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Since entering the game in 1996, T.I. has carefully maintained his status as a highly influential rapper. Capable of putting out concept albums and top 40 hits almost simultaneously, he has just released the Pharrell produced album Paperwork and has announced an Australian tour with fellow rap alumni DMX. We got T.I. to squeeze us into his hectic schedule to discuss his influence on trap music, the Northern East Coast scene and how to be a cross-over artist.

Words by Finn Houlihan
Interview by Jonathan Brent

You had Pharrell Williams on as executive producer for this album. What kind of ideas was Pharrell bringing to the table?

Pharrell pushed me past my present limitations. The things that are his normal approach to artistry are anything but normal. [His approach] gave me an ability to take what I already had and enhance it.

Did he bring forth any ideas that were too strange to use on this album?

Yeah, kind of. I think the main thing between Pharrell and myself is probably singles and sequencing, or the amount of songs to put on an album. For me, I have never done an album that was less than 15 songs.

I know that it become conventional to have eight to 10 to 12 songs, but I just don’t feel like I can completely tell a overall story. I feel like an album is a story. It contains an opinion, or I guess an angle on life, I don’t think I could do that in 8 or 10 or 12 songs. So we go back and forth about that.

Would you consider Paperwork as a concept album?

I guess so, I think that the overall concept is so you know unadulterated gangster shit with musical soul attached to it. I feel like the music in Paperwork is kind of like the soundtrack to a gangster movie. That’s why Pharrell’s idea of adding the motion picture onto the title, it wasn’t because we intended on making a motion picture, it was because the music itself was going to serve as a motion picture.

You said in a recent interview with Hip Hop DX “that back in my day Hip Hop was primarily Northern East Coast, and people in Atlanta our style has always been considerably different.”

Do you think this is reflected in your choice of collaborators with this album particularly, because you have features from Young Thug and a feature from Iggy Azalea. Do you think that is reflective of a different mindset that Atlanta has fostered?

First of all, the selection for collaborations comes from the inspiration of the music. We make the music first, I didn’t decide to collaborate with Young Thug and then say well let me make a song that will allow me to do that. I made a song and it just so happened that Thug and me were in the studio together, and when we went in that was the first song that we came up with, and it just happened to be a keeper. I think that the chemistry and the skill set of both artists, of both collaborators, I think that is a testament there, so I think with all of the collaborations that we ended up with on the album I think that the music justifies it.

Absolutely. What do you think is next for Young Thug? Do you think he’s going to blow up, more so than he is now?

Well I think all indications point forward. It’s going to depend on how we navigate him through this, through the adversityand you know, what the next move is. I think he has the potential to though.

Going back to the South, do you feel that Trap music in 2014 is reflective of the things you were trying to do and say when you released your Trap music album in 2003?

Well in some ways yes and in some ways no. But I think now the term Trap music is indicative of lots of other sounds. Where back when we coined the phrase the term that we chose and you know, the spirit, what the word meant when we said it was indicative of our lifestyle. Now, I welcome the change because as long as the term is relevant and it lives on I think that’s the most important thing. But the ways that they are the same is, they both talking about ushering in a new way of doing things. You know Trap music at the time when I released my album was a new way of doing things it was a new genre. Trap music now is changing the tone of music again, just in more of a EDM, electro, dance, whatever. Whatever the actual term of it is, let’s use EDM for lack of a better word, it’s ushering in a new sound, a new way of approaching music, so I think in those ways, the terms are the same.

Absolutely it sounds like – it could be fair to say – you don’t have an issue with EDM Trap and the way its appropriated its sound even if it’s quite divorced from the original context of its production in the early 2000’s.

Hey I mean I definitely embraced the trend. I think what matters most is, you know, just relevance. That it remains relevant and that it means something to the people who speak it.

Speaking of embracing change, it’s hard to ignore that you’ve been very successful getting on huge cross-over Top40 pop songs going back to Timberlake’s ‘My Love’ and more recently Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’. Do you have a good eye for picking what’s going to be a Top40 hit, are you just very lucky, how do you explain the process there?

I don’t know I don’t think we try to pick Top40 hits man, we just move with the music. When music speaks to us we listen.

Who do you have your eye on? Who do you want to get a feature on some of your next tracks, who’s going to be blowing up next?

Well I’ll tell you, we just did, I think we ‘bout to release a single that we did with the Stafford Brothers. Then I think you know, one could predict a huge success with that, we just did a record with the gentlemen for the ‘Am I wrong’ song. I don’t want to mess their name [Nico & Vinz] and also Jeremih ‘Don’t Tell ‘Em’. Let me see here we also did a record with a South African group, actually not South African they’re from Nigeria, Nigerian group called P-Square.

T.I. and DMX Tour Dates:

Melbourne – Friday Dec 12th, Festival Hall
Sydney – Saturday Dec 13th, Qantas Credit Union Arena
Brisbane – Sunday Dec 14th, The Marquee