Now, as “Ring” picks up momentum, T.I. is getting ready to drop the music video, which he says will play up the friendly rivalry he has with Thug about fashion. “Every look you see that we got together, just know we was going back and forth on who the fuck is going to out-dress who every time.”
The arrival of a new single suggests T.I. might be working on a new album to follow up 2018’s Dime Trap, but he has no clear plans when he’ll release it. He does, however, reveal that he has enough unreleased music to put out four new projects, and even hints at the possibility of a joint album with Thug that he calls Slime the Throne.
Music isn’t the only thing on T.I.’s plate at the moment, though. In August, CBS All Access announced its plans to develop a new series based on Derrick Parker and Matt Diehl’s true crime book, Notorious C.O.P.: The Inside Story of the Tupac, Biggie, and Jam Master Jay Investigations from NYPD’s First Hip-Hop Cop. T.I. will star in the show, while 50 Cent has signed on as an executive producer. The series is just beginning the first phase of production now, though, so in the meantime, T.I. is pushing 50 Cent to lock in a date for their much-talked-about Verzuz battle. “Grow a pair and pick a date, bruh,” he laughs. “I think it’s going to be one for the books.”
One thing is clear about T.I. right now: He has a lot to say about everything. Hopping on the phone with Complex, he dropped some knowledge about Kanye West’s war with the music industry, the upcoming presidential election, his new music plans, why he came to Megan Thee Stallion’s defense, a conversation he had with Tory Lanez, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How did your collaboration with Young Thug come together?
Man, it happened really organically. We were just in the studio going through beats and shit, just kicking shit. And then Thugger and I, we pulled up a beat, and we have kind of like a “who is the first one to come up with something” kind of thing. He beat me this time. He’ll go in there and do something, and by the time he finishes, I better have something. Then when I go in there, by the time I finish, he better have something. It’s a back-and-forth until we get to the end. We don’t look up and listen back until we’re all the way through with it. That’s the way we did it with “About The Money,” and that’s the way we did it with this one. Our whole intention has been to top “About The Money,” because for both of us, that record has been like a milestone. I don’t think either one of us have seen that kind of response from the public since then. Like a unanimous first-listen kind of “hell yeah" rally around the record. I hadn’t experienced that since “About The Money” and as he puts it, he hadn’t either. Our definite intention is to recreate that energy.
Why did now feel like a good time for you guys to collaborate again?
Thug and I work together all the time. We just don’t put the shit out. We’ve got tons of music together. I think this one just came with a different level of urgency. It didn’t allow us to hold on to it. The song, every time we play it, it’s like an, “Oh, shit, when is this coming out?” So for that reason, I felt compelled to go on ahead and let that motherfucker free, man. We decided in the last three weeks to put the record out. And then we happened to be in the studio just kicking shit again, and I was like, “Hey man, we need to shoot this video.” He’s like, “All right, cool. Let’s do it this week.” I pulled the video treatment together and we shot that motherfucker Wednesday. It’s real organic. It ain’t no real plans being made. It ain’t no deadlines. And I like it better that way because it feels less like work.
“[Young Thug] and I are going to sell tickets so folks can come in and watch us battle in fashion. We’re going to have a dress-off. We’re going to do 11 or 12 rounds.”
If you and Thug have a lot of unreleased music together, is there a possibility for a joint album?
Yeah, it’s a possibility. I can put one out today. You’re talking about Slime the Throne. It’s potential, but it ain’t nothing definitive. I feel like all we have to do is just say we’re going to do it and then we ain’t going to need but a week. With what we got and what we need to add to it, it wouldn’t take but a week. We’ll see. Let the fans decide.
What can we expect from the “Ring” music video?
All our intentions were to top the “About The Money” video. But I’ll tell you this, there is an ongoing dispute me and Slime got. He seems to think that he is the fashion aficionado of this duo, and I continue to remind him, I’ve been putting this shit on before he learned how to tie his shoes. It’s really a back-and-forth with the fashion shit. So every look you see that we got together, just know we were going back and forth on who the fuck is going to out-dress who every time. We’re flirting with the idea, once COVID subsides, to designate a venue and pick a date. We’re thinking State Farm Arena, Mercedes-Benz Dome, or something like that. And we’re going to sell tickets so folks can come in and watch us battle in fashion. We’re going to have a dress-off. We’re going to do 11 or 12 rounds. He’s going to get dressed, come out, they’re going to judge him. I’m going to get dressed, come out. They’re going to judge me. We’ll have different categories: formal, summertime, fall, athletic.
