It’s comeback season for Clifford! The rapper/actor is set to drop his new album “Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head” next month and in preparation he’s making his rounds with the media.
In an interview with Billboard Magazine, T.I. talks about doing his time, making a comeback and his plans for the future:
You’re turning in the album tomorrow. How does it feel?
[laughs] It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be at this stage in my career and continue to have, I guess, enough relevance to have an anticipated project. I’m real proud of it — I just hope everybody else will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.
Originally, you were looking at an early fourth-quarter, late third-quarter release. Now, here we are moving into December. Why the date shift?
It wasn’t ready. I knew that this was a moment for me, and I had to dedicate the necessary time, attention and energy to ensuring that it would be of the classic proportion that I feel the fans deserve. I could have settled. I could have put an album out in September, but I still was on probation, which would have limited the amount of travel that I could do. So that was another factor that was extremely important. And all the songs that I’ve done since then, they take it over the top.
You mentioned the significance of this album for your career. Can you talk a bit about that?
It goes without saying that it’s hard to attain a certain level of success. And it’s hard to maintain this level of success and even more difficult when one is separated from your environment, especially if you’re separated from the environment due to negative reasons. So coming back, most people aren’t able to. And if you try to come back and you don’t make it, it’s probably lights out. To half-a$$ and take it lightly could end up catastrophic.
There are those who say that when rappers go to jail it makes them hot. What’s your take on that?
I tell you what: If it did, I’d give it back in a second for the time that I lost. I can say that it has made me more famous, and people probably know my situation more than they know my music. However, it also interrupted a lot of very lucrative and noteworthy opportunities. In my case, I lost as much as I gained, probably.
You lost a lot of corporate sponsorships along the way. How are you finding those conversations today, now that you’ve been out for a year?
A lot of people are open to it. Everyone knows that America has a short-term memory and they’re very forgetful and forgiving. I mean, I haven’t even went out and checked. Don’t get me wrong. When it’s time to sponsor events for us, we don’t have a shortage of takers. A lot of people want to be associated with our brand to create awareness of their brand, and they recognize our relevance and our influence on the marketplace.
Now as far as people calling to make me the face of their brand, there has been nothing that I have taken seriously as of yet. People have inquired about building brands around my face and about building brand-new brands from scratch more so than associating me to an existing brand, with the exception of the Atlanta Hawks. We’ve had this very, very positive working relationship with the Atlanta Hawks for quite some time, and just recently they called me to broadcast two quarters of the Hawks game when they played the Miami Heat for Fox Sports South, and I had fun. They would like to further the relationship and see how we could do more together.
There’s obviously a good track record for music and NBA partnerships.
You know what? Right now, I’m so focused on “Trouble Man,” I’m not even really looking past Dec. 18. For this to be the absolute best body of work it could be, I had to turn stuff down. I had to have tunnel vision. Of course, I broke away for a month or two and I went and I did a movie. And I did a season of “Boss.” But when I was doing that, when my attention was divided, the music wasn’t working. So it required me to totally shut everything else off and dedicate myself 100% just in building this album. And that’s the mind-set that I’m in: how to create the most awareness and anticipation for this album to be a classic.
Do you have your eye on a big spring tour?
Yeah, definitely. I just got to see what the most lucrative, reasonable opportunity is for me. I would like to focus more on my international presence. Due to my circumstances, a lot of people that know my music, know who I am and want to see me, but haven’t had the opportunity because I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to travel abroad. Now that I can, I would like to strengthen my international presence. I’ve never been to Africa. I’ve never been to China. Aside from seeing the world and living life, it’s leaving a lot of money on the table.
For an artist of my caliber, the global awareness of T.I. being a multiplatinum artist is probably the weakest of all the other multiplatinum artists simply because I haven’t gone. Usually when most people take time to go do a tour, I do a movie. When they do international dates, I do a movie. And that’s why I’m probably the strongest in film of the multiplatinum artists because I took the time to do movies rather than touring abroad. So it’s a balance. Just like Justin Timberlake, he took time off music completely to only focus on film, and that’s probably why he’s the most strongly recognized singer-slash-actor in the game today. You put time into things and cultivate these opportunities and the amount of effort and energy you put in is the amount of result you’ll see back from it-if you’re any good at least.
What is it about acting do you enjoy? Is it the process? The payday? The exposure?
To be honest, all of the above. Well, I can’t say the payday. I ain’t had a huge payday yet. But it’s a different level of respect associated with it and it surprises people. I enjoy shocking the isht out of folks. And at this level in my career, I can make an outstanding, phenomenal album, I can release an insanely successful and critically revered single, but people are going to say, “Ah, yeah, that’s T.I., he’s been doing that for years.” Now, if I happen to be in a critically acclaimed film nominated for a Golden Globe or an Academy Award, then people are surprised and shocked.
Through the years, you’ve mentioned different people being supportive of everything you’ve gone through, including Eminem. Who else has been there to help?
As you mentioned, of course, Em. He was extremely supportive and inspirational during that time. Busta Rhymes, Puffy, Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons, Nelly, David Banner, Charlie Mack, Will Smith. Will actually went as far as getting in touch with [attorney general] Eric Holder and the Obama administration trying to see if we could get some kind of release. He was very politely told that was not possible. [laughs]
It was the last time I was going back, and I was going to court for my probation violation. He was in deep discussions about it. And he’s been a huge contributor to the administration, and I mean not just in finances, I’m talking about time and other kinds of efforts, so it ain’t like his words were falling on deaf ears. But I understood. I didn’t even expect no help. I didn’t expect nobody to be able to help me. I knew I made my bed and I knew I had to lay in it.
Pure comedy. Can you imagine what Bill O’Reilly would have had to say if Obama had given T.I. a pardon?
We’re really feelin’ Tip’s latest single and are hoping the new album is all at that same level. Will you be picking up Trouble Man when it lands in stores?