T.I. was only released from prison a few months ago, but he’s been on a madcap productivity bender ever since. After serving a yearlong sentence for felony gun charges, the Atlanta-based rapper married his longtime girlfriend (Tameka Cottle), promoted a new movie (Takers, out August 27, which co-stars Matt Dillon, Hayden Christensen, and Chris Brown), and put the finishing touches on a new album (King Uncaged, due September 28). And as of last night, T.I. has also started performing live again. The rapper’s first official post-jail show was a sweaty, AXE-sponsored, open-bar-fueled throwdown at Capitale on Lower Broadway during which he played his biggest hits (“Whatever You Like,” “Live Your Life,” “Swagga Like Us” et al) and was joined onstage by Cam’ron and Mary J. Blige.
Onstage, T.I. is all about showcasing the swagger that made him a star, bouncing around in his gleaming white wife beater, blinged-out dog tags around his neck. But offstage, earlier in the day, he was all business, pacing around the event space, using his BlackBerry, and conducting a series of short interviews. The rapper has compared King Uncaged to Tupac Shakur’s All Eyez on Me, which made millions off the artists’ musings on life as a felon. T.I. wants Uncaged to be the next great post-prison rap album: “[In prison] when I was so frustrated that it made me feel such and such, I made sure I wrote that down, like, ‘I feel like this is some bullshit, because … ’” he said. “When you hear the album, you’ll be able to pinpoint aggression, and that’s due to me capturing those moments of incarceration.”
But aside from the odd dear-diary missive, T.I. said he didn’t actually write much of the record in jail. He was too busy. “I taught a class; I played handball; I played football, coached softball; I worked out a lot,” he remembers. “But writing? There just wasn’t much time for that.” The way he describes it, jail sounds kind of … fun, like summer camp. “No! Not at all, not even a little bit,” the rapper disagreed, laughing and shaking his head. “By no stretch of the imagination! I don’t want anyone to assume, think, or believe that for one moment. Two thumbs down. Two big toes, down!”