You and Thug are both considered among the most influential rappers of the South. Where do you think you both rank?
Listen, I don’t get into that. This is the thing, I know Thug is probably one of the most influential artists of this generation. When I say that, the things that he’s gone out on a limb and tried, nobody else would’ve done it that way but him. And he was criticized and criticized for it. They criticized him until the success of his efforts made them copy him. And anytime you do that, I think that puts you in the boss seat, because anybody can go by status quo and do it customarily—the way it’s known to be done—and gain success for it, and have everyone agreeing with them every step of the way.
There is a different level of acclaim when you go against the grain to do it the way nobody else thinks that it can be done, and you find success in that. So I definitely must acknowledge that and give him all the credit for that, because when he first came out, I ain’t know where he was going with it or how he was going to sustain that shit. But he has. I think from fashion all the way to his delivery. Just the way he does his shit, can’t nobody do that shit but him. He’s got an ODB meets 3000 meets Lil Wayne... He’s got a lot of shit going on in there that can’t nobody do but him. I think for the new generation, he’s definitely one of the front-runners for creating a wave. I feel like some motherfuckers, they master riding the wave, but he’s created a wave that only he can exist in.
What about your own ranking? You’re owed some credit for starting a wave when you first came in the game, as well.
Right on. I’m pretty influential as well. I don’t think it’s for me to rank me, you dig what I'm saying? I know that if it wasn’t for some of the plays and the things that were done with I’m Serious, Trap Muzik, and the rest of the records that persisted, it would’ve been a lot more of a task for a lot of motherfuckers to succeed, exist, and maintain their positions right now. But I don’t really think about that. My contribution is my contribution, and the doors that were opened, they were opened for the purpose of people like Thug to be able to come in and to be able to take risks and take chances. OutKast walked so I could run, so Thug could fly. I just feel like that’s all of our purpose and positions in the universe, to lay the pavement for the next generation to come along and not have to worry about laying down the pavement. They can take it a step further, and that’s how we evolve. That’s how we progress. As far as where I rank, shit, I’m up there. I’m definitely up there.
“If Kanye’s asking Universal, ‘What do I need to give y’all to buy my masters back?’ And they won’t even give him a number, that’s slavery.”
On Instagram, you teased a possible collaboration with Lil Baby. Is there an update on when we can expect that record?
I ain’t even going to tell you when nothing is coming. Just know it’s there. It’s done. We got that motherfucker in the vault. When we’re going to let loose with it, that’s yet to be determined. We’ll let y’all know when we figure that out.
The arrival of “Ring” would suggest an album is on the way soon. Is there any truth to that?
That’s what I’m saying. That shit feel too much like work. It feels like turning in a goddamn assignment. We’ll put the shit out, but just know it's enough music to put four albums out if the man calls for it. So if this record creates the kind of demand that I think warrants an entire project, that motherfucker will be on the way. Just know this, man. I can do this shit any day, any time. I got enough dope shit for three or four motherfuckers. So, at any date, anytime, that motherfucker can come like an upset stomach.
You and 50 Cent recently announced an upcoming series you’re working on. What are you most excited for viewers to see?
Right now, man, we're in the process of developing the script, and I think that comes first and foremost before any casting or anything else. We’ve got to make sure the script is as tight as we want it. We’re also interviewing showrunners to join forces with us and handle the day-to-day and execute the vision of the project. I think there hasn’t been a procedural show dedicated to our culture since New York Undercover. A real procedural show, that deals with matters within the community, within the culture, that speaks from our voices and tells stories that are seen through our eyes. I think New York Undercover is the last time we saw that. We want to not just recreate that energy, but dominate that space.
You and 50 Cent have been trolling each other on Instagram about Verzuz. But have you two seriously considered going head-to-head?
Hell yeah, we have. And his cap ass says he’s going to do it. He ain’t picking no date, though. His bad ass ain’t said when.
You previously said Jay-Z was the only one you would go against.
Hell yeah, but I think that’s where you got to reach. I don’t give a damn how you feel about Tip personally. I might not be your cup of tea. That’s cool, but guess what? These motherfucking hits, they’re there, though. Take them motherfuckers off the boards. When you talk about catalogs, you’ve got to go to Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye. You’ve got to go 50. It’ll be interesting. This shit is a consistent body of work over the course of 20 years. So yeah, man. I can’t wait.
