Not all rappers are versatile. Many speak on what they know and play it creatively safe. Or, if you're Rick Ross, you make up a fantasy and sell that. There's a standard formula in the game -- the rise up from the streets to a subsequent lavish life in the limelight.
T.I. fits this mold. Born in the projects? Check. Hustled growing up? Check. Rap sheet? Check. Jail time? Check, twice. His lyrics involve money and fame and garner him street cred. He represents Bankhead, Atlanta, and P$C. T.I. could just be another variable in the hip-hop formula, but he actually transcends the stereotypes.
The Grammy-winning artist is versatile -- if not as a rapper then as a human being. He's a businessman and a storyteller. He's an author and an actor. He's an actual lifesaver (including of Scott Stapp). There's a lot you probably don't know about T.I. And we're here to help with that.
T.I. the Author
Plenty of rappers have written books, but few could or would call themselves novelists. T.I., born Clifford Harris, goes by the pseudonym Tip Harris. He authored two novels in two years, which is pretty impressive for any writer.
His first novel, Power & Beauty: A Love Story of Life on the Streets, is a sort of coming of age tale that pivots around the romance between two step-siblings, nicknamed Power and Beauty, both of whom lost their mother and mature in the aftermath of that event. Harris' character Power muses, "The person who made sense of the world, the person who kept us safe, the person who gave us the rules was no longer there. The rules were no longer there." Chicago, New York, and Miami serve as backdrops in the book, and drugs, guns, and sex are prevalent.
His next novel was a sequel. Trouble and Triumph: A Novel of Power and Beauty, which follows the two sort-of-sibling lovers around the world as they decide between right and wrong or something.
Full disclosure: T.I. did not write these alone. David Ritz, who coauthored autobiographies with Rick James, B.B. King, and R. Kelly, helped the rapper craft the tales. He's also credited with writing the lyrics for Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing."
T.I. the Actor
Say what you will about his authorship, but T.I. is a decent actor. He's appeared in films like ATL (loosely based on T.I.'s upbringing) and Takers (alongside Idris Elba, Matt Dillon, and the late Paul Walker), as well as hits like American Gangster in which he played Denzel Washington's nephew.
Helped in part by his good looks, charm, and organic acting technique, he's managed to portray believable characters better than most other rappers who've tried. In a genre shift, T.I.'s set to appear alongside Paul Rudd in Marvel's Ant-Man this July.
T.I. the Guardian
T.I. is not a humble rapper. He's boasted about personal experiences like his impressive net worth, serving time, bedding women, but T.I. -- to our knowledge -- has never rapped about saving lives. Twice.
On at least two occasions, T.I. did, though, actually save people from committing suicide. This is real-life proof the man has good timing and a definitive way with words.
The first incident occurred back in 2010, when T.I. heard about a man atop Atlanta's 400 Colony Square Building (also home to Atlanta rap station V-103) who intended to jump. The rapper called one of V-103's morning DJs, Ryan Cameron, and suggested that he, T.I., could help. Arriving sans his usual entourage, T.I. recorded a video message on a cell phone which a negotiator delivered to the man on the roof. Moments later the man stepped back from the ledge.
This all occurred months after the rapper's yearlong prison term for a federal weapons charge and two days before he was to appear in court for a drug-related parole hearing. One could say the system set him straight. T.I. paid debt elsewhere:
"I'm not taking any credit," he told Cameron in an interview. "It could have been resolved in another way. The fact of the matter is God put me in a position, and put in my spirit to be in the position to help, and I can't take any credit for that."
And T.I.'s God wasn't done with him yet.
In 2012 Creed front man, Scott Stapp, called T.I. his "guardian angel" in VH1's Big Morning Buzz Live. Apparently, during a Miami Beach drug binge, Stapp began hearing voices and hallucinating inside his Delano Hotel penthouse. So he jumped from the balcony. The 40-foot fall fractured his skull, broke his hip and nose and left him temporarily immobile. "I laid out there for two and a half hours and my guardian angel showed up - rapper T.I."
Stapp says T.I. intuited the situation and took action to save his life. The two musicians met before, in 2004, while recording songs for The Passion of The Christ: Songs Inspired By Soundtrack.
They shared a mutual fandom for the University of Alabama. When T.I. appeared at the hotel, he was wearing an Alabama cap. "I said, 'roll tide,'" says Stapp, "and then he looked at me and put two and two together and really saved my life."
Though T.I.'s music is cool, catchy, and occasionally raw, his message to the 24-year-old man who looked down from the 400 Colony Square Building rooftop was different. It's subtle, honest and encouraging. It depicts a depth and humanity you won't hear in his radio jams. "Nothing is that bad," he said on the video recording. "Nothing in life is worth taking your life. I'm here to help you. Please come down to talk to me."
T.I. with 2 Chainz. 8 p.m. Saturday, January 24, at BB&T Center, 1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise. Tickets cost $25 plus fees. Call 800-745-3000, or visit ticketmaster.com.