While T.I. sits in jail on federal gun charges, waiting to see if he gets bail, several of his peers are holding him down, filling in for him at shows and shouting out to him in songs.
"King of the South, what it do?" former Death Row MC Crooked I yelled out on a freestyle he released on the Net last week. On Tuesday morning (October 23), David Banner also released a record online called "B.A.N. (The Love Song)," a.k.a. "Free T.I.P." On the song, the always-outspoken Mississippi native calls out people he's deemed snitches — namely T.I.'s bodyguard, who cooperated in the federal sting resulting in T.I.'s arrest — and the friends of Michael Vick who testified against the troubled Pro Bowl NFL quarterback who admitted to bankrolling a dogfighting operation.
"For the most part on the song, I'm saying we gotta take responsibility in our own community," Banner said. "Some of our people are messing up, but it ain't for America to tear them down. People got on me for supporting Mike Vick, but if America don't support him, don't mean I gotta turn my back on him."
In the song, Banner warns: "You ain't have to run to the feds, we don't do it like that. ... But I got a remedy for these snitches at the crib, you can never come home, I know where you live."
"Tip was feeding this man's family," Banner said of the bodyguard. "We don't do it like that, dog. We don't talk to them boys. However it went down, we sit down [and do the jail time,] where I'm from. Dude, you don't tell it. You hope the people you holding down is man enough to hold your people down. [The bodyguard] wasn't a convicted felon, my dude. He could have held [Tip] down. We gotta start making the environment in our neighborhoods not conducive to snitching. How I'm doing this song, I'mma make it uncomfortable for snitches."
Banner admitted that he does not know the specifics of the case but supports his friend regardless.
The MC recalled being at the taping of the BET Hip Hop Awards on October 14 in Atlanta when the news of T.I.'s arrest broke, but he said he refused to believe it was true. It didn't set in until a day later. He's had an idea for the "B.A.N." song in his head for a while, he said, but T.I.'s arrest was his breaking point. Although he mentions Tip in the song, he said he was also inspired by the recent arrests of Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg.
Like Banner, Common admitted to MTV News that he doesn't know all the facts in T.I.'s case but is standing behind him all the same. "T.I.'s a ... good-hearted dude, [a] good person. ... I respect him and got love for him," he said. Wyclef Jean took his praise even further last week, calling T.I. a "prophet" and comparing him to Malcolm X.
Over the weekend, 50 Cent and Young Jeezy supported T.I. by performing at shows he had been scheduled to headline. On Saturday, Jeezy was the King of the South's fill-in at a Fayetteville State University concert, and 50 took T.I.'s place as the main attraction at the Powerhouse concert in Philadelphia.
"I hope he can make the best out of that situation," 50 told MTV News on Sunday on the set of his video for "I'll Still Kill."
"If he gets 10 years, that ain't bad," 50 added, assessing T.I.'s charges and the evidence the feds have claimed to have against him. "If the security person is already telling, it's obvious that's their witness. They got tapes, they got all this. ... [If it was me,] I would have to tell the people I did it and sit down for a minute. Nobody wants to hear that you have to stay 10 years nowhere. It's not a good thing, period. It's unfortunate, but he got himself in that space. ... I don't know the real facts. Maybe he didn't do it; let's keep our fingers crossed."
Akon offered his own analysis: "It's obvious he was set up," he said. "But sometimes when you're in a position of that stature and you're that big ... you just don't allow that energy around you. You have to have people around you to let you know or avoid that energy. Even if he was a [gun] collector, naturally, you get a license to collect. That's just common sense. ... At that stage where he's at, he don't need to protect himself. You hire legitimate law enforcement, or you hire people who are licensed to carry [guns]. Surround them around you and you'll be safe.
"You get to a certain point where they say, 'You can take the kid out the ghetto, but you can never take the ghetto out the kid,' " Akon continued. "T.I. was experiencing that for a minute."
The sentiment that seems to be resonating around the hip-hop community is that in the wake of T.I.'s arrest, whether you are doing anything illegal or not, you should always be aware that the police might have you under investigation.
"For the most part we are victims," Banner said. "But I will say we have to start making better decisions because of the position we're in. We know the spotlight is on us; we know they looking to us to f--- up. We have to make better decisions and be cognizant of the facts."
RZA, who was under investigation with the Wu-Tang Clan over a decade ago in a gunrunning scandal, had a similar theory. "He's a good man and his situation, it could happen to any of us," he said. "I'll say this: They have a hip-hop task force out there. They looking [to lock us up] for whatever we do. We gotta be extra, extra clean and we got to watch what we say. Anything we say can and will be used against [us]. We got to get more conscious on how we moving because you got people out there. ... The black community has moved up to being creative and making money, and that means that these cops need jobs and their job is to come and follow us and watch us.
"We got to be impeccably clean," RZA added. "I'm a nerd right now. Straight up and down, I'm a nerd right now. I don't play nothing, nothing 'cause all eyes are on us."
"We're all grown men," Akon said. "We're maturing. We got families; we have to take care of them. The streets should be the last of your priorities when you got so many people looking up under you. T.I. is a great friend of mine. I would think he's more intelligent than that. Actually he is more intelligent than that. I just think he was caught in position in his career where things are moving so fast, you overlook the obvious. With him, when you're accustomed to getting your way for so long, you don't look at the negatives of what you may consider to be a positive situation. They literally have a hip-hop police section — enforcement specifically to monitor hip-hop and anything that's making money urban.
"They're gonna try to railroad him," he opined. "I'm hoping he has a great legal team. If not, I'll refer one to him."