T.I.’s Career Is Thriving … If He Avoids Jail, Will Weapons Charges Slow Him Down?

Endorsements, movie deals, tour dates, fashion line, new album in limbo while rapper awaits trial.

There is never a good time to be jailed on felony charges of illegally trying to obtain machine guns. But for T.I., his arrest on Saturday and subsequent jailing without bond on firearms charges came at a time when the King of the South was about to enter a crucial period in his transition from hip-hop kingpin to mainstream media mogul.

For starters, while his castmates were preparing to attend the premiere of “American Gangster” on Friday (October 19), T.I. (born Clifford Harris) was in an Atlanta courtroom, waiting to hear if a judge would allow him to be released on bond while he awaits trial on the gun charges. The judge has declined to rule on the $2.2 million bond, which means T.I. will rremain in jail at least until October 26.

Following on the heels of his well-received turn as Rashad in 2006′s coming-of-age film “ATL,” the “Gangster” gig has the promise of being a breakout role for the rapper, who co-stars alongside such Oscar-winning giants as Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in the story of one of Harlem’s most notorious drug lords.

At press time, it was unknown how the charges and jailing would impact his next starring role, opposite Danny Glover in the road-trip move “Once Was Lost,” which T.I. told MTV News was slated to begin shooting before the end of the year, possibly as early as this month. His Grand Hustle Films was also in the midst of nailing down a script for yet another starring role for T.I. in the car-salesman comedy “For Sale,” which was to begin production in early 2008. A spokesperson for Grand Hustle declined to comment. The rapper had also tested for the part of the Green Lantern in the upcoming “Justice League” movie.

T.I.’s musical career is also likely to be impacted, beginning with his expected absence from the Powerhouse Concert in Philadelphia on Friday night. He was scheduled to appear at the event alongside Kanye West, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Eve, Cassidy, Soulja Boy, Swizz Beatz and Akon. He also has a concert scheduled for Saturday in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and dates the next weekend at Winston-Salem State University, coinciding with BET’s Black College Tour 2007, and in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on a bill that also includes Young Jeezy and Fabolous, according to the Grand Hustle Web site. A BET spokesperson said that if T.I. was scheduled to play a show in Birmingham next weekend, it was unrelated to their event.

ABC 11 in Raleigh-Durham reported that T.I.’s name was taken off the marquee at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville recently, indicating that officials at Fayetteville State do not expect him to play their homecoming show Saturday. The Fayetteville Observer reported Thursday (October 18) that Young Jeezy has been tapped to replace T.I. at the event, which also features Lil Wayne, Lil Boosie and Gorilla Zoe. The Grand Hustle site also listed a November 2 tribute to T.I.’s slain personal assistant, Philant Johnson , on the rapper’s upcoming schedule. T.I. was also beginning work on tracks for the yet-unscheduled follow-up to this year’s T.I. vs. T.I.P. album.

On top of the music and movie gigs that could be in limbo, T.I.’s clothing line, AKOO, is slated to launch in early 2008, and it was not known at press time if his legal problems would delay the debut of the line. It was also unclear at press time how the rapper’s legal troubles would impact his endorsements, such as a contract with Chevrolet. A spokesman for the carmaker, Brian Goebel, said that the deal is currently “under review.”

Assuming he doesn’t end up in jail for a long stretch, T.I.’s latest brush with the law may not have any effect on his budding acting career, according to Entertainment Weekly writer Simon Vozick-Levinson. “It’s important to remember that the high-profile roles he’s gotten, in ‘ATL’ and ‘Gangster,’ were when he was already a convicted felon who’d been in prison twice, so it’s not something new,” said Vozick-Levinson. “I don’t think anyone casting him or going to see him is expecting a squeaky-clean performer, so it won’t turn them off.”

If anything, despite only being in a few scenes, his performance in “Gangster” will probably bring more work, Vozick-Levinson said. Playing the shy teenage nephew of Washington’s character, T.I. commands the screen in his handful of scenes and is a “very natural actor,” Vozick-Levinson said. Filmmakers are likely to pick up on that and if he does avoid jail, that talent and charisma should lead to more roles. “Everything hinges on what happens in that case,” he said. “But if you look at the parallels with someone like Tupac Shakur — who, in the months before he died, had an acting career that was flourishing despite being in and out of court — once this case is resolved, assuming [T.I.]‘s not imprisoned, I don’t think it will have an adverse effect on him.”

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[This story was originally published at 6:43 p.m. ET on 10.18.2007]

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.