As workers and wait-staff hustled about, the back lounge of fine dining restaurant 24grille buzzed with the pending arrival of royalty–multiplatinum-selling hip-hop mogul, T.I. The soft overheard music felt a bit out of place with the action happening around a long, shiny black modern table at the center of the room, being set for an afternoon feast in honor of the Atlanta-native King of The South. Invited guests stood far apart throughout the room, each prepping their still cameras, video equipment, or both.
After a short wait, the Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records recording artist born Clifford Harris Jr. entered the lounge, greeting fans on his way to a neighboring bar. As he walked, all the guests began merging together behind him in a cluster with their cameras flashing and video equipment filming. The overheard music was drowned out by conversation; the hot topic was T.I.’s much-anticipated eighth studio album Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head.
Once the paparazzi disbanded and the loudness excused itself for the retuning audible soft melodies, T.I. quietly sat down with SoulTrain.com to discuss the volume of his past, the present, and those who speak out about him.
SoulTrain.com: Tip, what was the first record that made you want to turn your stereo volume all the way up and play it as loud as possible?
T.I.: [Laughs] “Dope Man” by N.W.A.
SoulTrain.com: What was it about the song that made you want to play it so loud?
T.I.: Probably the fact I knew my parents and grandparents wouldn’t want me listening to it. It was talking about a lifestyle that intrigued me, and I guess it had a certain element of danger and rebelliousness. It sounded dangerous.
SoulTrain.com: Can also remember how it felt to have the vibrations from such a high level of sound going through your body?
T.I.: Of course!
SoulTrain.com: When you go to record, do you still look for that feeling?
T.I.: Yeah, I do. I look for it in the music; that feeling added with the feeling I get from the lyrics. I always hope it amounts to the feeling I felt when I heard “Dope Man”.
SoulTrain.com: When I interviewed John Cena of WWE he told me his personality you see on television is really who he is, only with the volume turned all the way up. When we see you, what is your volume?
T.I.: At this present moment I’m turned down, pretty much. The environment doesn’t call for me to be turned up. I think there’s a time and place for everything, and for you to recognize the time, your mood must match the environment. If not, you’re out of place. You’re auspicious at that point.
SoulTrain.com: Do you feel there have been moments when people made you too loud?
T.I.: No one can make me loud–I make myself loud. There have been moments I’ve allowed people to adjust my volume instead of me choosing to adjust my volume. That has taken place.
SoulTrain.com: With so many online and digital communications outlets, you have a lot more people speaking loudly about things that are negative. Do you feel like negativity has gotten way too loud?
T.I.: Of course! That came with the Internet, the anonymity of internet; you can say whatever you want to say on a blog. It used to be when you were a journalist and you wrote a negative comment, you had to stand by that negative comment. You had to put your name on there, and with your name lied your reputation. If you said negative things about Muhammad Ali and your name was right there, he could call you out. When you say something negative and he does something positive, he proved you wrong. Now on your reputation you’re wrong. So if you say something negative about somebody else they’ll always be able to refer back and say, “Maybe we shouldn’t believe them.”
SoulTrain.com: So you feel like it used to all come back on them?
T.I.: Yeah, because your character and reputation was in jeopardy at that point. Now, you can just anonymously say any kind of mess you want to say. “T.I.’s snitching.” You can say anything; whether it’s true or not, you don’t have to put a name on it! You could put a nickname; no one knows your name, your face, it’s completely anonymous. No one can find you, you can threaten people! The anonymity of the Internet has allowed negativity to take an all-time high!
SoulTrain.com: You find so many negative comments, and, sadly, threats posted online that are completely empty.
T.I.: And these people can do absolutely nothing! These people, they do nothing well. So all they want to do is make people who do something well, seem like they do nothing well. That makes them feel better about doing nothing well. Understanding that allows me to accept it a little more. It still doesn’t take away the urge to slap the mess out of one of them!
SoulTrain.com: Not that it matters, but what do you hear most from these anonymous people?
T.I. I’m a hundred snitches and a thousand imposters. But the minute I come to their town they’re trying to get in my section, wanting to take a picture. They want their girl to shake my hand, she ain’t gonna want to leave, and that’s going to inspire them to go write some more negative mess about me! As long as I’m doing this they’ll keep writing negative mess, so I’m going to keep them busy for quite some time.
SoulTrain.com: T.I., do you feel you need to speak louder now about your integrity?
T.I.: I don’t need to speak louder about it; it shows. Whenever people come in contact with me, that’s the one thing I never worried about. I don’t worry about people who don’t know me.
T.I.: Because people who don’t know me, who haven’t had the pleasure or the opportunity to be in my presence, to be around me and watch my moves, to see how I respond to situations, they don’t have anything to judge from. But the people who have been around, the ones who have experienced who I am as a man, they’ve observed and can say after walking away, “You know what? I see how he is.” I worry about what they say and how they feel. And they’ve never said nothing wrong or bad about me.
SoulTrain.com: Tip, with all this negativity circulating, has it become urgent for others to unify and speak positivity as loud as they can together?
T.I.: For those who do it best, yes. It takes a real nonthreatening person to bring people together. People can’t be intimidated by you. That’s the person who is fit to unite the masses. I tried to unite people, but they’re intimidated by me. When I try they say, “Who does he think he is trying to gather us together?” And recognizing it allows me to understand it and accept it. That’s what it is. So I’m just going to look for someone nonthreatening, someone people ain’t intimidated by, and maybe they can do a better job of uniting the people.
For more on T.I. visit his official website trapmuzik.com, and follow him on Twitter @Tip.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.