To be honest with you, when we started talking about it, just because 50 and I, we have the personalities that we have, and we’re both very competitive. So it’s coming off as a competition, but to be honest with you, there are no winners and losers. It ain’t no winners and losers, even though I’m going to dust his ass off. At the end of the day, we all have fans. We all have made significant contributions to the culture, and we both dominate our space. I think just to get in the same place at the same time and play back-to-back our hits, that’s going to be an adequate service to the culture. Whenever he’s done putting out Power. He got Power and the spinoffs. He’s gallivanting around the globe all in Dubai and shit with his lady friend and whatnot. He’s having his moment. I want him to do that, to enjoy himself, but grow a pair and pick a date, bruh. I think it’s going to be one for the books.
“I commend the NBA players for standing up and protesting by not playing. I think that every person of color, every person of the culture, every young person and ally of our movement, should stay home.”
Many people look to you for guidance on politics and social justice. Is there any particular message you want to send to people as we approach the presidential election?
That’s a multifaceted question. First of all, I want people to understand where their power lies. Our power, and when I say “us,” I’m talking about Black people, the culture of hip-hop, and its allies. Our power lies within our unity and our influence. We are united and we influence the world. Hip-hop as a culture influences the world. It’s the most influential art form on Earth, period. So what we have to do is, we have to remain united and have a clear path and direction to our goals. And if our goal is liberation, we’ve got to understand that it ain’t going to come by request. It’s going to come by leveraging our strengths to our benefit.
For instance, I commend the NBA players for standing up and protesting by not playing. I think that every person of color, every person of the culture, every young person and ally of our movement, should stay home. Don’t do shit. Don't entertain, don't play ball, don't cook, don't drive. Don't do shit. We can meet up on our own and entertain each other, but I think that’s what it takes. They’re really taking us for granted. You want to treat us as second-class citizens, but then you want to put our culture in a chokehold. You hate us, but you love our culture. Man, this country wouldn’t be shit without us. This shit would be vanilla and stale as a motherfucker. I think we’ve got to remind folks of that.
And another thing is, we must create a sustainable economic base for ourselves. We don’t have no economic base, therefore, we aren’t treated as a priority, because as soon as we get some money, we run out there and we spend it in other communities. I think that’s a big reason why we aren’t acknowledged and considered and respected the way that we should be. Right now, our one commodity that cannot be denied is the culture that we've created, hip-hop. Whether it's fashion, whether it’s art, whether it’s music, whether it’s film... Whatever it is, our culture makes this shit move. It’s been proven time and time again. We just have to own and operate that power and direct it when and where we need it for our benefit. I think that’s what needs to be done.
People are always talking about voting and how it doesn’t matter and the things are already going to do what they’re going to do anyway. Look, if voting didn’t matter, they would not work so hard to suppress and stop us from doing it. It’s got to be something to it. They wouldn’t have spent years and years and years trying to keep us out of the political process if it had no bearing on the outcome. They’re some cheating motherfuckers, and they will cheat anyway. I’m not discounting or discrediting that fact, but even still, they don’t even have to cheat us if we don’t vote.
Outside of just the polls, outside of the presidential race, we vote every day. When we as a culture, as a people, go out here and decide that we’re going to purchase a product, whether it’s Coca-Cola, Adidas, Nike, or McDonald’s, it’s our culture that turned the resale of tennis shoes into a billion dollar industry. We made that possible. But we just did it kind of haphazardly without any effort. We have to become more intentional with the shit that we do. Although we make the shit look easy and it’s very effortless to us, we have to become more intentional with the things that we do so we can maintain ownership, equity and control over the outcome. That’s one of the things that's missing.
“I spoke to [Tory Lanez] and he said the sh*t didn't happen like that. I said, ‘Well, you need to be saying something, bruh. How did it happen?’ And he said he couldn’t say nothing about how it did actually happen.”
You’ve been outspoken about Kanye’s politics and run for president in the past. But have you had any thoughts about the recent conversation he started regarding music labels and ownership?
Yeah. [Kanye is] absolutely correct. He's absolutely correct in what he’s saying. I think they’ve been able to operate in silence due to a lack of knowledge and information, a lack of awareness within our communities about the value of publishing. The value of net profit deals and joint ventures, and P&Ds, and the ownership of masters.
