There was a point when I owned every T.I. album, before Tipmania took hold of the South and Hip-Hop in general. Along his way to the top, T.I. made a litany of dumb moves and mistakes that really soured him in my eyes, including multiple arrests and incidents that put not only his career, but his family and their lives in danger.
A belief in yourself is necessary for any kind of success, but once you get that success, it converts to an arrogance that isn’t always visible to the person going through it. When the champagne is flowing, the money is piling and the fame starts making you believe in your own invincibility, common sense gets further and further in the rear view mirror. He lost his best friend to violence that could have been avoided with some humility. But that wasn’t enough. He got caught with machine guns and silencers and escaped with a slap on the wrist. But that wasn’t enough. The last straw, was a traffic stop in Los Angeles with drugs in the car; an incident that theoretically could have landed both he and his wife in prison and had their kids in jeopardy. Reality television shows and a speaking tour featuring Tip exhorting kids to put down the guns (while his music still represented that lifestyle) just added salt to the wounds.
Then a funny thing happened to Clifford Harris. He grew up. He finally put a ring on it and married Tiny, and began to finally settle down. After a life of seemingly perpetual mistakes that flew in the face of his many blessings, T.I. became arguably the most potent representation of real black fatherhood on television since Bill Cosby. In his role as family head on his reality show T.I. & Tiny, The Family Hustle, Harris has introduced a new millennium image of fatherhood that avoids the bumbling role foisted upon us my modern television.
T.I. is an active participant in the lives of his children, providing true leadership with an interesting blend of (George) Jeffersonian authority, Huxtable emotional availability, and a dash of Lester from 227’s gruff protectionism. He doesn’t lead with belligerence, but he can dead the children’s hijinks and Tiny’s occasional forays into Lucyhood with “that look.” This is a far cry from the modern TV father who bumbles through every episode trying to get over on his out of his league wife, and is miles behind his teenage kids who scheme around him with impunity.
T. I. has introduced things into his children’s lives that stand outside the traditional hood experience. There are episodes where he takes them camping, and others where he introduces the virtue of charity, and others where the importance of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle are put front and center. By nature of who their parents are, the children do have access to things that normal kids don’t (your son can’t grab a mic at a huge concert and perform on a whim) but T.I.s groundedness and Tiny’s dose of clowning are more than enough to normalize their experience.
But where does this leave T.I. as a brand? This role stands in stark contrast to choppers in the whip and the Trouble Man persona cultivated over the course of his music career. He hasn’t had a legitimate hit since his return and there’s a reason for that: he probably doesn’t want to be there. It isn’t who he is now and unfortunately, no one wants to hear positive rap from Mr. Harris. Aside from that, I’m sure that there are label obligations, his own Grand Hustle ambitions and other things that keep him chained to making HIp-Hop music.
That’s unfortunate, because the image of T.I. as a father appears extraordinarily genuine and is absolutely necessary given the images of Black men on television. It’s amazing that someone from his background has been thrust in that position, and without the aid of writers and scripts. So here’s to daddy dearest. May Clifford Harris continue his fatherly example and leave Trapper John, M.C. further in the rearview. Much like Ice Cube’s abandonment of the “n***a you love to hate,” this version, while seemingly innocuous, is infinitely more powerful and necessary.
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