ATLANTA — T.I. 's 2007 arrest for attempting to buy illegal firearms led many observers to believe the rapper's career was finished and he'd be spending a long stretch in prison. The rapper had previously done jail stints for drug-related offenses.
So how did an exemplary student, as [artist id="1225081"]Tip[/artist] said he was, turn to a fast life of crime?
"I think for me, it was independence. It was about independence. It was about being a provider. It was me and my mom at that point, and from what I saw of my uncles and what I saw of my pops, they were providers," T.I. told MTV News on Saturday during his interview that will air Tuesday night (March 31) on MTV's "Road to Redemption: The Reckoning." "They provided for their family and other people's families. They were the ones that other people came to when they didn't know what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. Where there was no way, my uncles and my pops made a way, and that's what I saw."
For Tip, he said those figures became his examples. By the time he hit his teens, he moved to place himself in that provider position. He'd receive final-notice bills from his mother, and he said it was then his responsibility to make sure their lives remained steady. So he turned to selling crack.
The rapper said he masked his illegal activity with a more modest, innocent front: selling candy.
"My mom never knew how I was getting it done, she just knew I was getting it done," Tip recalled. "I had a few fronts too, man. I used to sell candy. I used to go to the warehouse and buy a bunch of candy, get a book bag full of candy, and off it. I pretended to my mom for a long time that that's how I was getting the money."
All was well, according to Tip — until his mother found "a quarter ounce of crack in my sock." Then, as T.I. put it, "She kind of put two and two together."
Now, Tip said, he recognizes there's a lot more legal money to be made than any funds from illegal activities.
Tip cited a theory of his that if you track two 15-year-old kids for 10 years, one who starts out working at a fast-food restaurant and one that begins selling drugs on the street, eventually the restaurant worker — while getting an education — will out-earn the drug dealer. T.I. said if you factor in arrests, jail time and possible death, there's no question that the drug dealer will lose the battle, even if he starts off making more money.
"You got to realize that this is a marathon," he said. "It ain't about who get it first, it about who has it last. I ain't never seen nobody retire from selling crack. Never."
He paused for a second, laughed, then finished: "I've never seen no 401K from no cocaine dealing."
Don't miss "T.I.'s Road to Redemption: The Reckoning," airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.