Reggae Music News

T.I.’s advice to protege Iggy Azalea on dealing with criticism: count your money

By Nick Patch



TORONTO _ It’s hours until T.I. will be flowing like silk onstage in Toronto, but the Atlanta rapper has already found a verbal momentum that seems impossible to interrupt.

Sipping a Heineken in his hotel room prior to a recent club show at the Guvernment (which was granted a cameo by admirer Drake), T.I. is discussing how protege Iggy Azalea has thrived and thus absorbed the scrutiny of ubiquity, both from peers (Nicki Minaj and Snoop Dogg) and beyond (the Internet).

Asked how he advises her to deal with such feedback, Tip quickly gets on a roll.

“I’m going to be biased, because I see her as my little sister,” he said of the “Fancy” rapper, whom he signed and mentored. “I just know that for that kind of upside, you have to have some sort of negativity stitched in there somewhere.

“And if opinions and criticism from people who have no real effect on your life, if that’s all you got to deal with, then I think we have other more pertinent things to worry about.” He pauses, for effect, then adds with a laugh: “Like, ‘What we are going to do with all this money?”’

After the punchline his pace quickens, and he raps his fist on the coffee table to punctuate his points.

“I try to tell her like that, man. Whenever you don’t like something somebody said, just ask yourself: ‘What am I going to do with all this money?’ And if you’d rather think about what they said … then you not getting enough money. Let’s go get some money.

“I try to rationalize it to her like that. But little sis is little sis and she has her views and opinions and approaches to things. I respect her and support her, man, just because I know she’s a good person at heart. I know that she has done nothing to harm or disrespect or do anything bad to anyone intentionally.”

He curses, drawing and drawling it out, then adds: “Obviously I know that anybody, if they was thrust into the position that she has been in such a short period of time, it takes time adjusting.”

And just like that, the T.I. train has seemingly chugged back into the realm of his own experience.

Born Clifford Harris, Jr., T.I. signed his first record deal as a teenager, released debut “I’m Serious” at age 21 and scored his first hit at 22 with the platinum-selling follow-up “Trap Muzik.” His velvet-plush flow smoothed the rougher edges of his street storytelling, and that talent for straddling grit and gloss only became more evident on the hit albums that followed in short succession: “Urban Legend,” “King,” “T.I. vs. T.I.P.,” “No Mercy” and “Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head.”

All those albums went platinum but the last two, merely gold-certified, releases.

Over that period, he amassed two No. 1 singles of his own (“Live Your Life” and “Whatever You Like”) and three more that reached the Top 5 (“Dead and Gone,” “What You Know” and the star-studded “Swagga Like Us.”) He was a featured performer on two more songs that topped the charts: Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” He won three Grammys.

His latest album, “Paperwork,” is his ninth, and he doesn’t have to look far for other milestones; for instance, it’s been a decade since his rousing smash “Bring ‘Em Out” strutted into the chart’s Top 10.

“It’s crazy how old an artist can get,” marvelled the rapper, 34. “That makes me seem so old.”

Of course, T.I.’s high-flying career was often grounded by his tumultuous personal life.

As a teen, he dropped out of high-school, sold drugs and tangled with the law. His legal issues, obviously, didn’t end there. He was arrested October 2007 and eventually served 11 months in an Arkansas prison on federal weapons charges. He was subsequently sentenced to another 11 months in prison for violating the terms of his probation.

Creatively, the sad saga inspired the introspective hit parade “Paper Trail” (written under house arrest), but it also immediately dashed his once-considerable momentum.

“All the twists and turns and ups and downs and starts and stops, they’ve been a gift and a curse for me,” he said. “You accept _ or endure _ the consequences that come with bad decisions.

“However it makes for a story that _ I mean, I haven’t seen one similar to it. Aside from maybe Tupac. But it’s just been so much adversity riddling these 13 years. And I think every time you’re in the low part of it _ being downtrodden and everyone looking down on you _ it inspires you in a very creative way.”

Longevity, then, can sometimes mean: “You just have to have an interesting life.”

The personal setbacks are perhaps more surprising when contrasted with a creative sensibility that leans toward risk-aversion. His career is all workmanlike consistency, his personal life plagued by tumult.

His creative dependability, anyway, has helped him cleave serious industry influence, and increasingly he’s recognized as a wizened elder of the genre.

He’s collaborated with pretty much every notable name in post-millennial hip hop, and “Paperwork” alone features Jeezy, Pharrell, Azalea, Usher and The-Dream.

At the recent fevered show in Toronto, Drake emerged unannounced to provide both a breakneck three-song medley (highlighted by “0 to 100”) and the awed testimony of someone who has benefited from T.I.’s insight.

“I would not be where I am in my career without this man,” Drake announced. “This guy gave me one of the most important talks of my life at one of the most important times in my life.”

Pharrell also sees that profundity in T.I.

“Paperwork” began with the two sharing hours-long discussions about the “present state of hip-hop” and its move away from organic instrumentation, and Pharrell continually needled him to dig deeper lyrically.

“He sees me more moreso as a Nas, like an eloquent, intellectual storyteller,” he said. “I see me more as Ice Cube or Tupac. More of a rebel.

“Somewhere in the middle, I think, we’re both right.”

Hasn’t that friction between the two sides of his personality provided the thematic inspiration for much of his music?

“I’m a Libra,” he replied, laughing. “If you say, ‘Man, what’s your favourite colour?’ It’s: ‘Well, I like… but I ALSO like…’ I’m always weighing up the options.

“I didn’t just get stuck being ‘You Don’t Know Me’ T.I., I didn’t get stuck being ‘Swagga Like Us’ T.I. or ‘Whatever You Like’ T.I. … I think that has provided a diversity that has enabled me to defy the odds of time.”

If his discography is free of any outright duds _ 2010’s “No Mercy” being probably his most lightly regarded work _ it’s perhaps because he remembers holding his heroes to a high standard.

“Ohh, what a dreadful day it would be if I went and got an Outkast album that wasn’t good,” he said of growing up. “Or if I went and got a Tupac album I didn’t like. Or UGK or Scarface. Ohhhh man. That would (mess) my day up.”

Now he sees himself standing eye-to-eye with some of those influences.

On “Paperwork” highlight “About the Money,” rising-star Young Thug trills a winningly weird verse that pays tribute to his Atlanta elder even as he’s refracting his influence through a cracked funhouse mirror.

Feeling sage and secure, T.I. isn’t threatened by the way his town is changing.

“I respect what they doing _ they’re the new sound of Atlanta,” said the rapper, specifically praising Migos, Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Peewee Longway and Bankroll Fresh, among others.

“Artists like myself and Young Jeezy and Outkast … we are the Colosseum statues. Regardless of who wins today, this statue will be here when you come and when you leave and when you come back again. Don’t matter who wins today. This statue is here and it’s going to be here forever.

“Our sound is going to be relevant regardless of the present sound of the city is. … (The younger artists) are the sound of Atlanta now. We may dib and dab and find a way to apply a piece of that new sound into what we do, but we will not completely conform.

“Because we don’t have to. We are the statues.”

_ Follow (at)CP_Patch on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *