By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music
After a career punctuated with criminal charges, T.I. is not one to pontificate that prison time only adds to an artist's street credibility.
Rapper T.I. performs during the BET Hip Hop Awards Oct. 1 in Atlanta. (©David Goldman/AP)
On Sept. 29, the rapper left a halfway house in Atlanta after spending close to a year in federal prison for a violation of probation. Although the Grammy Award-winning Atlanta native and co-CEO of Grand Hustle Records has served previous terms, he vows this will be his last time behind bars.
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With seven studio albums under his belt, a budding acting career and now a new fiction novel, titled "Power & Beauty," Clifford "Tip" Harris reports he's a changed man. As he reintroduces himself to the world of entertainment, he elaborates on how everything in life has a Part 2 -- even his new novel.
MSN Music: You did us wrong making "Power & Beauty" end with a cliffhanger!
T.I.: [laughs] Now let me ask you something: Would you rather it end knowing you have a second novel coming, or would you rather it end wondering if you're going to get a second novel?
You're absolutely right. There was kind of a "Slumdog Millionaire" aspect to the novel, with star-crossed lovers and all of that.
You know what? I never looked at it like that! That's what's up. I appreciate that. My intention was to fill the void left by [Sister Souljah's] "The Coldest Winter Ever." That story was never continued. It left a hole. At the time, a person like me ... I never read anything, really. I read for information or research purposes, but as far as reading for entertainment or reading as a pastime, I didn't do it.
When I finally read "The Coldest Winter Ever" -- a book I had heard about so many different times -- when I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. It appealed to my entertainment and it also got to the side of my intellect. Me, a person who felt like street lit or urban novels, there's not a lot that I could get from that. I lived that life; I have a full understanding of what that is -- it ends one of two ways: dead or in jail. There's not a lot that I could get out of that. But a book that has elements of intrigue and intellect, there hasn't really been one since "The Coldest Winter Ever." I wanted to at least trying to get that done.
Have you sent Sister Souljah a copy of your book?
No, you know what? I never thought of that. Now that you put that on my mind, it's something that I will do.
When you came back from prison, people expected a tell-all book from you, not a fiction novel.
Yeah, I did that on purpose. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Andre 3000 [of OutKast] when I first got in the game. He said, "Man, never let them see you coming. Always throw them off." I felt that people expected me to do a biography or a memoirs book or book about being locked up. I felt like that was totally not where I needed to go. I felt the shock value that came along with a fiction novel developing the characters and the actual story line that was completely fictional. I felt that would be a lot more intriguing to them and for me as well.
You started the book before prison, but did you find a silver lining in being away through finishing the novel?
Nope, nuh-uh, I'm not gonna say that. The silver lining was the knowledge and understanding and the growth that I acquired from the lesson that was taught by my absence and the matters that surrounded the cause of my absence.
How much of the book was actually done while you were away?
About 50 to 60 percent.
In your transition from musician to author, how does your process differ from writing an album to writing a book?
To be honest with you, it was a lot easier for me to make that transition being that I had a collaborator who was a critically acclaimed biographer [David Ritz]. Although he had never done fiction before, my contribution was the knowledge and understanding of the world and generation that we were targeting. His literary experience is far beyond mine.
All I had to do was give my input, offer my opinions and offer my criticisms if it was true to the life we were representing. I can't say I sat at a typewriter, but I wrote and did more than people would expect me to, but it's not the same if I would have sat and wrote it myself.
Make no mistake, from the beginning when the idea was formed to birth this book to the absolute end of this book, I was completely involved, offering my input. We were challenging each other's ideas and picking each other's brains, just topping each other's ideas one right after the other. When it's rap, it's me. It's all me. You put me onstage with that mic, that's me. You put me in the booth and hit record, that's me. With the book, I was relying a lot on [Ritz] as he was relying on me. It's far different when you set me loose to record an album.
Your presence is felt throughout the book, especially where some of the characters are wearing your clothing line AKOO.
[Laughs] To keep it 100, that was David's idea.
Now you're in the process of working on a new album and also writing Part 2 of this book. How do you divide your energy?
It's going to be more difficult right now, given how my time will be slightly more divided than it was when I was doing the last share of the work for "Power & Beauty." It's going to be a challenge, but it will be done.
It seems like ever since you came home you've been like a hurricane. You released a bunch of songs within the week you came home and a book dropped.
Yeah, I'm trying to make up for lost time and stay there.
It must be such an inspiration to kids that even if they end up in jail at some point, they can come out an author, actor, musician.
Absolutely. Your ambition can take you anywhere, wherever your work ethic will allow it to go.
Do you see your book becoming a movie?
I mean, I'm definitely down to make it a movie. I'm not gonna force that on anybody. It depends on the demand for the book to becoming a movie. I'm gonna let it speak for itself.
How far will you take "Power & Beauty"?
At least to Part 3. I don't know what's going to happen after that.
Will you be doing any film roles soon?
I'm looking for the right film and the right role. I've been reading scripts, and I've been made offers, but I'm waiting to find that one project that speaks to me and demands my attention.
Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.
Youtube these guys.. Google these guys.. See the world for what it is and not for what you or "they" want it to be..
Just to get things straight "The Coldest Winter Ever" was not the end of that series of books. She did two more which were outstanding. It will be interesting to see how this book reads. I will try anything or anyone once. :~) Other two comments, give him a break everyone makes mistakes and misdeeds, oh I'm sorry you two must be perfect.
This guy is not that talented.. Not saying his music or lyrics suck but hey.. Way more talented artists out there than him..
And please don't give me that businessman argument. He, like so many of today's money, fame and materiel possession driven entertainers are OWNED!!!
Secret society soul sellers indeed!!!