In military language “T.I” refers to “Training Instructor.” Is this why the rapper settled on the curious moniker?
By all available sources, T.I. was not in the military. There appears to be no evidence to suggest he was ever part of any military force.
Let’s take a look at how T.I. managed to get into the music industry, and why he goes by the name “T.I.”
The Beginnings of T.I.
It might not surprise you to know that “T.I.” is not the rapper’s real name. He was born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. on September 25, 1980, in Alabama, USA.
T.I. was raised by his grandparents in Center Hill, which is an area of Atlanta in Georgia, but would travel to visit his father in New York City. Unfortunately, his father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.
T.I. began rapping when he was only a child of 8 years old. He went to Douglass High School, but dropped out before graduating.
T.I. met local rapper “Big Kuntry King” in 1996, and they collaborated to produce a mixtape together which they sold out of the trunk of a car. After hearing the mixtape, record executive of “Ghet-O-Vision Entertainment” signed T.I. to the label.
Through the exposure, T.I. later managed to secure a deal with more established Arista Records in 1999.
The Making of a Rap Legend
T.I.’s debut album I’m Serious, was released in 2001. The album featured many other artists such as P$C, Jazze Pha, Too Short, Bone Crusher, Lil Jon, Pastor Troy, YoungBloodZ, and Pharell Wiliiams.
The album did not do well commercially. The single by the same name as the album did not chart and received little radio airplay. The album itself only reached number 98 on the charts, with 163,000 copies sold in the United States.
Critics of the album made scathing comments, such as pointing out that all the tracks sounded similar and that some were “blatant rip-offs.”
One such critic said, “T.I. claims to be the king of the South, but fails to show and prove. He does, however, have potential. If his talent ever matches his confidence, he may be headed for stardom.”
T.I. ended up being dropped from his label due to the poor performance of the album. He decided to make his own label, “Grand Hustle Entertainment” and started to release mixtapes.
T.I. got the chance to appear on Atlanta rapper Bone Crusher’s single, “Never Scared,” which ended up being a hit. Through a combination of the exposure from the single and his mixtapes, T.I. was offered a second chance from a major label—Atlantic Records.
The second album from T.I. performed much better on the charts, debuting at number 4 being made certified platinum in the US.
Why does he use “T.I.” as a stage name?
The name T.I. originated from a nickname the rapper had since a child—Tip, which came from his grandfather.
When T.I. signed to Arista Records, there was already a rapper on the label called “Q-Tip.” T.I. explained the situation with this story:
We were both on Arista and we was trying to release my first album. The people who had to market, promote, and, you know, just spread the word on it communicated that it was somewhat difficult or confusing to have two Tips in one building.
So out of respect and just the legendary reputation and career that preceded that situation, I definitely conceded. My problem, or conflict, at the time, was now this is what I’ve been called all my life, what do I change my name to?
So, I guess, that began to hold my project up. ‘What are we gonna call him?’ You know what I’m saying? So at that point we had to come to some sort of a resolution. And KP, who signed me to LaFace, he just said, ‘OK, look man, how about T.I.?’ Cause on this one record I had, it was like, ‘T-I-P.’
I was like, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. No. That was — you left out a letter still!’ You know what I’m saying? He was like, “Well, listen man. You got something better?’, ‘No, I don’t have — I don’t have anything better.’ ‘Well, that’s what we going with, man.’ So it’s kinda how it came about.”
Listen to “Be Easy” from T.I.’s second album Trap Muzik.