Mon, 29 Sep 2008 22:56:07
is a man of few words. He speaks in a quiet, almost reserved timbre. He's of slight build. But the Southern-born hip-hopper's physical traits betray him. They disguise the fact that he's full of heart and passion. In a conference room situated on the 36th floor of the Atlantic Records office building, decorated with IKEA-style furniture in front of huge, curtain-less windows, I sat down with the rapper on a suede, micro-fiber couch. Despite some of the legal troubles that have cropped up in T.I.'s life over the past several months—such as an arrest for possession of unregistered weapons that led to a subsequent house arrest—the rapper remains undaunted and unmoved. He's focused on the project at hand and that's promoting his latest platter, Paper Trail. Dressed in baggy, dark-rinse jean shorts and a loose-fitting black t-shirt, with his neck adored by several pieces of chunky silver bling, the rapper sat to my right and answered every question. After a day stuffed with interviews, he was a bit tired—a few yawns escaped from his mouth—but he spoke cryptically and from the heart. Read on.
First things first: Who is the king of the South, you or Lil Wayne?
No hesitation there, huh?
Lil Wayne is the greatest rapper alive, but I would say that I am "The King."
Are there more film roles in your future?
Sure. We are working on something right now. We're in pre-production on a film called Bone Deep with me, Matt Dillon and Chris Brown. We start filming in September.
You've done both music and movies in your career. Do you have a preference? So many high profile rappers, like Ice Cube, Will Smith and Xzibit have crossed over, largely abandoning their music careers to became full-time movie stars. Do you ever see yourself following that trajectory?
I can't say which I like better. Both have two separate rewards for me. It's different. I get a different sense of accomplishment from film than I get from making music. They're just two totally different entities. You have to treat them differently. I have a huge amount of admiration for film and a huge amount of respect for that art form. Music is my first love and I know how to do that, so film is much more of a challenge for me since it's new.
What's your opinion on the ever-popular mixtapes?
I started out doing mixtapes. I haven't done one in a minute, and I am looking forward to doing one again, especially for this record.
Why are mix tapes so popular again or do you think that they always have been?
Hmmm…I think people would like to hear more from the artist before they invest themselves and their money into the entire CD. They want to make sure that the artists are worth the $13 or $14 they are spending. The consumers have been misled so many times with someone having a hit single and thinking there's an entire album that's just as good and hot. You get shammed that way. The mixtape gives you an idea of what to expect. If you hear something else on the new hot mixtape, you can assume the album is going to be good.
Let's apply that theory to your new album. Why should the hip-hop fan with limited disposable income invest $15 on Paper Trail?
If you are interested in my life and how I'm dealing with and getting through this particular period of my life, you will be pleasantly surprised by Paper Traili—like my other albums.
Can you take us through some of the recording process, given the fact that you were recording under non-optimal circumstances, being under house arrest?
It was more tedious, and I was a lot more conscious of my statements for this record. It was necessary. I had to be!
How are things going with your reality show?
It's a documentary more than it is a reality show. I am still doing it, yes ma'am. It essentially documents my return to the forefront of entertainment. That's about it. I wanted to show people how many different hats I wear, so people can understand who I am and what I am about. For my show, I'm not acting. I wanted it to be like a fly on the wall view. You know, "Day in the life" type of stuff.
Can you sum up what Paper Trail is about? What was your vision for it?
It's an intellectual piece of work. I am not going to give people their opinions. I am going to let the music speak for itself. Once the fans hear it, they will form their own opinions about it. It's not my job to enjoy the music. It's my job to provide the music to the people.
You're guest list on this album is once again high-profile, with the likes of Rihanna and Kanye West pitching in. Did you collaborate in an actual studio or was it back and forth, aided by modern technology?
It was a back and forth studio thing with Rihanna. I picked her. I was just able to "Hear" her voice on this record. I could hear her, so I reached out and she said, "Yes," thankfully. "Live Your Life" is the name of the song she's on. And as for Kanye, well, we had a pre-existing thing. Kanye, man, he is an extreme talent. It is a blessing to work alongside him. He is a talented man, and our song ,"Swagga Like Us," is one of the hottest songs of the year.
“It's not my job to enjoy the music. It's my job to provide the music to the people.”
On the flip, when a rap artist wants to work with you, how do you choose who you work with?
I gotta like it, that's for sure. I have to feel it. It's got to be hot. I have to like it—nothing more, nothing less.
Lastly, are there any misconceptions about yourself that you'd like to clear up?
All I'd like to say is, "Thank you" to the fans for their support. And, "To hell with you." That's for all the haters. Know what I am saying? That's it. And thank you.
— Amy Sciarretto