It was LL Cool J in the Eighties and Tupac Shakur in the Nineties. Now, ladies and gentleman, I submit the reigning king of hip-hop pin-upship for the Naughties: T.I.
This is simply not up for debate, if Oakland has anything to say about it.
The rapper (slash actor slash businessman slash budding producer) appeared at a Jack London Square restaurant last Friday evening (June 22nd) for a secret broadcast from KMEL. Attendees were largely comprised of excited and ornately coiffed ladies who won entrance by being the lucky caller on the radio — a feat which, if you’ve ever attempted, lay somewhere between winning more than $25 bucks on a Lotto scratcher and taking home a new car as a guest on Oprah.
Winners had a chance to ask T.I. anything they wanted.
One gal said, “Excuse me, how you doin’ Clif-ford,” a statement instead of a question that emphasized the given name that he doesn’t actually use.
When KMEL jock Big Von asked why she was doing that, she snapped, “Because I’m a grown-ass woman, and I don’t do nicknames!”
Wow, okay. That aside, most of the questions went like this:
“Can I get a hug?”
“Can I get a kiss?”
“Can I get an autograph?”
“What do you look for in a woman?”
“Why are you so sexy?”
Okay, that last one was mine. But I didn’t ask it. I went for less, well, probing queries when I entered his bedroom earlier that night. Silly me to have thought anyone might actually want to know about the man’s music.
With achievements including bringing home the best selling rap album of 2006 and a Grammy in 2007, the Atlanta native (born Clifford Harris Jr., but nicknamed “Tip” by his grandfather) has a lot to brag about, but he chooses to distinguish himself from many of his colleages by having no seeming urge to hype. He didn’t bring up his T.I. vs. T.I.P. album, due out next Tuesday, until prompted -- nor did he talk about the multiple television projects he’s considering, his own record label or his Atlanta-based nightclub. He’s also been hitting the silver screen pretty hard, and pretty credibly: His first major film role was as the lead in ATL (2006), and he plays Denzel Washington’s nephew in November’s American Gangster. But he wasn’t at all concerned with offering a laundry list.
That’s incredibly cool. Less confident rap artists of all levels are normally eager to tell journalists about their clothing company, beverage, debit card, timepiece, timeshare, or whatever the heck they have coming up as a side hustle, but T.I. insists he’s never been a self-promoter. He says that the first artist he ever saw in his neighborhood in Atlanta was Oakland’s own Too $hort (who moved there in the Nineties), of whom he remains a solid fan.
“He’s the first rapper we actually saw face-to-face,” T.I. remembered, eating cheesecake and overlooking the downtown views from S.F.’s Hotel Nikko. “He used to come get a haircut right next door to where we were selling dope,” he laughs. But he never tried to bend $hort’s ear about his budding rap skills.
“I never have been that, ‘hey, listen to my demo’ type dude. If people asked me to rhyme, if I feel like it I would. I felt like I was cool without the rap shit. I wasn’t even focusing on music like that so I didn’t feel like I had to impress anybody with it.”
Luckily, his talent was discovered in spite of his modesty and his way of life at the time. And to learn that he’s still a rather humble, appreciative and down-to-Earth person after achieving multi-platinum status is a rare comfort in the egotistical world of pop, especially with his sex symbol role only growing.
T.I. will join singer Ciara in co-headlining this year’s installment of the urban mega-tour “Scream”, set to stop in the Bay Area on August 31 at HP Pavilion in San Jose. But beware the trampling intensity of Tip’s -- excuse me, Clifford’s -- female fans.
-- Tamara Palmer