Is T.I. an Idiot?



Machine gun funk

So I got married a few days ago. It was awesome. I recommend it. I’m not going to turn into one of those people who writes a ton of stuff on his blog about his wedding, but a quick note about this: Don’t think you can hire a wedding DJ and control him. You can’t. You’ll be having too much fun to care anyway. Also: if your wedding gets shut down by police, you probably had a pretty badass wedding, especially if they actually threaten to cart your father-in-law off to jail. Extended Irish families throw down.

But so back to this music-blogging thing. A couple of nights before my wedding, I couldn’t sleep, so I did the thing where I haul my laptop into bed and click around on random blogs until I get tired enough to fall asleep. On this particular night, a few people had posted the new video for T.I.’s “Hurt.” I watched it. This turned out to be a mistake. “Hurt” is the sort of rap video that nobody makes anymore: no girls, no money, no cars, lots of dudes in ski-masks in a dank bombed-out warehouse waving chains at unsteady black-and-white camera, jump-cuts every half-second, three or more rappers compete to see who has the craziest facial expressions. This is my favorite kind of rap video. And so after watching “Hurt” I couldn’t fall asleep for another couple of hours because I got all amped and had to keep watching it over and over. Empty oilcans. Dry-ice fog curling up. T.I., giant link-chain draped over his tiny shoulders, brandishing a baseball bat even though the song is about guns. Alfamega, ski-mask over jagged face, looming motionless while a slow-mo crowd bugs out around him. Cameos from rappers, only about half of whom I recognize. Busta Rhymes grinning maniacally through a bloodthirsty double-time verse. I love this stuff. On T.I. Vs. T.I.P., “Hurt” was a clear standout, a short moment when the album’s concept actually came to life and T.I. really seemed to be giving free reign to his knucklehead side before reigning himself back in. With the video, it becomes something more: a snarling spitting heaving monster of a track, a well-timed reminder that T.I. and Busta still have this sort of ferocity in them, a great general-audience introduction for Alfamega. T.I. cedes the spotlight to two vastly superior guest-verses but still looks smart in associating himself with these guys. And when Alfamega’s verse is on, I catch flashback’s to Freddie Foxxx’s firebreathing tirade on Gang Starr’s “The Militia.” It’s worth noting that all three singles from T.I. vs. T.I.P. have come from the T.I.P. side of the album, an interesting indication that T.I.’s tough side and his pop side are basically the same thing. And it’s weird that it took him this long to figure out that broken glass and chains are much better ways of declaring your toughness than taking a private jet to Haiti to hang out with the bad guy from Shottas.

I was planning on writing about the “Hurt” video today anyway, but then this morning brought the news that T.I. had been arrested in Atlanta for some really serious federal gun changes, charges that could send him to prison for ten years and effectively end his career. The ATF’s story goes that T.I. sent a bodyguard to buy three machine guns and two silencers. T.I. is a convicted felon, and so he can’t legally own any guns, let alone unregistered machine guns like these ones. The bodyguard cooperated with agents, and ATF agents arrested T.I. when the bodyguard made the delivery. T.I. almost certainly has a team of insanely good lawyers at his disposal, and hopefully all this will turn out to be an aggressively prosecuted misunderstanding. Still, if the charges do turn out to be true, I am going to be disappointed as fuck. Because how dumb do you have to be? You’re one of the world’s most popular rappers, you just became maybe the first Southern rapper to headline Madison Square Garden, you sell millions of records during a time when nobody buys records, you have bodyguards, you’re a convicted felon on probation, and you know full well that police make it a point to follow rappers around and make arrests on the thinnest shreds of evidence, and you still send some chump to buy your machine guns? How dumb do you have to be? This comes a couple of days after Prodigy, the guy who made my favorite rap album of the year, accepted a three-and-a-half year charge for criminal gun possession and a few months after Lil Wayne, my favorite rapper right now, got arrested in New York on similar charges. Too many of the rappers I like are risking prison-time for dumb and avoidable offenses (seriously, bodyguards), and all of a sudden it’s distressingly apparent that “Hurt” is a song about killing you, something I’d realized but not altogether recognized before today. Before today, it was easy to focus on the details, like the badass way Alfamega mispronounces Sayonara (“Sarra-nara!“). After the arrest, it’s harder to ignore the fact that I’m listening to millionaires bragging about their guns, and now the “Hurt” video doesn’t seem like quite the triumph it was when I woke up this morning. Ideally, the divide between persona and personality, between theatrical displays of bravado and actual threats of violence, should be wide enough to keep a song like this from getting too problematic. For whatever reason, though, even the richest and most successful rappers seem to be having trouble leaving their old lives behind. It would be ridiculous and reactionary to suddenly stop liking “Hurt” because the guy who made the song got arrested for buying guns. But context matters.

Unrelated: RIP Big Moe. Sad day.