There’s a furious battle raging inside T.I.’s head. That’s what we learned when the multiplatinum Atlanta rapper dropped by EW’s New York offices on March 21 to preview his July-scheduled release T.I. vs. T.I.P. The ambitious concept album — which he’s still recording (to date, he’s cut over 60 tracks!) — revolves around a split-personality tale in which the suave, jet-setting T.I. struggles to defeat his reckless, streetwise alter-ego, T.I.P. The rapper even plans to illustrate the dark psychodrama with a direct-to-DVD companion film. (Chris Robinson, who directed him in ATL last year, is in talks to helm the movie.) Other characters slated to guest on the disc include Wyclef Jean, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Ciara, Akon, Tweet, and R. Kelly — not to mention Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, T.I.’s partners on the Grammy-winning smash ”My Love.” After wowing us with a few selections from the album, T.I. sat down with EW.com to explain the finer points of his on-record identity crisis.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was surprised to hear that you’ve recorded seven songs so far with Wyclef Jean. What’s your relationship with him like?
T.I.: He said I brought him back into the music business. He said he was not even interested in music before that weekend [when we recorded together], and that weekend inspired him to do music again. Now Clef’s a partner of mine. He’s supposed to do an album on Columbia, and he asked me to co-executive produce it with him.
Are you a big fan of his music?
I’m not gonna say that everything that he’s released is my favorite song, just because we come from two different walks of life. But all of the music that he releases ain’t necessarily [intended] for me. You gotta go over my head to get to 18 million records sold off of one LP [The Fugees’ 1996 album The Score].
Are you trying to reach that level of sales now?
Absolutely! I’m trying to go over my own head, you know what I’m saying? I’m trying to get there, and he said he wants to help.
Who do you see as the target audience for your new album?
I don’t want to compromise any of my original fans. But at the same time I don’t think that it would be fair to me, as a prominent public hip-hop figure, to isolate myself to my original fans. So, I guess, for lack of a better word — everybody. [Laughs]
Do you see yourself as part of the tradition of rappers working in film?
You can look at Jay-Z in Streets Is Watching. You can compare [me to] Eminem in 8 Mile. But, see, those were movies first. This was an album first, an album that was so conceptual and so drawn to a narrative — it’s a treat to our ears, but it’s more of a benefit to see with our eyes. You wouldn’t be doing it justice unless you put it on screen. A [music] video’s not gonna be able to tell this story.
What are some of your cinematic influences?
This particular project, Fight Club and Memento. And there was an album by Pink Floyd that Jay-Z requested that I listen to, but I forgot [which one].
Are you looking forward to reuniting with Timbaland and Justin?
Timbaland is a tremendous talent. I have to make sure that I put as much into my efforts as he puts into his. And Justin as well. To work with people who are so far in the upper echelon of this realm of entertainment — it’s phenomenal, man. It’s unmatched.
Did you always know you’d get this big?
Nah, man. I didn’t. I thought maybe I’d drop a record, go gold. I never really assumed that I would be this far ahead.
And now you’re the ”King of the South.”
I mean, really, the South is already won — that’s a wrap. Now I’m working on ”King,” period.