs. T.I.P' on 'TRAP MUZIK' was a prime example."
This time around, T.I. is joined by a crew of special guests, including Pharrell, Nelly, Lil' Kim, Trick Daddy, Lil Jon, Lil Wayne, Jazze Pha, and others. From the smash Swizz Beatz-produced single, "Bring Em Out," to the self-explanatory "U Don't Know Me" (produced by DJ Toomp), the urgent "ASAP," and the self-affirming "Tha King," T.I. sets the record straight for wanna-be contenders to his Southern hip-hop kingdom. "'ASAP' is basically saying if anybody contests my rulership or tries to deny me my just due then I'm gonna address it... Basically what this song is saying is I'm a man of respect. I give it and I demand it and if you cross my line, I'm gon' deal with you, I'm gon' have to come see about ya ASAP. I will spare no expense on your ass."
On "Tha King," T.I. revisits his familiar and often controversial 'King of the South' proclamation. "People keep on bringing it up so I'm gon' keep on addressing it. The more people deny it and the more people try and run away from it, the more I'm gon' prove it... That's my belief. That's how I feel. That's me saying those are my intentions, those are my goals. That's the bar that I set for myself and I'm not gonna let anybody out there - no journalist, no rapper, no producer, no fan, nobody's gon' tell me that I can't reach my goal. Nobody."
Though T.I. takes clear aim at his hip-hop adversaries on "URBAN LEGEND," he vows that he won't "waste his music" on other rappers again. "I'm done rapping about rappers. I'm done getting into it with rappers as far as music is concerned. If I feel disrespected by another rapper then I'll just wait 'til I see him and we'll handle it then but I'm done wasting my music on 'em. I just don't feel that it's worthy."
T.I. shows yet another side of himself on the Neptunes-produced "Freak Though" (featuring Pharrell). "That's a record that's basically talking about a guy who really likes a girl but her reputation precedes her," he says. "Everybody who knows her and dealt with her considers her a freak. The chorus is 'She's got angel eyes and a baby face, but she a freak though/ I want my mama and daddy to meet her, maybe have my baby but she a freak though.' And in that record I'm like, 'She a freak but that might be one of the things I like about her.' There are other things that other people may not have gotten a chance to see, so instead of focusing on what you don't like about her, I'm gon' focus on what I do like about her."
On "Why U Mad At Me," T.I. makes reference to the legal problems that landed him in jail, and the somewhat overzealous efforts by police officers determined to make him pay his debt to society. "I'm basically speaking to the police and detectives who thought that just because they heard a song like 'Dope Boyz In The Trap' or 'Never Scared' or just songs that maybe catered to the ghetto or the 'hood or the lifestyle that I used to live before I got a record deal, they figured that I was still like that, that that was the lifestyle that I still lived. So I'm tellin' them don't be mad at me because I'm still the one who's gonna rep for the 'hood. Don't be mad at me just because I got money and I can do what you wanna do, and you work hard and do what your boss tells you to do yet you're making a fraction of what I'm making. Don't be mad at me because I'm young and living the way you wanna live when you retire. You can't make me what you want me to be... I'm far from a petty thief, a thug, a street hustler. I was once that, but I've grown and evolved from that and I feel like it's disrespectful and an insult to still try to put me in that category, put me in that box."
More emotional still is the poignant "Prayin for Help." "I feel like I've taken a lotta flak and carried a lotta loads that a lot of other rappers were scared to take and a lotta other rappers didn't wanna get too involved in," says T.I. "When it got hot in the kitchen they got out. When it got hot in the kitchen I started cooking, and I did that for the streets because that's where I came from and that's what I hold valuable. Right or wrong, good or bad, it's made me what I am today. It plays a great part in the inspiration in my songs, my business sense, my swagger as a whole, my determination, my self-esteem, my confidence and my willingness to say this is how I feel and if you don't like it I don't care. There was a time when I was hard-headed so I was just praying for help. Praying that somebody else would come and help me carry the load, because right now I'm the only person that's really bucking for the 'hood like that so I'm gon' take all the flak, I'm gon' get all the bumps and bruises. But as I thought about it and continued to pray, it came to me that I don't really need no help. If God's with me I can do it by myself. I been doing it by myself. I just gotta learn from my mistakes, correct my flaws. I can do it myself. If nobody else ever stands up for the 'hood, if nobody else cares about the kids, cool. I do and I'm gon' remain present."
-- Courtesy of Atlantic Records
--- from the official T.I. website