The King is back, but just because he's learned a lesson doesn't mean he's abdicating the throne. Storm the castle, and he might just have to defend himself.
The last time T.I. got down with Complex—in September 2007—he was wrapping up one hell of a two-year run, with platinum plaques for his previous two albums and an acting career on the upswing. Barely a month later, he would find himself facing a 30-year bid for federal weapon charges. Sure, he used his pre-trial house arrest to record his most personal and successful album ever (Paper Trail). And yeah, he managed a nifty plea deal that landed him a mere 10 months in jail. But he was still off the streets for almost a year. So while his agenda is full—his highly anticipated comeback, King Uncaged, drops in August—He needs to be a different man. He's taken his tale of reform on the road since his release, and his narrative is unwavering: no he won't be getting into trouble again. Yes, those days are behind him. It's a kinder, gentler Tip. Of course, a few days later, he releases the mixtape Fuck A Mixtape, where he repeatedly mentions that he doesn't have guns anymore...but he'll still stab the shit out of someone. Being a different man has its limits.On Paper Trail, you wrote your rhymes on paper for the first time since your debut. How about for King Uncaged?
You don't seem like a "raps in your BlackBerry" type.
How has having such big pop smashes on your last album influenced your musical direction on this album?
The last time you were on our cover, you mentioned retirement. Three years later, on "I'm Back," you mention retiring again.
But you see artists like Jay-Z making great albums at 40.
Eminem is still making great music at 37. He's pushing the boundaries when most people have fallen off.
As you get older, have your musical tastes changed?
You've mentioned being a big fan of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, even comparing it to Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear. Why did you make the comparison?
808s & HeartbreakThe Love Below
What were your favorite tracks on 808s?
B.o.B. just scored the first number-one album for a Grand Hustle artist who wasn't you. How different was it working with him as opposed to other artists on your label?
Was it important to you that he have those kinds of records for credibility since he has such big pop smashes?
Was it a conscious decision from Grand Hustle to take him in that direction?
Are you a fan of any of the other new artists in the rap game, like Kid Cudi or Wiz Khalifa?
You told Larry King you're a "retired gangster." Does that limit what you can rap about creatively?
On Fuck a Mixtape, you make several references to having knives now instead of guns— and to stabbing people.
At the end of "Yeah You Know," you said, "Prison ain't changed me, it made me worse." In what sense did you mean that?
Was there an album that helped you get through your incarceration?
Sons of AnarchyThe SopranosHungTrue BloodTrue Blood
In terms of making changes in your life to avoid getting into trouble again, did you cut down on going to clubs?
Is that an age thing or to stay out of trouble?
Are there certain moves you might avoid now? Like filming the video for "What's Up, What's Haapnin" in Bowen Homes at the time of the Shawty Lo beef?
Were you happy to see two of your good friends, Young Jeezy and DJ Drama, put aside their differences?
Speaking of reconciling, have you had an opportunity to listen to Gucci Mane's "My Worst Enemy," where he apologizes to you for making comments about Tiny?
Do you and Gucci have any kind of personal relationship at all?
Did it bother you when people—and Gucci himself—started saying he was the hottest rapper in Atlanta?
So whoever wants to say they're the hottest rapper in Atlanta, it doesn't matter to you.