Exclusives Interviews 2 November 2020
Author: Daniel McNab

GRM Exclusive: T.I. talks new album ‘L.I.B.R.A’, his relationship with Chip, the Drake Situation & more

2 November 2020

In 2018, for the first time ever, hip hop surpassed rock music as the most popular genre in the US; showing the exponential growth of the genre; developing from underground street music to the new ‘pop’. It is without a doubt that, in part, the sudden growth in popularity is thanks to the emergence of southern trap music.

The ground shaking 808s and rapid hi hats made for a sound that caught the attention of many and added a different dynamic to the current landscape of the hip hop genre, and GRM Daily recently had the honour of speaking to one of, if not the originator of the trap genre, Atlanta’s own, T.I. A.k.a Tip.

The legendary rapper has a career spanning almost two decades, with 11 studio albums and massive chart singles such as “Whatever you Like”, “Live your Life Ft. Rihanna” and “Dead and Gone ft. Justin Timberlake”. As well as seeing solo success, Tip has also successfully collaborated with many of the top artists in the scene such as, Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child, Rihanna and many more.

From the release of his 11th album, L.I.B.R.A (Legend is Back Running Atlanta), it is clear that the ATL rapper still has a lot to offer musically and Tip broke down exactly what keeps him motivated to continue making music:

“The things I observe they bring me different perspectives and allow me to see through a different lens and offer me alternative views and insight. To me that’s it, it’s life.

My motivation was really to re-establish myself and make sure people of this generation understand who I am and what I do. I just feel like there’s a whole generation of people in this generation who got me f**ked up, and I think that ignorance allows for an absence of awareness that I hope to correct.”

T.I. also spoke about the discussions of the 50 Cent ‘Verzuz’ battle being a catalyst to releasing this latest album:

“After the 50 sh*t, people were like ‘who T.I. think he is going against 50, who puts on a T.I. record’ and I was like yo, these m’f*ckers got me f*cked up. They really don’t know bruh, so at that moment, I thought I got to put some of this sh*t out man”

As mentioned previously, T.I.’s list of collaborators is extensive and features some of the greatest artists of all time, from Drake, Jay Z, Eminem and Andre 3000 to Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo and Usher. L.I.B.R.A. follows this trend and boasts a list of some of the biggest up-and-coming rappers in the scene. Tip expanded on why he chose these particular features:

“This Sh*t just organically happened. True there are significant benefits to having a Lil’ Baby on a record and I understand that but it wasn’t targeted and strategic. It isn’t really that deep, we making music and if I hear a m’f*cker on a song and its Lil Baby and I say ‘Aye bruh, you gonna knock this sh*t out for me’ and he does it, it’s genuinely due to the vibe, the song, and his willingness to come out and be on a record with me. It’s really as simple as that and was that simple for everyone on there.

Same for 42 Dugg. For “On the Hood”, I would listen to it and say  to myself,  man I would love to hear him slide on that m’f**cker, so I got his number, called him and sent it [On the Hood] to him, he heard it and said ‘that m’f*cker go’, I’m down and he did it. Weeks after, I call Mozzy, and said I need you to do this 3rd verse. I didn’t have a relationship with Mozzy but I respect his craft and his reputation precedes him from the West. I sent it to him, He sent it back. It wasn’t like, let me dominate the West Coast by getting Mozzy on here, there ain’t that much thought put into it.”

Tip did however discuss John Legend being a more strategic feature on the project:

“At first Ricco Barrino was on there, as he wrote the chorus of the record and I did that record about a year and a half ago. I was in the studio with Rick Ross and I played him “We Did It Big” and he stopped me and said ‘Yo, this song is huge, you need John Legend on there. I can see it now; white piano, white suit, with the smoke on at the Grammys. You need to call John Legend.’

He seemed so enthusiastic, so I thought hmm, get John Legend on the phone and see if he will do this sh*t.”

