Photo by Jason Campbell

Photo by Jason Campbell

This past week, T.I. caught the music world by surprise with the release of Da’ Nic, an EP made under his early T.I.P. moniker. The free offering displayed a T.I. who had lost none of his lyrical or technical skills—on the contrary, he seems more invigorated than ever. He recently described himself as “a rogue artist, busting creativity, just waiting to put music in the marketplace.”

Da’ Nic comes mere months before T.I.’s tenth studio album, The Dime Trap. The EP only has a couple of guest features, with two of T.I.’s former prodigies making appearances: Young Thug and Young Dro. While T.I. has shown he can compete with pop stars on the charts, Da’ Nic is a return to the brazen attitude of his earlier days, and there’s nothing pop about it.

It is also his first independent release, coming alongside the news that T.I. had severed ties with his label partners at Columbia. It’s a new chapter for the man who has spent nearly twenty years in the game. And from the sound of it, he has a lot left in the tank. The second coming of T.I. is upon us.

This was the first project you put out independently. Why did you decide to do that?
I got tired of waiting on what other people wanted to do. I got tired of hearing what they wanted to do and how, and how long it was going to take—all that other extra shit. Just put the damn music out. Shut the fuck up and put the shit out.

Does that change anything about how you make the music?
Nope, I make the music pretty much how a dog shit in the street: when, where, and how I want.

What made you want to do it as a surprise, and not announce it doing a big promo leading up to it?
Well, because it targeted my key demographic, the day one T.I.P. fans, and those people are directly interested in and tuned into what I say via my social media outlets. I felt that it would be best promoted or marketed by making it sort of like an RSVP to an invitation-only party.

The people you send the invitation to are the people you most want to be there, and those are the people who need to know about it. Who wants anybody to know about a party that they’re not supposed to show up to? There was no use in doing some broad, mass-marketing campaign. We just had to get it to the motherfuckers that you know care about it the most.

This project doesn’t sound like it’s going for Top 40 hits. It feels more like something for the day one fans. Is that the goal for this project?
That’s definitely the intention. This is my tenth album. I want to dedicate this time of my career to them. They’ve afforded me this opportunity to be here. They’ve enabled me to stay here and have longevity in what I do, and they’ve tolerated all the rhythmic or mainstream hits. It’s time to give back to the people who’ve supported me the most, for the longest.

It’s time to give back to the people who’ve supported me the most, for the longest.

Why did you choose Thug and Dro as the only guests? Was that just the song that made the cut?
Yeah, it was just the song was dope, and it was urgent. It needed to be heard, it needed to happen now. This shit is now—the tide of music can change. It can turn any day now. I’m already on the pulse of this motherfucker.

Is the album you’re working on going to be like a continuation of this EP or is going to take a different direction?
Nah, it’s going to be the same shit. Well, I will say this: it will be more introspective. This was kind of direct. This was really just to let motherfuckers know I’m not bullshitting. When I tell you some shit’s coming, believe it.

You’ve always been one of the dudes that’s up on new talent, finding new artists. What do you look for in a new artist?
Individuality, work ethic, charisma, unique qualities that they possess that no one else does… and dope music.

A lot of the artists you have co-signed have gone on to be really successful. So many other big artists have tried to co-sign artists and it doesn’t work out. Why do you think that is? Is it something you do? Is it just the artists that you pick?
I don’t know, man. I don’t know. It could be something I do. It could be the artists I pick. It could be the things I know. It could just be fucking luck. Whatever it is, God don’t stop it. I’m just happy to be a part of the culture, and a significant role player.

Who else are you working with right now? Any new artist that we don’t know about yet?
Yeah. There’s a young man by the name of Shad Da God, from the south side of Atlanta. He’s dope. There’s a young man by the name of Yung Booke. My daughter, her project is coming out. It’s shaping up nicely.

Are these artists are all signed to your label?
Sure, they’re all HustleGang. That’s it for the discussion right now. These are the guys that are most developed.

Any newcomers that you aren’t working with that you want to?
Yeah, but I’m afraid to say something. I don’t want to put anyone on to my next moves.

You were one of the first to put on Young Thug and give him a big look with “About The Money.” How did that song come about?
He just pulled up to the studio and we went ahead and did it.

Image via Instagram

Image via Instagram

Were you familiar with him already?
Yeah, I knew him personally from the streets.

What did you like about him? What made you want to work with him?
He has a unique style. His melody, cadences, and ability to put songs together. He can make records that translate to the market. That shit is impeccable.

What advice would you give to a new artist in 2015? What do you think they should be doing?
Work hard, and don’t expect nothing to be given to you. Don’t expect a consideration for it. Don’t say when it’s time for you to blow yet. You can’t say that, nobody can say that. “I’ve worked hard enough! It’s time now!” Nah, get the fuck out of here. Just keep your head down and fucking work. When we pull up on you, you’ll know. You’ll know it’s time when you get there. You put a lot of extra pressure and added disappointment on yourself when you say when it should be done. Just work.

What about the internet? Is that important to you? Do you keep up with who’s buzzing on the internet? Do you keep up with the blogs?
I don’t read blogs too much unless somebody tells me, “You see this on this place?” I’ll go because of that. My homeboys have a list of sites they go to every day, three or four times a day, and I’m like, “What the fuck are you doing that for?” If I’m supposed to know something, it’s going to make it to me. I shouldn’t have to force myself to go find out what’s going on in the world.

So how do you find new music?
I wait to hear a song where I say, “Ay, what’s that?”

I don’t think you should ever get stuck wishing things would not be how they are. Either stay and accept it for what it is, or get the fuck on.

How do you think streaming has changed things? Does that make it any easier or harder for artists?
I think it’s good that people are still listening to music. It’s bad if they’re not paying for it. It’s a paradigm shift. I think that 2001 was the most successful year in music. After that, there is nowhere to go but down. You gradually just have to fall off, little by little by little, and fourteen years later, here we are. The only thing left to do is hit rock bottom—boom—and then go back up. Ain’t no stopping that. [Laughs]

Does that affect your business plan, or your approach to planning releases?
Yeah, you have to cut your cost. You try to spend according to what you’re estimated to make. But the songs you record, you can’t let that affect your artistry. It may affect where you record, but not what you record.

How have you taste changed over the years? Do you think you would still like a song that you liked ten years ago?
Sometimes, yeah. I think I’m more lenient now. I can overlook some shit in a song that I don’t like more easily now than I could before. Before if I heard a song and it was cool up until something, I was like, “Hell nah, fuck that, I ain’t listening to that.” But now I can kinda say, “Eh, but I like the rest of that.” I think they kinda wore me down. [Laughs]

What do you think about hip-hop specifically? I feel like hip-hop is moving in some weird directions. You have people experimenting a lot more, and genres mixing. Do you like that? Do you ever wish things to go back to the way they were?
I don’t think you should ever get stuck wishing things would not be how they are. Either stay and accept it for what it is, or get the fuck on because it’s not what you want it to be.

Is there anything that you haven’t accomplished yet that you want to?
Sure, tons of stuff. I’ve never had a Rolling Stone cover. I’ve never had a world tour. I never did a song with Outkast. I’ve done songs with [André 3000 and Big Boi] individually, but I’ve never done a song with Outkast. I did a song with Destiny’s Child, but I never did a song with Beyoncé. I’ve never done a Hype Williams video. There’s tons of stuff, but there’s time for that.

T.I.’s The Dime Trap will be released in November.