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Grand Hustle/Atlantic recording artist T.I. has made one of the year's most impressive chart debuts with "TRAP MUZIK," entering at No. 4 in the Billboard 200 national album chart, with scorching first-week sales of nearly 109,000 units, according to SoundScan.
Reality is a hard pill to swallow, and it can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste. But just as the most torturous elixir can cure what ails you, a dose of reality can be the best medicine for someone who wants to get in touch with life and experience first hand its many lumps and bruises. On his sophomore release, "TRAP MUZIK" - his first for Atlantic Records - T.I. fills the prescription for reality music: uncovering life stories from the trap, depicting the unrefined essence of street life and, more specifically, unveiling the grim realities of the drug game. "It's called trap music," T.I. explains. "So you know it's gonna be dealing with all aspects of the trap. And if you don't know what the trap is, that's basically where drugs are sold. In this country, the majority of us live in a neighborhood where drugs are sold, whether we like it or not. Whether you in the trap selling dope, whether you in the trap buying dope, whether you in the trap trying to get out - whatever the case may be, I'm trying to deal with all aspects of that lifestyle." For the uninitiated, "TRAP MUZIK" is an introduction to an often-glamorized underworld, a musical collage of scenes that play out like excerpts from a TV drama. But to others, it's an all-too-familiar slice of everyday life. "It's informative for people who don't know nothing about that side of life and wonder why somebody they know that live on that side of life act the way they do or do the things they do. So it's informative for them and maybe it can help them deal with these people, help them relate to these people, help them understand, help them to see their point of view a little better. It's also inspiration for people who live that life." From "24's," the album's shoulder-bouncing, head-bobbing first single, to "Be Easy," "TRAP MUZIK" finds T.I. at his mischievous best. Checking in on the set are producers DJ Toomp, Sanchez, Carlos and Dada, and Jazze Pha, as well as artists Jagged Edge, 8 Ball & MJG, and Bun B of UGK. Heavy on introspection and streetwise enlightenment, "TRAP MUZIK" is not only a stroll around the 'hood, but a journey through the mind of T.I. On "T.I. vs. T.I.P.," the rapper challenges himself to a verbal duel. "That's basically me talking to myself, just me getting in my own ear talking about the things I need to do and the things I shouldn't be doing and just some kind of psychological evaluation of myself." And he waxes romantic on "Get Right," which features R&B foursome Jagged Edge. "It's me talking to a lady I knew back when I didn't have much," he says. "We knew each other and we always felt like it was an attraction, but she was dealing with somebody who had way more than me, who could do way more for her at the time. But now I'm like, 'What he got that I ain't got besides you right now? So, get right'." Then there's the ghetto anthem, "Be Easy." Says T.I., "That's basically tellin' cats, when you meet me, you ain't gotta be all excited. You ain't got to go out of your way to say the stupidist shit you ever thought of just to say something. Just be easy, holla at me, keep it pimpin'. It's all good." T.I. continues to speak to his listeners on songs like the provocative "Better than Me." "It's basically telling people who might look up to me, 'Don't be like me; be better than me.' Don't listen to my songs 'Dope Boys,' 'Trap Niggas,' and all that shit thinking that's what you got to do to be cool. That's what I did. You got your own thing for you to do." And on "No More Talk," T.I. blasts lame emcees who compromise creativity and substance for commercial acceptance. "That's basically saying I'm tired of niggas talking about what they got and getting on records and basically talking out the side of they neck about nothing, and they ain't rappin worth a damn. Niggas really just compromising the art for the hopes of just selling a record. That shit's over with!" Though the hardcore realness of his music is as prevalent this time around as it was on his 2001 Arista Records debut, "I'M SERIOUS," T.I., now 22, says he thinks his latest effort shows "more insight." "It's the same thing, as far as trap music," he says. "Yeah it's trap music. But it's another outlook on the trap. Before, trappin' was cool, but now trappin' ain't cool. It's necessary for some, but no, it ain't cool - even if you a hustler. All the hustlers I know - sellin' dope is the last thing they wanna do. If you a real hustler, you gon' move on to bigger and better things." And like "a real hustler," T.I. has always done just that. After his relationship with Arista came to an end, T.I. stayed on the grind - writing, recording, and rapping his heart out. Under the name of T.I. and the P$C, he released the underground hit "In Da Streets, Parts 1 and 2" on his own Grand Hustle Records. The album sold a staggering 20,000 units thanks to what T.I.'s manager and Grand Hustle partner Jason Geter refers to as "hand-to-hand distribution and a lot of driving around, a lot of legwork." He also made high-profile appearances on Tupac's "Changed Man" and Baby's "Keep Spinnin'"; wrote the hook for Mystikal's "Come See About Me," and penned several tracks for Lil Bow Wow's upcoming album.
And through it all, T.I.'s music has only gotten better. The greater depth that characterizes
"TRAP MUZIK" is a clear reflection of his professional growth. "I got a better sense of this particular business," he says. "A lot of shit don't get to me like it used to. Like, I just basically learned and understand that everybody ain't built like me. Everybody ain't gon' be like me and not to expect everybody to handle situations like me We don't live by the same rules.
We dance to the beat of a different drum. And understanding that makes it a lot easier to deal with the situations that might be inevitable. I'm a do-what-I-say, say-what-I-mean kinda nigga.
I'm a man of my word." But T.I.'s growth is not just confined to his career and his music. "I think I've grown a lot as a person," he muses. "I've experienced more. I got a whole new outlook." Admittedly, there are aspects of his past that he's not proud of but, he says, he's attempting to "right his wrongs."
Through New Finish Construction, a two-year-old company that T.I. owns with his uncle Quinton Morgan,
he is literally trying to "rebuild" his community by repairing homes in some of Atlanta's less fortunate neighborhoods. "We buy houses in the 'hood and fix 'em up for families that are on Section 8,"
he explains. One of the houses he's repaired was in the very neighborhood where he and his uncle hustled.
For T.I., this enterprise is more than just a business venture; he says it's his way of replacing what he and others may have taken out of these communities. "The things that I've done, it was basically a temporary solution to a permanent problem and some of those things may have caused harm so whatever I can do to right my wrongs and take responsibility for my actions, I try to do. What I can do, I will do."
'trap' may never be the same.
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