You’ve got to think about it. Hip-hop is a young genre. When we first got in, we didn’t even know we could get paid for this shit, you dig? It took the first generation of motherfuckers to actually find out, “Oh, it’s some money in this shit.” Then, we had to find out where all the money comes from and if you ain’t used to money—if you’re a kid that’s struggling with his money—and a motherfucker gives you $100,000, shit, that’s money to you. But it takes experience and generations. Russell Simmons showed us how to monetize the art form. And then you got people like J Prince from Rap-A-Lot, Master P and Jay-Z, among others, that showed us you get paid off of shows and you get paid off of royalties. You don’t have to just take what they give you. You don’t have to take money just because they offered it to you. You can decline the upfront money for a greater percentage of the backend and bet on yourself.
Then we learned, wait a minute, now, once you get to a certain point, you might not even really need the record labels no more. You can own your own masters. Go direct to consumer. As the world has evolved, the industry has evolved in the age of technology. It has offered more information and more opportunities and more alternatives to how we release our music, record our music, and how we participate in the growth of our brand. From merch to ancillaries. Travis [Scott] just did a motherfucking McDonald’s deal. That shit is unheard of.
But Kanye’s kicking some real shit. Everything he’s saying is absolutely true. If he’s got enough money to buy his masters back and he’s asking Universal, “What do I need to give y’all to buy my masters back?” And they won’t even give him a number, that’s slavery. That’s some bullshit. And now, in today’s age where everybody’s trying to make sure that they’re being fair and just and reasonable to people of color who’ve been ostracized, marginalized, discriminated against, kept away from the table, and out of the rooms where money was being discussed and shit... It’s been happening for so long. There are so many distributors now that are taking public stances like, “Oh, we want to make sure that we’re contributing to the cultural diversity of our executive stands of our boards.” And that’s contrary to some of the prefaces that these contracts have.
You’ve got to start in-house. So, if you ain’t goddamn doing right by Kanye, and he’s one of the biggest motherfucking musicians there is, I know good and goddamn well you ain’t doing right by motherfucking NBA YoungBoy or motherfucking Playboi Carti. That’s the thing, man. We’ve got to stick together because what they do is, they take one of us, and then they’ll goddamn bless us with abundance. They’ll give us more than the rest of us have, and that’ll make that one not ride with the rest of us on things that can benefit the collective for the greater good of us all. I think 99 percent of our problems would be solved if we just stick together.
Now, it’s hard to stick with Kanye when he be on that bullshit. Talking that shit about Harriet Tubman and all that shit. He dead ass wrong for that. I cannot ignore that, but he’s absolutely right about this.
“I feel like Black women are the most attacked, least protected, least defended, most vulnerable, and most exposed species on this Earth. I don’t know what the fuck happened.”
You publicly spoke on the situation between Tory Lanez and Megan Thee Stallion on Instagram when many other artists were not. What was the motivation behind issuing that video statement?
To be honest with you, I feel like Black women are the most attacked, least protected, least defended, most vulnerable, and most exposed species on this Earth. I don’t know what the fuck happened. I know what she says happened, but I don’t know why it happened. But I know if it did happen, that’s everybody's responsibility to make sure that this young lady feels supported and that she knows that the community and the culture is behind her. I think that’s important. I think that’s all of our obligation and responsibilities, not even as artists, or as rappers, or as executives in this business, but as men, as a Black man. We can’t allow nobody, myself included, to be out here goddamn letting off shots at women in bikinis. Now, I just have a problem with that.
Listen, I don’t know, man. But, I spoke to him and he said the shit didn't happen like that. I said, “Well, you need to be saying something, bruh. How did it happen?” And he said he couldn’t say nothing about how it did actually happen. I told him I understood that. I said, “Man, you can’t expect nobody to ignore the facts that are being presented if you don’t have any other conclusive facts that can overturn these. You got to say something, bruh.” If you ain’t going to say nothing, you can’t expect nobody else to. I ain’t about to just shut up when you got facts out here that say it’s a woman been shot at the hands of another Black man within the culture. We’ve got to speak out on that. We’re the fuck niggas if we don’t.
What’s the most important thing you want people to know about you right now?
Man, I been the shit, I’m still the shit, shall remain the shit until further notice, and niggas ain’t fucking with me. The end. And I say that with all the humility I have inside me.