In between laying down party raps in his current single, "Rubber Band Man," T.I. takes a little time to reflect on the loss of a loved one.
"My cousin used to tell me, 'Take this sh-- a day at a time'/ Told me Friday, died Sunday, Wednesday in the ground," he raps about his cousin Toot, who dropped a jewel on T.I. during their last conversation just over a year ago.
"We was just talking," T.I. said last week from Atlanta. "It was around Christmastime of 2002. We was kicking it, he was telling me how I need to slow down.
"I was real hot-headed," T.I. continued. "I was just frustrated. I was really the mad rapper. I felt like, 'I'm better than a lot of n---as and I ain't where I need to be.' He was like, 'Dig this, though — look what you do got. You got a following can't nobody else match. Can't nobody who's at the level you at in your career, selling the amount of records you selling, go shut a mall down. It's a reason for that. You got strength. Just be thankful for what you do have.' "
Toot was murdered and buried less than a week later. T.I. said the deaths of his cousin and his father four months later were a major catalyst in his career. He knows they wanted him to succeed. Finally it looks like his nearly 10 years of trying to blow up in the rap game is paying off.
His Trap Muzik is at more than 600,000 units sold and is creeping up the chart. More importantly, he finally has a breakthrough hit that's making him a recognizable figure outside of his native South.
"Right now, looking at the BDS [radio spins] and SoundScan [album sales] and video play, it is the biggest song of my career," he said of the David Banner-produced "Rubber Band Man." "I feel blessed. I appreciate the love to see all the hard work that paid off. It feels good, but I still have a long way to go. It's a lot of people who put a lot of faith in me. A lot of people really believe in me and wanna see me do good. I don't wanna let them down."
A bunch of people who recognize T.I.'s star power showed up to the two-day "Rubber Band Man" video shoot to support him and see their predictions come to fruition. P. Diddy (and his chinchilla-fur coat and Bentley), Bow Wow, NFL star Michael Vick, Usher and David Banner are among those who make cameos.
"For the majority of my career I've been getting a lot of love, just from the people in the industry who enjoy the music," T.I. explained. "Just people who have a great respect and admiration that can recognize when somebody is putting their heart and soul into something and rate music on that, rather than record sales. When I wasn't selling records, there were cats who were selling records who took notice. All the people who were in my corner, I hollered at them and asked them to come through."
A host of his peers also volunteered their services to rap on the "Rubber Band Man" remix, but only Mack 10, Trick Daddy and Twista made the cut.
"Once again, I just felt it had to be people who had street credibility," T.I. said. "It was a lot of other people that I wanted to get on there, but the song could only be so long. Then we had to get it done in a timely manner. I was hollering at Jadakiss, and Busta Rhymes was gonna get on there too. I was like, 'Look, we could just do some new songs for a whole new album. The [remix] was finnin' to get seven minutes long.' "
T.I. is already 20 songs deep into his new LP, and it should be out by the end of the year, he said. So far he's secured contributions from Banner and Daz Dillinger. Outside of his own projects, he's getting that rhyme book in gear, as he has appearances on new projects by Brandy, members of State Property, Young Buck, Trick Daddy and is in talks with P. Diddy to appear on the Biggie duets album (see "Diddy Doin' It In The Studio, Gearing Up For Biggie Duets LP").
But that's in still a little ways off. Right now T.I. plans to push Trap Muzik to the 1 million sales plateau with "Rubber Band Man" and fourth single "Let's Get Away" with Jazze Pha ("24's" and "Be Easy" were the first two offerings from the album).