Back when Clifford “T.I.” Harris was the cocky self-proclaimed King of the South who was known for his dopeboy anthems and his run-ins with the law, he was seen by the mainstream as entertainment rather than a threat. But a funny thing happened over the course of his career that has spanned nearly two decades. T.I. changed. Not so much changed as he did mature. His journey from the trap house to the jail house and finally to a place that he could call home with his wife (now ex) and children has opened Tip’s eyes to the world and the dangers that live outside of the block where he once peddled drugs.
Rather than be trapped in his own universe where the biggest dangers are the people who look like you, Tip recognized that the world was much bigger than the block. More importantly, his wider scope helped him recognize that there is a reason why black and brown people are marginalized and oppressed.
Today, T.I. has taken on an activist role both in the studio and as a leader in the community. Subsequently, he’s become more dangerous now than he ever has been. You see, when you’re a threat to your own people, that’s little more than entertainment that the mainstream welcomes with open arms. But when you are a threat to things like oppression, police brutality and racism, you are no longer entertaining. Now, you are a troublemaker who must be silenced.
With the rash of police gunning down unarmed black men (and women) taking place at an alarming rate over the past few years, T.I. could have rested on his laurels, collected his handsome checks and avoided addressing something that he was now less likely to deal with because of the tax bracket he belongs to. After serving two terms in county jail and a federal prison bid for federal weapons charges, he could have avoided bringing any attention to himself. Instead, the Grand Hustle rapper started to piece together that this was an issue that could affect his children and, on a broader scale, continues to affect his community. After all, one of those shot down black men could have been him. Furthermore, he understood that his voice travels to places that the average individual can not. His influence can motivate others to do something where they are at. And, with that, T.I. became a different kind of dangerous.
It’s fascinating because, unlike other “conscious” rappers, T.I. wears his flaws on his sleeve and refuses to ignore his turbulent past. He didn’t start off as a rapper who addressed the ills of the community, but he’s educated himself and recognized that he has the opportunity to empower others instead of just himself.
“I’m imperfect, as we all are. But I don’t let no imperfections keep me from adding value where I can and finding solutions where I can,” T.I. said in an episode of Netflix’s Rapture series. “What is possible if you actually dedicated yourself to change?”
For the most part, hip hop artists who are deemed as “conscious” have lost the ear of the mainstream for being accused of being boring. Right or wrong, it’s a stigma that has often prevented social consciousness to permeate into the music of the mainstream. Some artists will dabble in activism, but most have either been inept or unwilling to fully commit to activism both in and out of the studio. This doesn’t necessarily apply to the Kendrick Lamars and J. Coles of the world, but it does apply to the older guard of successful rappers who weren’t known to be socially conscious.
Today, he’s outspoken against police brutality, oppression and ending poverty for minorities. He has focused on youth programs for boys and girls, led Black Lives Matter protests, and continues to urge people to participate in their local elections.
“Get involved with local elections. Find out who your local politicians are and hold them accountable to create substance within the community,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press in 2017.
T.I. also took a major risk by moving away from making hit records and releasing an EP in 2016 titled Us or Else in response to the social injustices that plague the community and the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. He didn’t do it to sell records; he did it to be a part of a movement. Later that year he dropped Us or Else: Letter to the System exclusively through TIDAL without any prior announcements. Again, it wasn’t for financial gain; it was to provide a soundtrack for the people in the struggle.
It’s not hard to go on social media and challenge the controversial ideology of a celebrity. But the real challenge is addressing the people that you call your friends in public. That’s exactly what T.I. did when he called out Lil Wayne for his Nightline interview in which he said he didn’t connect with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m always here to share whatever knowledge or understanding I may have to assist your growth & development, but u MUST STOP this buffoonery & coonin’ you out here doin,” T.I. posted on Instagram. “You looking like somebody who has something to gain or lose by pretending like it’s not as bad as BLM making it seem & you’re not aware of an issue that needs to be addressed. That’s what would be considered ‘Uncle Tom Shit’…. I know U, YOURE BETTER THAN THIS!!!!!”
Tip was willing to risk his friendship with one of the best rapper’s alive for the movement. In the day and age of armchair activism where people don’t really stand by what they say, T.I. was willing to challenge Lil Wayne on his comments and deal with the consequences. To take it a step further, he has now painted a target on his back for the biggest gang in the country: the government.
Knowing that he’s an enemy of the state with his stances on political matters that certainly are not in step with the agenda of the current president, T.I. refuses to back down. But this time, he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder and be concerned with somebody taking him off the block. Instead, he has to worry about the powers that be doing whatever they can to take him down. His public support of Colin Kaepernick against Trump, his recent #BoycottHoustons restaurant protest, and constant involvement in the community won’t rub everyone the right way.
And with the political climate as it currently stands, coupled with his previous issues with the law, Clifford Harris is really putting his neck on the line for his people. But he’s not going to stop protesting, speaking up, giving back and demonstrating community leadership. Even if it does mean that he’ll be targeted and wrongfully arrested on nonsensical charges outside of his Atlanta home, he’s not willing to back down. He’s not doing it for him, he’s doing it for us.
If that’s not admirable, we don’t know what is.
More by Andreas Hale:
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