Father, astute businessman, fashion icon, King of the South, future Hollywood A-Lister, and hip-hop standard bearer. With all these titles, no wonder Atlanta, GA native Clifford Harris needs two monikers to tell his whole story. And with the release of the year’s most anticipated rap album, T.I. vs. TIP, we get both sides of one of contemporary music’s most compelling characters.
“It’s really a conceptual LP,” T.I. explains. “Some would say I have a dual personality: calm, cool, collected one minute, and ready to take somebody who violates’ head off the next. I’m just taking the time out to illustrate both my personas. T.I. is definitely more laid back, more on the business side; he’s a more suave cat. He came out on songs like ‘Let’s Get Away,’ ‘Why You Wanna,’ and ‘Get Loose.’ Tip, that’s a cat that’s somewhat of a loose cannon. He’s been reflected on records like ‘U Don’t Know Me,’ ‘Bring Em Out,’ ‘Rubber Band Man,’ even ‘Soldier’ with Destiny’s Child.”
In reality, for those who really know him, T.I. has been called Tip way longer than he has by the stage name the world is familiar with. Tip is the name he’s had since he was a child. It wasn’t until later in life, when he signed his first record deal with Arista Records, that he had to drop the ‘P’ and switch to T.I. – because the label was also home to the more established MC at the time, Q-Tip, from the legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest.
Since his 2001 debut LP, I’m Serious, T.I. has become one of the rare hip-hop artists who can not only say that his fan base and his record sales have increased with each new release, but that the critical accolades have continued to flow as well. His hard work and consistency was finally recognized earlier this year with the most high-profile nods of praise in his career so far – a pair of Grammy Awards.
In 2006, T.I. – who was given the nickname King of the South by fans and his peers years ago – graduated to the next level of royalty, King of Rap. His fourth Grand Hustle/Atlantic album in five years, King, was by far the top-selling hip-hop album of the year and if you had an ear to the streets, undoubtedly the most-played. At the same time, Tip proved to be just as potent a guest star, with cameos that dominated radio and music video outlets, including his appearance on Justin Timberlake’s Grammy-winning “My Love.”
If you ask the thought-provoking MC if he’s satisfied with his success, he’ll tell you it’s not enough. Yes, he is grateful for all the support, but he still feels he has way more to offer and is far from being content. T.I. vs. TIP is his most eclectic project to date and finds the rap icon at the apex of lyrical skill. The album is broken into three parts. Songs by Tip open up the opus, then records by T.I. take center stage. Towards the end, the listener has a front row seat to one of the great epic sparring matches ever, as both T.I. and Tip are featured together. Along the way, both T.I. and TIP enlist such friends as Eminem, Jay-Z, Andre 3000, Justin Timberlake, Timberland, Ciara, and Wyclef as tag team partners.
The first single, “Big Things Poppin,” is a Mannie Fresh production – a brash anthem that trumpets Tip’s triumphs and puts everything inconsequential to rest.
“Big sh-poppin and little sh-stopping,” Tip declares, bringing a level of energy paramount to his and Fresh’s previous hit collabos like “Top Back.” “Do it like a ball player when you see me ballin…,” he adds on the song. “…Pullin’ out that pistol nigga, who you think you finnin to scare, 20 rounds of missiles will have you pissin’ in your underwear.”
“Basically, I’m just telling people that everything I do or I say I’m going to do, I back up. There are a lot of individuals out there who can’t say the same. Also, after all the success I have attained for myself, there are still some people out there who want to doubt me, which is cool, but I love to shut them up.”
Almost a definite second single is “U Know What It Is,” which has Tip teaming up with the tenured, versatile maestro, Wyclef Jean. Rich with Jean’s Caribbean bravado and Tip’s trap-instilled poise, the track infuses Down South bounce with a worldly look that will undoubtedly shake the clubs to their foundations this summer.
Meanwhile, “Swagger,” another Wyclef production, gives a lesson on what separates T.I. from everyone else, his mojo so to speak. “You couldn’t duplicate this if I told you how to,” he raps.
Khao, who came up with the track for “Why You Wanna,” from King, helms the beat on “Life of the Party,” where T.I. reflects on his rowdier days and tells of his modern-day tribulations of shaking off haters and ducking riff raff just to enjoy himself when he goes out.
Other producers contributing to the project include Danja, Street Runner, and even Tip himself. “I’ve done a few tracks for my previous albums that some people may or may not have noticed, but I have a team and we do some things,” he said modestly. “I’m really trying to get my hands into all aspects of entertainment, not just rapping. I can multi-task.”
Last year, multi-tasking became a must for Tip. As he continued to keep a controlling stake in the music business, he also made his critically acclaimed Hollywood acting debut in the coming of age dramedy “ATL.” T.I. starred as Rashad, one of four childhood friends who escapes the pressures of being a man of the house, of his senior year in high school, and of finding his way in life by going to the roller rink every weekend with his friends. As audiences discovered, roller-skating was just a small part of the film, as themes of responsibility, love, and loyalty were brought to the forefront.
Tip’s turn at acting was so well received, he became one of the most admired young stars in Hollywood and for his follow-up role, he was chosen to appear alongside Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington. The two will be featured as uncle and nephew in the upcoming “American Gangster,” slated to hit theaters in November.
Besides being an artist in the recording studio and on the silver screen, T.I. has several businesses off the ground, including his record label Grand Hustle – home to such artists as the Mixtape King, DJ Drama, Big Kuntry, and the platinum-certified Yung Dro – and his clothing line created with his manager Jason Jeter, AKOO (A King of Oneself).
“I’m not stopping,” Tip states. “Yes, I’ve come very far from where I was on my first album, but I consider this just a small measure of success. I’m always going to continue to strive to be the best.”
And whether he goes by T.I. or Tip, he already has quite a story to tell.