T.I. can sum up his recent gun-possession arrest and subsequent guilty plea in one sentence. But the King of the South knows it's way more complicated than that.
"I was walking with guns and not walking with God," he said at his Atlanta estate last week.
Tip, who is awaiting sentencing later this year, still couldn't go into the specifics of his case, but he did trounce rumors that range from ridiculous (he was arming up for some type of pre-emptive strike) to more realistic (he had some heavy beef in the streets). The biggest question on everyone's mind is why did he need so many guns? And even if he was justified in getting the firearms, why would he go purchase them himself?
"If you are thinking with a rational mind, with priorities properly arranged, it makes no sense," Tip, in his usual calm drawl, said of the firearms deal that ended in his arrest. "But if your judgment has been altered by some tragic event, and something has you thinking on another level other than you should be thinking on, at that point those decisions become more jaded.
"What happened? All I can say is that I exercised poor judgment," he added. "There were some very poor decisions on my behalf. I let my concerns for my safety and my family's safety, and my concerns about what might happen and what could happen — I let that deter my judgment to a point where my priorities were in disarray. I'm now paying the consequences for it."
Earlier in the day, Tip spoke to kids at two separate events, giving them words of advice and encouragement. As part of his commitments to the courts, he has to complete more than 1,500 hours of community service. And that means going out and dropping jewels on the youth. That's something that T.I. has always participated in throughout his career, which made it easier for the courts to decide on his community service. Having experience in going out and talking to the kids made it easier for the courts to decide on his community service.
One major point he wanted to drive home with the young people is "Don't let temporary emotions cause you permanent problems." That's a lesson he had to learn after his arrest last year.
"That's how I can tell them with such sincerity," he explained. "I've experienced it. All that forward-thinking and transitioning from one area of life to another area of life — all that was flipped upside down and scrambled all the way up after Philant died in Cincinnati. Everything was, like, OK. I thought I had everything under control. Now, obviously, this new person I've become has caused my homeboy his life. It caused me to think differently in certain ways, and in hindsight, I can say I was sadly mistaken."
Philant Johnson was T.I.'s best friend. He died in early 2006, shortly after one of the rapper's shows. After an altercation at a club, gunmen pulled up alongside the vehicle carrying T.I., Johnson and others. The assailants shot several rounds at Tip's entourage. Philant was the only fatal casualty, although others were hurt. Tip was completely unharmed physically, but he was scared and riddled with guilt.
"I mean, when you've been through so much, it ain't a matter of being spooked," he said. "You're numb to a lot of things. It's a certain level of concern and questions. It just made me [say to myself], 'I'll never let that happen again. That'll never happen anymore. Not me. Not like that. I'll be ready.' "
"I take full responsibility for that," Tip said of his friend's passing. "When people leave here — we go on tour — people leave their families. They leave out their houses, they're coming with me. I'm responsible for everybody out there from the DJ to the hypeman to the driver. I'm responsible. If somebody don't make it home, that's on me. I felt I should have been shot. I felt like I should have been hurt. The fact I got out, [that there] wasn't nothing wrong with me ... Me and Philant were sitting close. It's not beyond the realm of possibilities for us to have had the same injuries. I place a great deal of the blame on myself. [Dealing with] this new situation is my way of getting over that situation."
As Tip forges on with his life as an artist and family man, he's coming to grips with his errors but refuses to put them completely behind him.
"I can't necessarily say I wish it never happened," he said. "Everything I've endured has made me stronger, it has made me smarter. I think I'm a man better because of it. Of course, I do have some reluctance to say I appreciate all of those experiences, but I have found ways to turn negatives into positives.
"Now, in hindsight, [it was] absolutely the wrong decision," he said of the events leading up to his most recent arrest. "I made a horrible mistake. At the same time, I'm not gonna let that mistake define me. That mistake ain't gonna dictate my future. ... I'mma move past that. My future is way brighter than my past."