The John Legend-assisted track “We Did it Big” serves as a touching ode to T.I.’s close friend who sadly passed away and sees the rapper look fondly over the memories they created. However, this track made many headlines due to T.I. discussing a situation where his friend urinated on Drake. But T.I. doesn’t want this to be the main focus of the track:

“What I will say about the track is it wasn’t a diss to Drake. It wasn’t meant to be used as a weapon, it was meant to paint a picture and give an example of how extreme these scenarios were that I have endured and witnessed my partner go through.

I spoke about him having shootouts with a revolver in front of the police and still getting away on foot. I spoke about him wrecking his car the first time I met him during a race and him not worrying about the car being wrecked; just thinking about how he nearly won the race. I talk him catching a body and me trying to help him with his case while going through mine. I talk about him making his way to LA and getting so f*cked up that end up doing that. [Drake situation].

It wasn’t to take a shot at cuz, it was to memorialise and paint a picture of the individual that I am speaking of. Any time you gon’ listen to tabloids, blog sites and just comments of people; they only want to see a show and that’s it. Any time you do that and allow it to sway your emotions, you always gonna come up with a poor choice.”

The Drake situation was used as ammo during the back and forth between him and Meek Mill. Tip wanted to make sure that it is crystal clear he was never trying to diss the rap superstar:

“I know how I treated it, when the same fact of the matter was used against him in a battle, he had with another one of my friends and they brought it up. I told my partner ‘ease up, we ain’t finna use that’. So, if I really wanted to roll wid it, I would have rolled with it then. If I diss somebody, then I’ll diss somebody.

Sh*t happens. My partner’s gone, I am talking about all the highlights of his life and that sh*t just came up. The whole situation was unintentional anyways.”

Losing someone so close is always a difficult thing to come to terms with. Tip described how he came to terms with losing a true friend of his.

“He was a warrior and he died like a warrior. He always told me, I understand what comes with the life I chose and I ain’t tripping. When it’s my time, it’s my time. It’s gonna be what it is up until that point.

I had just spoken to him and he just turned 40 and he said ‘man turning 40 is better than turning 30 I’m telling you. So, I just know he was in a good place spiritually and mentally.”

T.I. has always portrayed himself as a family man and this project sees a huge collaboration between two of his sons; Messiah producing the instrumental and Domani providing two stellar verses on the track “Family Connects”. We spoke about what it was like to have his son featured on a record:

“He’s [Domani] an incredible talent, pleasant surprise and I am proud as a father and an MC to have him on there with me. It’s super dope.

We was in there [studio] listening to beats from my other son [Messiah]. We were both giving our input, and this particular beat came up and we both liked it, but I said yeah, I want that m’f*cker right there and I left as I had something do. By the time I got back, he had done a verse, kinda like putting his flag in it. So, I just went in there and did a verse too. So, we had a version with just those two verses and then a few months later, he did another verse, so I was like ‘you really trying to force me off this record’. So, I did my last verse and was like, yeah this is going on the album. It’s my favourite song I have ever done.”

It is widely recognised that Hip Hop music originated in New York, and because of this when rappers from the southern states became active, they were not initially embraced. We spoke about a potentially parallel between the path of Southern Hip Hop and UK rap:

“They treat Y’all like the new southern M’f*ckers, the new south. I been saying UK is the next region to blow. The afrobeat sh*t got in you guys way a lil’ bit, but I still think there’s a huge market and y’all got an opportunity to have a hell of a run and I want to be a part of it.”

T.I. is well known for embracing the UK scene early with the rapper signing Chip to his label, Grand Hustle, in 2012:

Man, I ain’t spoke to Chip in a minute, but I’d love to hear from him though. We were trying to put shit together and trying to make it work when he was living over here [Atlanta] and he was like ‘yo, I could go make a mill like soon, I think I’m going to go back and work it out over there’ and that’s what he did. Since then, we haven’t really been in the closest contact but even from a distance he has my love and support”

It has recently been announced that T.I. will face off against fellow Atlanta rapper Jeezy in a Verzuz battle. However, just before this was announced, rap veteran, Busta Rhymes challenged T.I. to go hit for hit but Tip felt this would not be a fair battle:

“[Laughs] Very well played by Busta, I have an enormous amount of respect for Busta and I will not take personally, all of the ill speak because that’s just bait. But this is the thing though, I didn’t realise we were reaching across generations and pulling out contenders that were decades apart.

