Though it pains me to admit is, there was a time when hip-hop probably was a bad influence on the youth of America. Sure, they were only expressing sentiments already present among young black men, and they were only describing a cultural experience of poverty and violence already shared by thousands around the country. But glorifying the gang banger lifestyle through music — and for every successful rapper with a peaceful message and a nuanced view, ten more did indeed do little more than glorify it — well, that probably didn’t help matters. Though times have changed over the past ten years, I can’t deny that rap music often still projects messages that might lead the gullible to make poor life choices.
So I’m really glad we have T.I. around to set them straight.
T.I. is one of the most successful rappers out of the Atlanta, Georgia hip-hop scene. But like too many rappers who grew up amidst crime, drugs and death, even after finding wealth he was unable to leave behind that world and the attitude it bred. Some of this manifested in his music, but some of it had real world consequences. A member of his Entourage was murdered in a club shooting. The next year T.I. himself was arrested for possessing illegal firearms, and has now spent the last year first in federal prison and then in an Atlanta halfway house.
But unlike many rappers whose criminal dealings or violent outbursts land them in jail, T.I. did not come out hardened and defiant. Instead, he was humbled. Since his legal troubles started there has been a distinctive shift in the tone of his music. He still does some of the familiar love-in-the-club and rap-game-braggadocio tracks, but his most serious songs have a new message, which is this: It wasn’t worth it.
Violently confronting those that offended his pride wasn’t worth the dead friends, the months in prison, and the pain caused to his family. Now he tells his listeners to keep a level head, stay focused and determined, ignore haters, and make good choices. These songs, hits like like “Dead And Gone” (featuring the ever talented Justin Timberlake) and “Live Your Life” (featuring the ever entrancing Rihanna), were ballads about regrets and lessons learned, rather than the glamor if knives and bullets.
I think this is an incredibly positive and important message, and I’m glad that someone as popular, respected and flat out talented as T.I. is out there saying it.
T.I. has a new mixtape out this month called The Takers, presumably coinciding with the August release of the Hollywood crime thriller Takers, which he starred in. The album is fun and well produced, and T.I. is a charismatic rapper as always. But what stands out is the last track, “Slide Show,” a wonderfully articulate bit of autobiography that follows T.I.’s new serious style and new message. His lyrics are at once inspirational and brutally straightforward: “Look at my life and learn from it, don’t do it / If I only knew back then what I know now / How much better life woulda been if I’da slowed down / Maybe I’da been Kanye, instead of seeing gun play.”
T.I. is just one man, unfortunately, and though “hardcore gangster rap” has waned, many hip-hop artists still boast about their experiences with guns and dope deals. Hopefully T.I.’s continued stardom can be a lesson to them, not just in the dangers of pride and violence, but rather that it is possible to get hit singles by talking, of all things, about morality. I hope they pay attention, for all our sakes.
T.I.’s new mixtape, The Takers, can be downloaded for free at http://www.datpiff.com/Dj_Devol_TI__The_Takers.m111074.html