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T.I. on Trouble Man, R. Kelly’s ‘Eclectic’ Art, and Will Smith

T.I. Photo: Getty Images

T.I., the King of the South, is also the king of hip-hop comebacks. After shaking a high-profile prison bid in 2011, the Trap Rap star has evolved into a loving family man and multimedia hyphenate with ventures in acting, reality television, and authorship (he pens romance novels). As he prepares to release his eighth studio album, Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head (December 18), the always-charming T.I. spoke to Vulture.

We spoke recently at your Trouble Man listening session in NYC. You mentioned that recorded 126 songs for your album and edited down to 16. Any plans for the remaining 110 songs?
Some of them were released on the Fuck Da City Up mixtape I put out at the top of 2012. There’s maybe 67 songs that are opportunities whether its licensing songs for films, for brand connections — aligning ourselves with certain brands — and I believe I’m going to do a Trouble Man sequel. That’s why I gave it a subtitle, Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head. [The sequel] will be Of He Who Wears the Crown.

You have features from Pink, R. Kelly, and OutKast’s Andre 3000 on the album. Andre 3000 is a notorious recluse, save for his Gillette commercials. How did you coax him out of hiding? 
We’ve been trying to put a collaboration together since King so it was just a matter of him hearing something from me that inspired him and excited something inside of him to record. I got a call from Dre not too long ago. He had read that I said, “He shitted on me on my own record,” and said, “Ay man. Stop saying that man. I would have never wrote what I wrote and my performance would have not been the same had it not been for what you had already laid down.” He’s a good guy. He just a stand up all around cat.

Did you happen to catch the latest installation of R. Kelly’s hip hopera Trapped in the Closet over Thanksgiving?
No, I have not, man! Please tell me it’s good. I like Kellz on the Love Letter stuff; I like to hear that Kellz. I know he has the ability to do different, eclectic arrays of all presentations of art but my favorite happens to be that area. I think R. Kelly’s range is so vast and broad that in order to stimulate himself creatively as an artist, he has to step so so far outside the box or else he feels like he’s not challenging himself. I’ve felt like that before. You know when I put out records that may not work or connect with the audience it’s because I’m pushing myself as an artist creatively, because I’m just bored doing what everyone wants me to do.

R. Kelly is allegedly adapting Trapped in the Closet for the stage. Between that and Bring It On: The Musical, why not take your film ATL to Broadway?
I’m an “in the shower” or “in the booth” kind of singer. I can sing, but I need either nobody to be able to hear me, or for me to be able to redo it.

That’s why God invented Auto-Tune.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I don’t really like the sound of Auto-Tune. I don’t like when it’s extremely audible, when you’re able to detect it easily. I don’t like that.

In your recent Billboard interview, you mentioned that actor Will Smith tried to spring you out of jail by contacting Eric Holder of the Obama Administration. That’s amazing.
I had no communications with the Administration at all. Will is a friend of the family. Our birthdays are on the same day and we were speaking on my birthday and that’s what was going on in my life. He was like “Man, that’s a shame. That’s unfortunate. Let’s make some calls and see who can help.” It’s nothing to go walk around bragging about. Will is a stand up cat. A lot of cats don’t know, but Will is from the hood. He’s still, excuse my term, a “hood nigga.”

Your reality show The Family Hustle just wrapped. The VH1 show is very much like an updated version of Full House; you’re wise like patriarch Danny Tanner but cool like Uncle Jesse.
Right on! Uncle Jesse cool as hell.

And talk about a long career trajectory. John Stamos is peddling Greek yogurt now. I’d love to see you as a Greek yogurt spokesman one day.
Yeah man. I hope to be so lucky. Not Greek yogurt, maybe Blue Bell Ice Cream.

T.I. on Trouble Man, R. Kelly, and Will Smith