T.I.: Looking For A Hero
There is no mention of T.I.'s mandatory community service, or voting or his upcoming Paper Trail album. As select kids are leading a makeshift pep-rally, spouting off the lyrics to songs like "Top Back," "What You Know" and "Big Things Poppin'," a fleet of Secret Service-like black Ford Excursions pulls out front. Clifford Harris, a father of five, will meet the audience that isn't critical in the market-place now, but may prove to be in the next decade, should the King of the South continue to deliver the goods.
Sporting a Respect My Vote campaign t-shirt, sweatpants and a few select platinum and diamond jewelry pieces a drippin', T.I. enters the gym to a crowd that immediately recognizes his face. High-pitch cheers erupt, and the A-Town superstar takes a cordless microphone and walks over to the seated audience. In a succint seven-minute speech, T.I. stresses the value of education in contrast to the ephemera of material objects. He urges hard work, proclaiming, "You only get out of life what you're willing to put into it." Lastly, the platinum rapper reminds these '00 babies that school conditions people for life, and you're going to have to sacrifice to get where you aspire to be.
Whether or not the message sinks, all eyes on the room are on T.I.P. and all side conversations can wait. The superstar takes questions, written the day before by his audience members, and speaks on his career, personal life and past. Perhaps simple, the questions, and the personalized responses to the youth, portray T.I. in a light different than many of the headlines towards the end of 2007. Regardless of whether he was doing it for community service or simply doing it for community, T.I. gave 100 kids and a handful of press something unforgettable, amidst a revealing look at what tomorrow's consumers want to know about their celebrities.
What is the biggest challenge of being a successful rapper?
The biggest challenge of being a successful rapperI would say trying to take care of all the business that you have to take care of and still maintain your privacy. Once youre a successful rapper, its kind of like everything you do and everywhere you go, people are watchin, and the cameras are there. You never really get time to take care of what you need to take care of yourself. I think thats one of the biggest challenges, for me at least. But youve got to realize, thats just part of the job. It comes with the territory. You do what you need to do, and other times, you do what you can do, and you move on. Aiight. Cool.
What is your reason to make music?
Well, my reason to make music iswell, I love music. My music has always represented me and my house. Its kinda like its my way to express myself. Life inspires me from the things I go through in life to the things I see other people go through in life, it inspires me to make music. Once I make the music, Im able to cope with things that go on in my life better. Okay. Answer your question? Cool.
Who was your role model when you were growing up?
I want to thank you for the letter you wrote me when you [submitted me these questions]. She wrote, T.I., you are my favorite rapper in the whole, wide world. When I was growing up, I would have to say that my role model was divided into three people. My uncle. My mom. And my dad. Those were my role models when I was growing up. They were the people that I looked at and saw in them things that I liked, saw the things that I did, and thats what I wanted to model myself after. So thats my three role models.
Do you have a favorite rapper besides yourself?
Absolutely. I have a favorite rapper besides myself. You want to know who that is? [Room erupts with yeses]. Well, Id have to divide that into two categories. My favorite rapper living, would be Jay-Z [click to read]. [Children cheer] My favorite rapper whos not living would be 2Pac. [Children cheer]
Who supports you the most?
To answer that question, Id have to go down a whole list of people who I owe to. The people who support me are managers, producers to assistants to publicists to executives, deejays so many different people support me. Of course, all my fans. All you all. [Applause]
What was it like being on Punkd?
[Laughter] It was not funny! I did laugh. At all.
How did you get discovered?
What happened was I happened to be working in a studio. In this studio, there were a couple of [executives]. I went to one rap executive, I did a rap, and he worked for LaFace Records and said, I want to sign you. So we started talking, he heard my music, he said he wanted to sign me, I signed to LaFace Records, I released an album there, then I was discovered. Thats how it happened.
What grade are you in?
[Laughs] I graduated.
Do you like to read?
I do. I love to read. I love to read for two reasons. Because the more read, the more things you know. You educate yourself by reading. i think people should take the time to read at least one thing every day. Whether its a newspaper, a comic book, a schoolbook, the dictionary, The Bible, everybody needs to read something every day. And yes, I do like candy.
How do you know if you want to rap?
Well, to want to rap, you have to know you want to do it in your heart. Then once you do it, you practice a lot, cause practice makes perfect.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Anybody been to Atlanta, Georgia? [Some hands go up.] I grew up there.
What kind of music did you first play?
Ive always played rap music. Always. Big things poppin, thats right.
What is your favorite song to sing?
Shoulder Lean [click to read]? Okay, thats Young Dro [click to read].
Do you have any tattoos?
No, I do not have any tattoos.
And with that, T.I. summarizes his earlier message, holds up a hand, and heads quickly towards the fleet outside to his next audience somewhere in the City of Brotherly Love.