Before The Album
Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. a.k.a. T.I. a.k.a. Tip a.k.a. The Rubber Band Man a.k.a. The King of the South (Performer, executive producer, producer)
Jason Geter (CEO of Grand Hustle, T.I.'s manager, executive producer)
Aldrin Davis a.k.a. DJ Toomp (Executive producer, producer)
Sanchez Holmes (Producer)
Bernard Freeman a.k.a. Bun B (Featured performer, underground king, Trill OG)
Phalon Anton Alexander a.k.a. Jazze Pha (Featured performer, producer)
Nick "Fury" Loftin (Producer)
Lavell William Crump a.k.a. David Banner (Producer)
Tyree Cinque Simmons a.k.a. DJ Drama a.k.a. Mr. Thanksgiving (DJ)
T.I.: “Our main intention with this album was to make sure we represented the walks of life, the generation, the region, the circle, the society. After I’m Serious, we had to go our own way because we felt like we were signed to a label that did not understand our approach to music or our lifestyle.
“I was making decent money at the time, I might have gotten myself like $10K a show. But I was a hometown [hero], not a national level, I was an underground [rapper]. I guess I was more of an acquired taste. In Atlanta at that time, there wasn’t a T.I. or a Young Jeezy or a Rich Homie Quan or a 2 Chainz or a Future, none of that.
“So this is what we had to do in order to maintain creative control, as well as maintain a certain work ethic, and make sure we always put ourselves in the place to be upstanding men of integrity, no matter what. Using our experience to inform cats of our lifestyle, but not trying to glorify it so much. Glorify it just enough so people could feel like they relate to you.
I felt like it was my time to carry the torch. Take this to a different level and represent the people in the streets who weren't being represented. There are cats out here that, though they respect [artists like OutKast and Goodie Mob], they don’t relate as much to that as they do to this. -T.I.
“I felt like I had a responsibility to step out and show cats from the Northeast that there’s other people down here, other lifestyles, other stories besides Organized Noize and So So Def. They [looked down on Southern hip-hop] and they still do. But Atlanta had lyrics, man. We had OutKast, Goodie Mob, So So Def. They contributed, they worked wonders for the city. None of us would be able to step out here and do what we was doing if it weren’t for them. However, shit, man they had their chance. I felt like it was my time to carry the torch. Take this to a different level and represent the people in the streets who weren’t being represented. There are cats out here that, though they respect [those artists], they don’t relate as much to that as they do to this. I felt like we were being underserved.
“The sole purpose and intention of this album was to make sure that people coming from all walks of life would probably be motivated by being able to relate to someone. It was trying to come across so that you’d say, 'They made a change, they overcame it. So if they could do it, then you could do it.'
“I wanted to put the lifestyle out there and show kids in my neighborhood, in Compton, or in Southside of Chicago, down in Miami, or up in Brooklyn, or wherever you were staying, that if you live that lifestyle, then you could get what I’m saying, and it’s authentic to you. It was social representation. Cats living in the field were like, 'This is what I stand on, Trap Muzik.’”
DJ Toomp: “I met T.I. through his cousin Toot. Toot always used to tell me, ‘Man, I got this little cousin that you need to listen to. Only thing is that I’ve been keeping him out of trouble. He gets in trouble a lot. But he’s so talented man.’ When I heard the music, I was blown away. We hit the studio immediately. Everything just fell in place.
This is when the club scene was really strong in Bankhead, so I said, ‘I know he’s really talented, let me see how he interacts with women.’ We hit the club, Tip was pulling more females than us. He really wasn't even old enough to get in! -DJ Toomp
“What really got me with him was that his rap style wasn’t the basic A-B-C, 1-2-3 rap. He had an East Coast flow with a Southern country boy accent, that’s what made him unique. He stood out from any artist that I’ve worked with from Atlanta. I knew he was the one. I started putting my time into him.
“This is when the club scene was really strong in Bankhead, so I said, ‘I know he’s really talented, let me see how he interacts with women.’ We hit the club, Tip was pulling more females than us. He really wasn’t even old enough to get in! So I was like, ‘We got a little player on our team.’ With the music he was making and the way he interacted with the people, I was like, ‘We got a star.’
“Jason Geter wanted to get into management. Me and him were good friends before I met Tip. I was like, ‘Yo, if you want to get into management, I got your first client right here.’”