Busta came in the game in ‘88/89 with ‘Leader of the New School’ and he was on “Scenario” with A Tribe Called Quest. I’m flattered that he would even consider me as a contemporary, however, I just think it don’t make sense you know. Not because we ain’t aliened by measures of success because he has an incredible amount of hits but I can’t fight somebody who was fighting before I started. It’s like if Mike Tyson in his prime was getting called out by Muhammed Ali at the same time. It just doesn’t make any sense. You can’t win because if you go in, you disrespected your elders; then if you lose, you got your ass handed to you by an old man.

No disrespect to Busta, but I think him, and LL would be a more even battle”

T.I recently got nominated for an ‘iHeart award’ for his podcast ‘expediTIously’ which he started last year. The show has featured many high-profile guests and Tip discussed the guests he has enjoyed speaking to the most:

“Man, all of them. They have all given me a different level of growth and understanding to me. Luenell was dope, Tyler Perry was dope, Will Packer was dope, MC Lyte, Killer Mike, David Banner, Freeway Rick Ross, the one with my old lady, the one with LL and Ice Cube. So many.”

The rapper also had a surprising choice of guest that he would love to have next.

“Donald Trump. We are polar opposites. Alex Jones was another dope one because we’re opposites. He’s the antithesis of everything that I feel at my core. I just want him [Trump] to explain what’s up with the bullshit between you and my people.”

This thought process was reminiscent of a track T.I. made with Kanye West, “Ye vs. the People” where the two went back and forth on their differing opinions. Tip went into how he feels about Kanye’s most recent activities:

“I spoke to him when he decided he was going to be on the ballot for 2020. I said ‘why?’; ‘for what?’, ‘what the f*ck are you doing?’. He said to ‘spread love’ or some other generic ass bullsh*t. Come on bruh, you rich my ni**a, you a billionaire, why the f*ck do you want to be the president? It’s completely self-gratuitous at this point. What do you think you have to offer the American people that you are the best to provide? You can do everything you want to in the world without being president. People who want to be president should have a genuine intention to help the people selflessly. If you want to be president just to say you’re the president, then you shouldn’t be.

When I spoke to him about things, I asked him if he knew about certain things and his response was ‘that happened?’, ‘I didn’t even know’. Like ni**a, don’t you think you should research?

But I respect ‘Ye, and love him as a brother because I know what he has done for the culture and I respect his artistic genius, but I also hold him accountable to all his bullshit.”

Steeping away from music, T.I. has also landed many movie roles over the years including the Ant-Man films, TakersGet Hard and ATL to name a few. More recently, he landed a lead role in the RZA-directed Cut Throat City alongside Terrance Howard, Wesley Snipes and Ethan Hawke. T.I. spoke about what its like to be directed by the legendary Wu Tang Clan member:

I think he has incredible vision man and he’s very meticulous with the aesthetics and telling the story through his lens. He’s really big on capturing the essence of the moment. He’s also very certain about what he wants from the actor in the performance and a lot of directors can’t articulate exactly what they want.”

Along with acting, T.I. was also a judge on the Netflix show Rhythm & Flow alongside Cardi B and Chance the Rapper which became a massive success in its first season. T.I. spoke on current progress on season 2:

“We were setting up filming until Covid 19 shut us down, but everybody’s ecstatic to come back so it will be soon hopefully once the covid sh*t goes away. I reckon after the election, sh*t will go away. Just watch.”

We also spoke about his relationship with winner, D Smoke:

“I’ve done songs with him, and he’s a phenomenal talent. He calls me for advice from time to time and of course I oblige with any input I can offer. I definitely think he was the perfect choice for the winner.

Final word from Tip on whether his fans can expect hear new music from the seasoned Atlanta rapper:

Imma keep on pushing, as long as it is received as I intend it, I will keep going. The passion is still there for making music but not necessarily putting it out there. Those are two different processes”.

Make sure you check out T.I.’s latest project L.I.B.R.A. now.