Spirited arguments about the originator of trap music may never come to a consensus, but there’s no disputing that T.I. was instrumental in taking the hip-hop subgenre, and Southern street rap, to unprecedented heights. Atlanta native Clifford Harris, born in 1980, was fittingly dubbed “the JAY-Z of the South” by Pharrell Williams upon the release of his debut album, 2001’s I’m Serious, on which T.I. recounts his time hustling, his smooth drawl and cool demeanor unshakable. And so began his tooling of the trap blueprint as he detailed grim street-survivalist tales with slick punchlines and earnest reflection over bass-heavy production, complete with 808 drums and stuttering hi-hats. It was the perfect soundtrack for the South’s beloved car culture. Tip’s follow-up, Trap Muzik, helped popularize the sound, and his next two albums, 2004’s Urban Legend and 2006’s King—with booming rap-along anthems like the aggressive “Asap” and woozy “What You Know,” respectively—established him as trap's spokesperson. By 2008, Paper Trail placed T.I. in the elite rap company of Kanye West, JAY-Z, Lil Wayne, and M.I.A. on the speaker-rattling posse cut “Swagga Like Us.” And though Tip spent the next few years grappling with various legal troubles, he continued to release music, and his ventures into reality TV rebranded him as a family man and entrepreneur. He became one of rap’s most outspoken voices for social justice: His defiant, thumping 2016 EP, Us or Else: Letter to the System, was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2018, T.I. opened Atlanta's Trap Music Museum—an experiential creation made to emulate the trap houses (run-down residences) that inspired his career—to chronicle the city's hip-hop history. But it doesn’t take a trip to Georgia to see what the self-proclaimed King of the South has built.
BORNSeptember 25, 1980