Jason Geter: “I’ve been managing Tip since day one of his career. I met with Tip in a barbershop around 1999. We were talking for probably an hour or two before I finally said, ‘OK, where’s the rapper at?’
“You gotta think, this is in Atlanta in the late ’90s. At the time, every rapper in Atlanta had the same look: Gold teeth, tattoos, dreadlocks, all kind of stuff. Everyone followed the OutKast and Goodie Mob blueprint. Whereas he didn’t have any of that, so I didn’t even think he was the rapper that I was coming to meet.
“He had a clean look, still does. No tattoos, none of that extra stuff. Just a Polo shirt, jean shorts, Air Max sneakers—that was his look. To me there was definitely an appeal. I said, 'He’s a fly young kid, but he was smart and could actually hold a conversation. But he still has the ability to rhyme and girls like him.' For me, it was a no-brainer.”
DJ Toomp: “After putting the demo together, next thing you know it got into the hands of Kawan 'KP' Prather at Arista/LaFace/Ghetto Vision, that’s how you get I’m Serious.”
Jason Geter: “I’m Serious was very interesting. He initially signed to Arista in ‘99, that was when L.A. Reid started running it. L.A. had TLC, OutKast, and Pink on Arista. All of these major artists were priorities to him, so when we put I’m Serious out, it just wasn’t on their radar.
“We started working it all ourselves. We were doing shows every week in the Southeast and Midwest regions, selling T-shirts and CDs on the road. It was like going to the label and saying, 'Hey, you guys are saying that it’s not a success, but this is what we have going. You should just support us.’
He initially signed to Arista in ‘99, that was when L.A. Reid started running it. L.A. had TLC, OutKast, and Pink on Arista. All of these major artists were priorities to him, so when we put I’m Serious out, it just wasn't on their radar. -Jason Geter
“We asked L.A. to shoot another video. He didn’t wanna shoot another video. His whole thing was, 'This album is over with, it wasn’t successful first week of sales, you guys should go back and make another album.’ We’re like, 'What are you talking about?' People love the album in the South. Go back and make another album? How do we know that the same thing won’t happen again?
“We went on strike and started doing our own thing. We ended up shooting a video for ‘Dope Boyz’ ourselves without communicating with the label. Meanwhile KP, who signed Tip, he had started working at Columbia Records. So we were on our own for real. Eventually it came to that time of, 'Can we get a release from the label? You guys aren’t supporting us, we’re not on the same page.’”
DJ Toomp: “I’m Serious was a great album, but at the same time we were still trying to figure out what the people really want. ‘Dope Boyz’ ended up being that song that was feeding everybody. We started getting more shows, shows went from $5,000 to $7,000 to $10,000, just off of that song.
“That’s when we realized, people like the street shit. So we started doing more street music. He started rapping about the trap more. When I first met him, that’s what he was talking about. But we weren’t sure if the world was ready for that. We saw how people were crazy about ‘Dope Boyz’—and LaFace wasn’t even promoting that song—that’s why we put out the In Da Streetsmixtape.”
We used to be running up on bootleggers, taking our CDs back—that’s how people knew us in Atlanta. We would run up on bootleggers and bootleggers started pulling guns out. -Jason Geter
Sanchez Holmes: “Tip’s wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris is like my sister. So I’ve been working since like back in her Xscape days. I’d stay there at the house with her. We built a studio in the basement of her house and I was always there working. [This is when Tip and Tiny first started dating so] he would come over to the house. He came downstairs one day and was like, ‘What you doing down here?’ I start playing shit and he started rapping on them. He rapped on like four or five joints that same night. That stuff ended up on In Da Streets.”
Jason Geter: “We were selling physical [copies of In Da Streets] to mom and pop stores when you could still made money on mixtapes. Every week we’d be doing deliveries and shipping them off. It was very successful for independent retailers during that time.
“We used to be running up on bootleggers, taking our CDs back—that’s how people knew us in Atlanta. We would run up on bootleggers and bootleggers started pulling guns out. We’re like, ‘Oh shit, now it’s getting kind of far.’ But they started knowing like, 'Them dudes gone come up on you and grab their shit.’ At first, it was like, 'Hey, you’re taking money from us'. Then when your success starts to grow you say, 'I can’t fight this anymore. This is a full-time job trying to fight.'
“We started getting our funds together doing all of the work on our own. Now you gotta remember this is when Master P and all those dudes was on fire. So it was like, 'Let’s start our own company called Grand Hustle, do our own album, do our own label, and put out our own music.'”