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T.I. And Young Jeezy: Out Of The Trap

It makes perfect sense. T.I. lived and hustled on South Grand Street. When he put his drug dealing behind him to pursue rap, he named his company Grand Hustle Entertainment.

"This was a vacant lot," says T.I., who's standing directly across the street from his mother's old house. "I used to stand here like this all night long."

"If I had Js [drug fiends] that needed serving, they'd come knock right on my window. I was a young and stupid man."

He walks across the street and stands in front of what was once his bedroom window. "If I decided I wanted to go in, take some time off the trap, I had my window," he continued. "If I had Js [drug fiends] that needed serving, they'd come knock right on my window. I was a young and stupid man."

Tip says that on his old block there were no street lights and when the sun went down, anything could happen.

"It's lucrative out here for a young cat who don't care nothing about the consequences," T.I. said.

"We used to wear rubber bands to signify how much money, how much blow we had," he says of the origins of his nickname, the Rubber Band Man. "I would wear three rubber bands, and that would probably hold $5,000. If you anticipate making $20,000, you gonna have eight, nine rubber bands on both wrists. It was a gang of us, a lot of competition. We was cool though, we knew each other from elementary."

Three million albums sold later, T.I. continues to hustle — legitimately, of course — so he can be on top in his new game.

"I know one of the most detrimental things was when I went to jail [in 2004] and had to stay gone for such a long amount of time and missed so much business and opportunities," says T.I., now standing in his new Grand Hustle Entertainment offices. "I probably missed a half step in my career as far as accolades, success and record sales is concerned. When I went through that, I saw how [important] it was to become professional if you intend on being successful. If I intend on sitting in these big offices with the nine windows, corner office overlooking the city, ain't nobody gonna entrust that responsibility to somebody that's conducting himself how I used to conduct myself. I had to pull myself to the side and really be honest. 'What do you really want to do? You want to be a ghetto hero or you want to really make it happen?' "

Needless to say, he chose the latter. Nowadays, if you aren't about the business, T.I. doesn't want you near him.

T.I. and Young Jeezy at Jay-Z's "I Declare War" concert

"This is a headquarters for business to get conducted," T.I. says. The Grand Hustle command center doesn't look that different from a "trap house," a place where drugs are sold. He has boxes wrapped up in tape and it's obvious that product is being prepared to be moved. "The other office was a studio and a hangout, this office is strictly business. Ain't no smoking, no dranking in here. If you ain't talking about pushing some Gangsta Grillz [mixtapes] or flooding the streets with some PSC posters or some Xtaci mixtapes, you can find your way up the street."

Like T.I., Young Jeezy, who's known as "the Snowman," has put hustling aside and ascended to be one of the hottest names in rap.

"It's motivation," he says about his music, which details his time in the struggle and is filled with very frank references to drug dealing. Jeezy hopes that by telling of his mistakes and triumphs, he'll inspire people.

"There's nothing to glorify. I'm from the 'hood, I did that [hustling]."

"It's good music but it's got substance to it," he says. "Nobody's rapping about 'I'm the hottest rapper.' Who cares? Are you helping somebody get through their day?

"There's nothing to glorify. I'm from the 'hood, I did that [hustling]," he continues. "It's what you call reality. Every time the newspapers get a chance, they bash me. Why are y'all ashamed of me? This is America. This is what y'all made us. At least I'm out here trying to get people to do right. I'm not saying, 'Go kill you a couple of cats.' I'm telling cats it's out here if you want to go get it. Let's go get it. My music was a gift to me from up above and I give it as a gift to the people. That's why I'm so passionate about it. I understand my words have power, and I gotta use them the best way or else I won't be real."

NEXT: 'I get $10,000 and stand in front of the stage and throw money all night.' ...
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Photo: MTV News

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