Tomorrow (October 15) is another “judgment day” for T.I. The Atlanta superstar will again face a judge, this time for violating the terms of his recent parole on federal weapons charges. Like his last stint in court before being sentenced to a year in prison, the judge’s verdict will decide the Grand Hustle CEO’s future for the next two years. A trip back to jail is inevitable, but the time frame can be anywhere for 6-14 months. That leaves the judge with a dilemma; does T.I.’s recent infraction merit the highest punishment allowed under law, or should the rapper, in essence, be given another chance?
Since beginning my career as a music journalist in Atlanta, I’ve been privileged to cover several T.I./Grand Hustle functions. The most recent was the Atlanta premiere of his movie Takers at Atlantic Station. Fans and stars alike came out to support him, and stood for hours waiting for his appearance. He drove up himself in a white Maybach, and before interacting with fellow celebrities or media, he sprinted across the street to make sure he thanked as many of his everyday fans as possible. It’s those type of gestures that have kept many in the city fiercely loyal to the Bankhead emcee in spite of his sometimes illogical legal mishaps.
That was, until he and his wife Tiny were busted in Los Angeles last month for carrying controlled substances. Even his most ardent supporters were dumbfounded that he and his wife, who herself was arrested back in 2007 on similar charges, would place themselves in another situation that would compromise their freedom.
The arrest came not even six full months following T.I.’s release after serving less than a year on several counts of federal weapons charges. In exchange for the light sentence, T.I. went on a national campaign speaking out against the use of guns, and urging residents to be active in working with authorities in their community. The deal was so sweet that many speculated that T.I. had to have been an informant to secure such an agreement. A normal person, with his previous criminal record, would have likely spent 10-15 years in prison for purchasing high-powered, illegal weapons with silencers.
But T.I. is a celebrity, and whether the court system wants to admit it or not, that distinction allows for options not afforded to regular people. Tip acknowledged this when discussing the case on his Fuck A Mixtape outro, explaining that he was able to get a lighter sentence because of the contributions he could and would make to society. For a time, it seemed he was correct. Prior to that, T.I. was saying all of the right things in interviews, and on the road when he spoke at rallies and high schools. The supposed transformation was documented by MTV’s Road to Redemption, which showed a remorseful Tip reflecting on his mistakes, and getting his family business in order before serving his sentence.
In hindsight, T.I.’s celebrity did not aid his redemption. Instead, it nurtured a brazen attitude to the law and his situation. A perfect example is T.I.’s opening verse of Rick Ross “Maybach Music 3,” where he quips, “Tell the ATF I’m riding with another .380.” He could have been separated from his woman and children for over a decade behind that case. That reality makes it difficult to understand why or how he could lower that situation to a cocky punchline.
T.I. and Hip-Hop fans will have a case of deja vu tomorrow when they see the Grand Hustle leader facing the judge. But the underlying circumstances have done a 180. Because he failed to uphold a golden opportunity, his celebrity status will now be a hinderance instead of an asset. T.I. said before that he thought long and hard about his predicament during his last incarceration. Apparently, it was not long enough, and the rapper stands a good chance of facing the maximum, probation officer-recommended sentence of 14 months.
The old saying goes “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” But T.I. ultimately fooled himself. He, like many of us, thought his road to redemption ended earlier this year when he stepped out of those prison walls. We now know T.I. has much more to learn. For the sake of himself and his family, let this be the last time T.I. has to receive life lessons behind bars.