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T.I. Owns ‘Marquee Artist’ Title, Album Due February 2012

Maury Phillips, WireImage

T.I., born Clifford Harris Jr., is well aware that he has some ground to cover in light of recent setbacks: the weapons charge in 2007, a subsequent prison sentence in 2008, the drug charge last year, followed by more jail time. The self-proclaimed King of the South knows that his legal woes have become a sort of running joke, eclipsing the strides he’s made as an artist who introduced the “trap” to middle America. But in his way, he chuckles at it all, shrugs the jokes off, and has returned for the appropriation of his crown.

Since he stepped out as a free man in September, T.I. has thrown himself into every market available to him and his Grand Hustle team. ‘Power and Beauty: A Love Story of Life in the Streets,’ the book that he wrote before his last indictment is now on shelves. While currently at work on his eighth album, he’s appeared on some of the most popular tracks this year, from artists like 2 Chainz and “trap rap” legend Young Jeezy. The Atlanta native does it all while donning wares from his contemporary clothing line AKOO.

There are strides he must still take to get to his ultimate goals, but the giggles about his mishaps are gradually disappearing and the focus has returned to greet the prowess of the king. The BoomBox spoke with T.I. about his new novel, his recent collaboration with Big K.R.I.T. and why he’s decided to take his flow back to the days of ‘I’m Serious.’

Watch T.I. Perform ‘U Don’t Know Me’
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What made you want to write a love novel like ‘Power and Beauty’ while you were away?

Well, I didn’t start it while I was away, I actually started it while I was at home in the beginning of 2010. I just had more time to finish it and put it all together while I was away. I had more time, attention and energy to dedicate to it while I was incarcerated. My motivation was to find something that would appeal to women as well as men that would be something to entertain as well as educate and enlighten. Something that would appeal to people that have read urban [literature] as well as people who have never read urban lit and also to encourage youngsters, the people I speak to the most, to read more.

So you wanted to throw it all under the same umbrella?

Trying to. [Laughs] I made an attempt.

Would you categorize it as street literature or does it not have a label?

You know what man, I usually leave the categorizing to the critics… I don’t put my art or I try not to put my art in a category man… I mean, of course, in business you have to have a key demographic to target, so with that would come a category but I try to keep myself away from labels and keeping myself in boxes.

Watch T.I.’s ‘You Know What It Is’
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Then you have A King of Oneself (AKOO), your clothing line as well. Will you be expanding AKOO internationally, anytime soon?

Well, AKOO is a contemporary clothing line that includes a unique sense of elusive style which is versatile to one’s own lifestyle. We’re actually taking it to South America. I’m going to Asia and Europe as well. I’m completely involved in the expansion, and the direction of the brand. The collection is expanding to accessories, shoes, eyewear and we’re going to do a women’s clothing line — AQOO [A Queen of Oneself].

Since your release, you’ve been on records with some of the hottest artists out over the summer and those who have yet to drop their debuts from 2 Chainz to Big K.R.I.T. How did you manage to keep abreast of what was popping outside of those four walls?

I guess, man, MTV, BET and VH1. You know? Radio stations… I had a little access to radio stations but all I could do was see what’s popping on 106th [and Park] and MTV. That’s just how we could do it.

But 2 Chainz has more of an underground, grassroots-style movement, where just now he’s making a bigger name for himself. Now he’s everywhere. For a time, before you did a verse with him, he was barely known outside of Atlanta. How did you even know about him?

I knew him personally, for one. And you know, I try to stay connected to the voice of the streets. At least to pay attention to the people and what the people are paying attention to, or what the people are looking at to be the next thing man. And in doing that, the ones that catch my attention, I’m going to salute that.

Watch T.I.’s ‘I’m Flexin” Feat Big K.R.I.T.

The BoomBox spoke with Big K.R.I.T. on the 2011 BET Hip-Hop Awards Black Carpet. He said that he was surprised to hear from your people in doing this collaborative effort for ‘I’m Flexin’.’ What was it that intrigued you about K.R.I.T. to want to work with him?

With K.R.I.T., that was an organic situation that happened spontaneously. I saw that video that he got with Bun [B] and Chris [Ludacris]. I heard that in the joint, and liked it. I didn’t know who he was. I’d seen his name, heard about it in the magazines, but I hadn’t heard his music — when I heard it, I dug it. But when I got home, coincidentally, my guys gave me a CD with beats on it and one of the beats on it just happened to be a record that he did. So I made the record and after I made the record, they told me who did it and I was like, “Oh, OK. That works.” So it just happened.

Do you have a tentative release date for the LP? Do you feel any pressure to get it done quickly?

I mean, I don’t feel a certain amount of pressure to get it done by a certain time. I feel the usual pressure of making an album my life, like every time I do an album I feel the pressure of needing to make it my life, you know? But I take that pressure and apply it to my creative process. The tentative date is looking like February.

How do you feel like your skills have developed since your last go-round? People are saying that it seems you’re going harder with the strength of your bars and flow now. Do you feel like you have to prove your talents all over again?

Nah. I mean, I got something to prove to myself. I ain’t got nothing to prove to nobody else ’cause at the end of the day, I’m a marquee artist and I think my numbers speak for themselves. I’m on my eighth album and ain’t nobody eight albums in right now, who’s really relevant. Besides Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, it ain’t a lot [laughs]. You know what I’m saying? Ain’t a lot. So, I got something to prove to myself, not nobody else. I always knew and I will always know what I’m capable of.

It’s just a matter of me finding that fire in myself to get in there and do what I know people want to hear me do. A lot of times I get caught up in doing what I want me to do, but now I’m paying more attention to what I believe other people would want to hear me do. Also, I’m paying more attention to the core audience — the demographic who supported me during my toughest times, man. The fans who came along during the later times, like during ‘Paper Trail’ days. The ‘Dead and Gone’ fans, the ‘Live Your Life’ fans, those the first ones who give you their ass to kiss, you know what I’m saying? The first ones, the ‘Trap Muzik,’ ‘Whatchu Know About That,’ the ‘Rubber Band Man’ fans are the ones who stuck by me so I’ma talk to them. I’ma rock with who was rocking with me, so that in a sense could be a lot of what
you’re hearing as well.

Watch ‘Rapper T.I. Is Released From Prison’

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