In Memphis to film the finale of his reality TV show, "T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle," and lending his support to the Olympic Cares Toy Drive, T.I. opened up during a press conference at Southland Mall on Tuesday (Nov. 20).
Kelvin Cowans: Welcome to Memphis T.I., and thanks for coming!
T.I.: Right on!
KC: My name is Kelvin Cowans and I'm with The New Tri-State Defender newspaper. Everything you do is well-documented – from your music to your television show – but one thing that's probably not as much is that you're always giving back. Where did that start? At what point did it hit you that you knew that's what you needed or wanted to do? You're highly successful and everybody doesn't give back, but you do.
T.I.: It came for me as soon as I began to gain a certain level of success; when I found out that I could just give my time and that it would help better people's lives. We've been doing it since the beginning of my career. It started small. We'd pick up ten to twelve turkey's from the grocery store then go ride around and drop them off in the projects. That was back in the year 2000. Then as my celebrity grew and my finances put me in a position to do more, then, I've been doing more. I think that me being one of those kids who didn't have anybody to give back to them, it made me want to give back more.
Reporter: You got your music career going good and you guys have your show, but tell me what's next on the plate for the family?
T.I. Ha! Man, right now we're just focusing on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We're just focusing on being a family. Of course, each of us have our own endeavors going. Niq (Zonnique, his daughter) has the OMG Girlz. They're working on their next single and getting ready to drop their first album. All of the kids have their own personal passions that they are following, but as a family we're focusing on what we going to do for the holidays.
Reporter: What brings you to Memphis?
T.I. Well, besides the mayor, A.C. Wharton (Jr.) right here, I just came because I've gotten a lot of support from the people of Memphis from the beginning of my career. Especially during the time that I spent locked up across the bridge over there (in Arkansas). I met a lot of Memphis people and I felt like they just had real spirits, and the people of Memphis kept me uplifted. They were a strong part of that. So I came to give back.
Reporter: Everybody goes through ups and downs in their life and I know you consider yourself a mentor to young people in this town. What would you say as a message to the youth of Memphis, especially at Thanksgiving, who may be going through some hard times right now?
T.I.: If I had to speak to them one on one, I'd tell them that hard times don't last but hard people do. You got to really be prepared for adversity because it's going to come. Understand that it makes you a better person, so don't avoid it. You should welcome it. Welcome the challenge of adversity and come out the other side a better person. That's my testimony because that's my experience.
Reporter: Do you ever get used to the camera's being around you all the time?
T.I.: The cameras to me aren't a big deal. I don't do anything in front of the cameras that I wouldn't do when they weren't there. I'm myself, this is the only me I know how to be. I just always be myself, which is something I can remain consistent with.
Reporter: Mayor Wharton, why is it important to have T.I. here?
Mayor Wharton: First of all, just the message of caring. Memphis is a city of caring. Also, T.I. just said it. Everyone is going to have adversity in your life but the question is, "What are you going to do with it after you get up?" It shows that there is redemption. Once you get out and show yourself good, as T.I. has done, then you'll see that folks are going to be here with you. That's' the key thing.
We talk so much about second chances, and actually in this world you're going to need four, five and six more chances. This is just a living example that life does go on and if you get out do something positive then society is going to embrace you just as we're doing here. It sends a message to those that are using their past as an excuse. You should get out and do as T.I. has done and use it as a stepping stone and build on it.
TSD President/Publisher Bernal E. Smith II: T.I., I want to thank you for being here and supporting the Toy Drive of Olympic Cares. You have a very successful television show and it's about family. How important is it that men see a man in his household with his wife taking care of his family? Just how important is that to you and to the community?
T.I.: I don't know how important it is for others, but it's important to me to show you guys how I live every day because of what I experienced when I was away. I felt that I was being judged and persecuted based on a lot of false pretenses. Because people didn't know me. All they could do is assume that I was a certain way due to the headlines. So it was important to me to make sure people saw me as I am on a daily basis and judge me from a place of understanding and knowledge, rather than a place of speculation and assumption.
Kelvin Cowans: I want to say that being an ex-convict myself, I want to say that it's very important that we see a guy like yourself taking care of your family and handling business the way that you do...it inspires me, and I'm older than you.
But (I am inspired) by the lyrics that you put out, to watch the show and to keep up with what you are doing in your life; and how you take care of your wife and kids; and they are usually with you. It's a beautiful thing! So I'm speaking on behalf of all of us who have been to prison and came out and started doing great things – like writing for a newspaper or writing a book or making music. It means a lot, it really do.
T.I.: Thank you, thank you.
Reporter: We got Mr. Larry Dotson from the Bar-Kay's and he'd like to say hello.
Larry Dotson: I'd just like to say on behalf of the band and the great people of Memphis, Welcome T.I. and welcome Tiny (Tameka "Tiny" Cottle-Harris, his wife) and all your family. We embrace you partner, and here's the right hand from Memphis.
T.I.: Thank you sir.
Reporter: What can we expect from your new album?
T.I.: Well, the album will be released Dec. 18th and you can expect all the things you have loved about T.I., mixed with some new things that you will learn to love about T.I. I wanted to make sure that people got that classic sound that they have grown accustomed to but also mix it with some diversity. I like to make sure I say something that people need to hear.
I do the music that's commonly known as "trap music" to draw people in. Once I draw them in, I trick them into learning something. So you know, right now you jamming to a CD, then when you get up, you get up with a different perspective. That's my soul purpose and intention. To introduce people to a part of life that they didn't consider until they pressed play on that CD player.
Reporter: What are you thankful for this season?
T.I.: I'm thankful for my health, strength and my family. I'm thankful that the Lord hasn't let me go yet, ya know.
Reporter: How has the music game changed?
T.I.: Well, there's a lot less money going around. Still, you also don't have to wait until somebody notices you or bumps into you for you to make it. Your destiny is in your own hands with Youtube and WorldStar and all these other outlets on the Internet. You can put up your own music and post your own performances and if the people like it, they will gravitate to you and you can be what they call an Internet sensation. Soldier Boy, and others have done it. You can let the people decide.
Kelvin Cowans: I got a question for Tiny. Tiny, when you see your kids sitting here and they're all beautiful, and then your husband's smart and doing his thang...
T.I.: I'm beautiful too!
KC: I couldn't do it man.
T.I.: I know, I know.
KC: How does it make your heart feel, deep down inside?
Tiny: I am complete. I'm happy. I'm blessed. I'm so blessed to have a great husband and a big family. I always wanted a big family, and I got it.
(The following sponsors brought T.I. to Memphis: The New Tri-State Defender, Olympic Tax Service, Clear Channel, Cricket and Mapco.)