T.I. returned last week ready for combat, dropping a fierce new EP with no warning. On Da’ Nic, the MC bobs and jabs his way through five truculent, hard-headed beats. He’s tightly-wound and sure-footed, unafraid to reference his legacy—still got stacks from back from “What You Know About That?”—but also adamant that he won’t use the past as a crutch: I’m not that old nigga think that he run it and talkin’ bout what he did back in the day/ Oh no, I'm just a vicious as ever, more brilliant and clever and still ‘bout that action today. The FADER caught up with T.I. to chat about Da ‘Nic, his upcoming album The Dime Trap, and the genius of Dr. Dre.
Have you ever put out a project on such short notice?
No, I hadn’t. It is the first time I have been blessed with the flexibility to be able to surprise fans and from a very organic, grass-roots marketing approach be able to execute the plan.
What made you feel like you needed to surprise the fans?
Right now, at this level of my career, I have to do it for the people who have put me in a position and enabled me to come so far. I can actually stand here and applaud myself for being able to last as long as I have. I’m working on my tenth album. And people still give a fuck. Shit, that’s kind of fucking cool. I should be making the music that I know my core fans want me to make.
So you see the EP as a turn towards the base?
That’s the type of music that got me here. People were patient enough, they stayed and waited and tolerated the “Blurred Lines” and the “My Love” and the “Whatever You Like” and so on and so forth. At this point in my career, if I make an album that’s dedicated to them, that’s an ode to the music that they and only they want to hear me make—if there’s only five of them, if those five motherfuckers are the ones who kept me here long enough to be on my tenth album, then I should be dedicating this tenth album to them.
On “Ain’t Gonna See It Coming” you talk about sitting back and waiting for someone to challenge you, is there anybody on your radar?
[Laughs.] It’s the age-old story of who can maintain relevance and who can still perform at the same level that they once did when people discovered them. As the game progresses, as we’re introduced to newer, fresher, sometimes more successful artists, the question is, can this guy still compete among these guys? Shit, bro. Ain’t nothing slow about me but my money! How I spend it! I want people to always, always, I’m talking ‘bout never in life look at me and assume I’m incapable of doing anything that I did at a stellar level at one time. The only thing that’s ever going to keep me from doing some shit is just me not wanting to do it. So I just wanted to let motherfuckers know that I’ll still split their hairline in half if they get it fucked up with me. That’s all.
You worked with Young Thug on “Peanut Butter Jelly.” Did he come up with that line?
Yeah, man. He just walked in that motherfucker freakishly fast and just started saying that shit. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking about. He just walked in that motherfucker and just went off.
You guys seem to have a good creative connection?
Thugger is an incredible artist with impeccable vision and understanding for how he would like to present himself and his art to the world. He’s bound by no restrictions. He don’t care about a bar count. He don’t care about a hook or a beat section or a verse. He just goes. And I’ve learned that when I understand it or not, just let him go. And we find ourselves in a great place.
This is your first release on an independent label—did you find it challenging?
This was actually probably one of the smoothest processes that I can recall in my career. It’s been the least problematic and the easiest to execute. It had nothing to do with any external agendas. There was nothing else to consider but what’s best for us. I appreciate with my relationship with my former corporate partners, and not to say that I won’t ever consider being on a major and accepting a corporate sponsor again. But there have been times with all my corporate partners in the past, we come to the table, we present what we feel is best for us, and then there’s always another factor to consider that has nothing to do with us. It really clouds our ability to effectively execute our plans. It kind of tied one of our hands behind our back. Right now, it’s all about us.
What’s The Dime Trap going to sound like?
Trap Muzik on steroids.
When are you aiming to put it out?
I’m thinking by the end of the year. I’m fortunate enough to be able to move at my own pace. The music is there. I’m just trying to beat my present best. I have tracks from Dr. Dre; I got a chance to work with the pioneer of the modern form of rap music. Just to see him construct a composition and meticulously go over so many intricate details—you’ve never heard a production of that magnitude. Nobody, nobody, nobody, can produce and perfect a record like Dre. Just to bear witness is amazing. As a music enthusiast, to be able to sit and watch this shit happen is amazing.