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Rapper T.I. Playing With Dual Identities

Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Clifford Harris Jr., who most people know better as the Atlanta-based rapper T.I., is happy to admit he has an identity crisis.

And he’s happy to exploit it.

His fifth album, “T.I. vs. T.I.P.,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart last month with first-week sales of 468,000 copies, is all about “the two very powerful personalities within my one self.” T.I.P., he says, was actually there first and represents “the person that I’ve always been. Anyone who knows me outside music — family, friends — they call me Tip. I’m usually Tip when I’m offstage.”

T.I.P., he says, also has “a temper.” He raps that he’s “a G (gangsta) prepared to die for what’s important to me” — and is the persona who’s spent time in jail, most recently in 2004, for violating parole from a previous drug dealing conviction.

T.I., meanwhile, is what the rapper has become since his career took off with the 2001 club hit “Dope Boyz.”

“He’s the persona I had to become to assume a certain level of success, professionally,” T.I. explains.

And that track record includes 2006’s platinum “King,” which was the top-selling rap album of the year, as well as a guest appearance on Justin Timberlake’s Grammy-winning “My Love,” a starring role in the film “ATL” and a turn alongside Denzel Washington in the upcoming “American Gangster.”

Given their different orientations, T.I. and T.I.P. don’t always get along.

“But, y’know, everyone’s professional (life) conflicts with their personal, sometimes,” the 26-year-old rapper says with a shrug in a room at Detroit’s Youthville center, just after speaking to a group of young fans.

The battle, he says, is chronicled on “T.I. vs. T.I.P.,” whose three parts give each persona a chance to establish itself before an album-closing “battle,” which resolves in an agreement to co-exist.

“All my songs are so personal; they narrate my life to a certain point,” he says of the album, which features guest appearances by Eminem, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Ciara, Wyclef, OutKast’s Andre “3000” Benjamin and Mannie Fresh. “ ‘T.I. vs. T.I.P.,’ it’s a reenactment of real events ... that went down between the time ‘King’ came out and this album.

“As much as I would like to think I’ve got (the balance between the two personas) under control, the situations and scenarios I get myself into pretty much dictate the personality I will be assuming. For instance, this is T.I. right here and right now, but a series of events — I won’t say what — could just as easily bring out Tip.”

It clearly behooves T.I. to keep that balance intact. Raised by his grandmother in West Atlanta’s poor Bankhead section, he’s push beyond his drug-dealing past to build an empire that stretches beyond music and movies. He has a record label, Grand Hustle, which released the soundtrack to 2005’s “Hustle & Flow,” home to Three 6 Mafia’s Oscar-winning hit “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp.”

T.I. also owns a construction company, New Finish, which is run by his uncle, Quentin Harris. And he’s launched a clothing line called Akoo, which he says means “a king of oneself.”

T.I.P. has surfaced a bit this year, though. A long-running beef with fellow rapper Ludacris gained fuel earlier this year when the latter’s “Release Therapy” won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album over “King.” T.I. mentions it on the “T.I. vs. T.I.P.” track “You Know What it Is” — “(I) had the album of the year, Grammy or not” — and he had a confrontation with Ludacris’ manager, Chaka Zulu, at an industry luncheon in June.

T.I. contends that he and Ludacris have put aside their conflict, but he’s still rankled by the perceived Grammy slight.

“I feel like the Grammy voters ... don’t know one name from the other when they get to the hip-hop section,” he says. “They just pick the most recognizable name.”

And while T.I. diplomatically states that “I feel like the person who won was supposed to win,” his T.I.P. side has a different opinion.

“Real life, man ... I hear in the atmosphere. I hear where the truth counts. Everybody knows who had the album of the year. I ain’t trippin’.”

T.I. headlines Screamfest ’07 at 7 p.m. Thursday (August 16th) at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Ciara, T Pain, Lloyd and Yung Joc also are on the bill. Tickets are $29.50-$69.50. Call (313) 471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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