A moment, in the grand scheme of history, is a very brief period of time. Yet, it is that brief sliver of time that can define careers, even define lives. Michael Jordan’s flu game in the 1997 NBA Finals was a defining moment in his career. July 5th, 1994 would become a defining moment in the history of retail when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon. For better or for worse, the song “Tip Drill” was a defining moment for rapper Nelly. T.I.’s career, likewise, can be defined by a series of moments, or songs. Each song represents a different chapter in the life of Clifford Harris.
Rubber Band Man (Risk Taker & Hood Icon)
After an unsuccessful debut album under Arista Records, a gutsy move to ask for his release, and starting up his own label, Grand Hustle, Tip took a huge gamble on himself. He drew a King and an Ace on the Blackjack table with the success of “Rubber Band Man”, which peaked at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song quickly became a drug dealer’s anthem throughout the country. This moment would cement his legacy in the streets of Atlanta and beyond, which would be the fan base to help propel him into superstardom
What You Know (Hip-Hop Superstar)
In what was easily the most successful song of his career, “What You Know” put the Hip-Hop world on notice that T.I. had arrived. By this time, he had fought off many rap rivals and political commentators, and released a string of great music to earn his spot near the top. Had it not been for the return of Jay-Z, Tip’s album, King, would have had the best first week sales of the year (522,000). “What You Know” won T.I. a Grammy, nominated for another, and achieved massive crossover appeal.
Help Is Coming (King of Hip-Hop)
For a brief period of time in 2007, T.I. was the quintessential King of Hip-Hop. A couple of moments from his album T.I. vs. T.I.P. illustrates this. Lead single “Big Things Poppin’” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was platinum certified. However, his self-proclaimed spot at the top was most evident by the oft-forgotten-about song “Help Is Coming”. In a Just Blaze-produced glory of epic arrogance, he pronounced that the shifting culture and dwindling sales could not stop his reign. His rant in the final minute of the song was very similar to 50 Cent’s rants, when he was at his peak.
Dead and Gone (Maturing Veteran)
A close friend losing their life would have a traumatic effect on anyone. The loss of Philant Johnson brought a more mature and reflective T.I. to the surface, with “Dead and Gone” being the embodiment of it. He realized that old ways of thinking and carrying oneself should remain in the past. As a veteran who younger artists were looking up to, he needed to change his image.
No Mercy (Rock Bottom)
The-Dream’s chorus on this ballad was perfect at the time of its release:
“There's no mercy for me
No crying myself to sleep
No mercy for me
Nightmares have become my dreams
No mercy for me
Good morning reality
Will I wake? We'll never know
I'm late for my date with destiny
Let me go”
As Tip prepared for his 366-day jail sentence, he was a broken man: betrayed by a once-close friend, the very real threat of his career being over, detractors celebrating his demise. He knew that as he was doing his bid, no one would have any sympathy for him. He even though he was probably at the lowest point of his career, he had to remain strong. His jail stint quite possibly led to the next chapter of his life.
New National Anthem (Philanthropist & Black Spokesperson)
T.I., much like many others in his field, felt inspired to speak out on the political and societal issues that the Black community is up against. After a mostly forgettable release, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head, T.I. sent shock waves through Hip-Hop with the release of “New National Anthem” featuring Skylar Grey. He would become one of the front runners to bring heavy political commentary back into the mainstream consciousness of Hip-Hop. Since then, T.I.’s Twitter account has been peppered with politics and uplifting messages to his audience.