In American Gangster, Clifford “T.I.” Harris plays Frank Lucas’ nephew, who gives up dreams of being a baseball star after moving from North Carolina to New York to help build Lucas’s drug empire. In real life, T.I. is stuck in Atlanta on house arrest for owning weapons (a violation of the terms of his probation), but he checked in to talk about American Gangster, which comes out in DVD today, and his “eloquent” new album Paper Trail.
RS: Your character in American Gangster is, like you, from the south. Did you feel like you could relate?
T.I.: In some ways I could. I believe that I had an uncle myself that I looked up to as a youngster, but I didn’t intend to follow in his footsteps, you know. And I wasn’t as wild as my character was. I had a little more understanding of the circumstance.
RS: Right. Your uncle was kind of a hustler?
T.I.: Yeah. He did a lot of things (laughter). He wasn’t a Frank Lucas, but he was a Frank Lucas.
RS: Jay-Z said the scene with you and Denzel where you tell him you’re giving up baseball to follow in his footsteps is sort of the one scene that inspired his album. Did that scene make you reflect a lot on you and your uncle?
T.I.: Absolutely. Life experience is one of the most important things for actors to have, to be able to draw from some experience that you have actually been through and apply it to a scene is probably the most valuable thing that you could have as an actor. After that scene, Denzel actually said, ‘Hey man, you know what? You’re a real actor,’ and that kind of give me my wings. That was outstanding.
RS: What did you think of Jay-Z’s interpretation of the film?
T.I.: I’m a Jay-Z fan and I think it was definitely one of his best albums since The Black Album. His best album was definitely The Black Album, and a lot of people were saying Jay couldn’t do it again. They didnâ€™t think that he was capable of making the same music as he did once upon a time. I think that he definitely showed and proved. I’m proud of him.
RS: Did you think about doing music yourself related to the film?
T.I.: I actually reached out to Jay about doing some music for the movie, but I guess he was already a step ahead and getting his album done.
RS: Are you still working on your album?
T.I.: Absolutely. It’s called Paper Trail. It’s going great.<‘p>
RS: How many tracks do you have done already?
T.I.: I’ve got about thirty-some tracks done, but I’ve got like sixteen that I’m in love with and I’m still working. After you get those sixteen, you try to make sixteen more to top them and you pick the best.
RS: Who have you been working with?
T.I.: I’ve got records with Danja, I’ve got one record so far from DJ Toomp. I’ve got records from Little C and Keith Mack from Grand Hustle Productions, and records from J.R. Rotem and Jay Rock. Quite a few people.
RS: Do you have a sense yet of how this album is going to be different from the last one?
T.I.: I don’t know if I can put into words how it will be different from the last album, but I know you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference. The people who I’ve played it for, they say it reminds them a lot of the earlier albums I’m Serious and Trap Muzik. It’s called Paper Trail because for the first time since my very first album, I’m actually writing the lyrics down, pen and pad, old school style. I used to just listen to the music and go in the booth and rap. And now that I’m writing things down, I think it’s a little more eloquent.
RS: What made you decide to start doing that?
T.I.: People were saying how they missed the old sound, they missed that I’m Serious T.I., so I figured that I would try to tap into that element.
RS: You’re working from your home studios these days, I imagine, you have everything you need there?
T.I.: Absolutely. Man, more than I need.
RS: I imagine you also have enough time to get everything done?
T.I.: Time has never been and issue for me, man. It don’t take all day to do nothing.