T.I. Crafts His Legacy as King with the Trap Music Museum
By Hunter Mak
T.I. requires no introduction. August marked the 16th anniversary of his second studio album Trap Muzik. Make no mistake, however, the rap artist is doing anything but mulling over his most recent wins or past ones. T.I.P.’s current focus is on uplifting his community and expanding his legacy through his Atlanta foothold Trap Music Museum.
Welcoming museumgoers since September of 2018, the Trap Music Museum is an ode to the major contributors of the subgenre and documents the lifestyle of “trap.” T.I. tells Complex, “If you enjoy trap music, and you’re interested in the culture and you want to know the details of the experiences and the most significant contributors, this is the place where you come to observe that.”
Combining art and realism in the form of recreated scenes, the Trap Music Museum exists as a first-hand account of the environment T.I. grew up in; a lifestyle popularized in many rap songs.
Complex arrived in Atlanta to tour the museum just in time for the Nipsey Hussle exhibition opening and interviewed the multi-talented rapper about the craft of his music.
What was your first memory of knowing music to be your talent?
My first memory was in school. In third grade, I was the only person in my school who could actually write his own compositions. And other kids were just so impressed. Kids and adults. They always thought someone else wrote it for me. They kinda said to me I had a skill that was unique. At that time, I didn’t know how to execute it or present it but I knew it was unique. Over time, I got into battling and freestyling. By the time I got to 7th grade, of course, we were competitive then. I would win. That kind of left an awareness.
How did you continue perfecting your craft in music?
I was put into the studio at the age of 12 or 13 by my oldest sister who used to be married to a gentleman who, at one time, was a manager for some independent artists. They took a crack at managing me. They put me in a studio and I recorded demos. We got quite a few doors slammed in our faces. Nobody wanted to hear a kid talking about the things I wanted to talk about. My subject matter was pretty dark. I talked about not having a dad at home and trying to take care of my mom, about trying to focus on school with so many distractions. I was really trying to talk about my life. The same way I try to paint pictures of my life now, it’s exactly what I was talking about then.
What kept you motivated?
Man, my biggest motivation was probably my arrogance. There was something in me that told me I was better than everyone else at this thing. It was that arrogance. Knowing that I was supposed to be doing [music]. And if other people found success in it, I needed some success, too. As artists, it’s that vulnerability that makes us relatable. So I appreciate being able to relate to kids that are going through the same thing or similar circumstances as I am going through and having my testimony help them through their tough time. Knowing this makes the discomfort from the vulnerability worthwhile.
How did you perfect your craft?
Age and experience. When I pulled away from music, I dove headfirst into the streets. Life took me through so many different scenarios and experiences that allowed me to bear witness to things that I now use as testimonies. I don’t think my music would be as relatable otherwise. I don’t think we would have trap music.
Life is balance. I think the more you expand your horizons, even though you took the narrow path, there is a very, very wide gamut of other alternatives and perspectives that exist, so even if you don’t agree with those perspectives, being aware that they exist, allows you to begin to understand them. And so when you experience these other perspectives, it’s not as abrasive. Because you say to yourself, “Oh, okay I read about this is that.” Then you begin to understand. You should never take anything personally because usually things that people say or do is a reflection of how they feel about themselves.
Do you ever feel isolated as an artist?
Most visionaries aren’t meant to be understood. Reading allowed me to understand that. You know what I mean, the thing that makes me special is I can see things other people can’t see. Some people walk in here and ask why did you want to buy this. It’s because I could see a vision. I could see something that nobody else could see. But if I waited, sitting back, and waiting back on everyone to see what I saw, we wouldn’t have a Trap Music Museum, or anything for that matter.
Did you have mentors?
So many people. Ambassador Andrew Young has been instrumental. He allowed me to see the world through the eyes of a true adult. You know like, of course, as a young adult, teens, twenties, you want the world to be a place for you to have fun.
The laws exist to prevent doing things you enjoy. Rules are fun police to prevent you from having fun. As an adult, when you have children, grandchildren, and businesses, legacies to uphold and to protect, you become much more interested in order and peace. Stability. Those things become so much more important than just fun.
Was there any moment you felt you arrived?
For a brief second, you enjoy the moment when it first happens. You release a project that goes No. 1 and for that week it’s pretty surreal. You know, you sell a half a million, 600,000 [albums] in a week. That’s surreal. You sell out Madison Garden, that’s surreal. But after the moment’s over, you must begin working on the next moment. You can’t waste too much time just admiring your accomplishments. You have to begin cultivating more accomplishments.
Because you’re only as good as the last thing you did.
Explain trap music to us.
The trap music genre then and now was a direct reflection of the life of a drug dealer. It is a by-product of the crack era—the war on drugs. I like to think of us as veterans and war heroes from the crack era. All of us have experienced extreme trauma. All of us are harboring PTSD, anxiety, mild and major depression due to the circumstances that we were subjected to while growing up, but we endured it and we evolved and took what was made to break us and we found a way to make us bigger, better and more successful than we ever imagined.
Crack was supposed to destroy us, and our communities. But the music—us taking our experiences and putting it into music and packaging it into a philosophical presentations and presenting them to other people who were going through the same experiences—that created commerce, that created a stream of revenue and that allowed us to change the standard of living for us our families, remove [your family] out of the conditions we were making music about. This Trap Music Museum is a place where you won’t be frowned upon for who you are. Playing music loud, telling jokes, having drinks, arguing who the “Top 5” is. That’s our culture. There’s not many places you can go do that freely without being looked at like you’re a weirdo.
What’s next for you?
Expansion. Evolution. As a developer, to offer, new, different, worthwhile experiences to this community and other communities like it. Opportunities to live and grow financially, mentally, emotionally, educationally. There’s a big void. We need more valid forms of education to break the cycle. The Trap Music Museum is a form of that experience that shows and informs people who have never lived this walk of life, who don’t understand and say, “Why don’t they just not do it?” To show them why it is the way it is and the things that contributed to the things being like this.
And for those who know it all too well, it’s inspiration. If you work hard, you’ll make it out of the wreckage. My goal is to bridge the gap between information and inspiration.
When asked about what he values most, T.I. answers without hesitation. His children are what's most important to him. He believes his legacy will live on through them and sees them as a reflection of him, a continuation of his work. Be sure to visit the Trap Music Museum in Atlanta and keep your eyes peeled for new work from T.I.