T.I. Charged Over Possession of Machine Guns

T.I., riding hard, falls hard and fast. Hip-hop artist expected in court Monday

[Published on: 14/10/07]
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  • T.I. v A.T.F.

Between fame and infamy, lay a day.

Saturday, T.I. was at the pinnacle of his career, the Michael Vick of the rap game. T.I. was the co-winner of Saturday night's first award, for CD of the year. He'd risen from a hard-scrabble beginning in Bankhead and survived his early crack-dealing days to become a Grammy-winning artist whose last two CDs débuted at the top of the charts.

He'd parleyed his success into a record label, and this fall, was planning to launch a fashion line, create a network sitcom, and appear in, American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, in his highest-profile movie role to date.

Yet on Sunday, T.I. — whose real name is Clifford Harris Jr. — sat in the Atlanta City Jail, snagged like Vick, the disgraced Falcons quarterback, by federal authorities. In Harris' case, he was caught in a sting in which authorities said he tried to illegally buy machine guns.

It is a serious crime with potentially serious jail time, compounded by the fact that Harris, a convicted felon, cannot own any firearms -- let alone the ones that the feds accuse him of buying, or the three they allegedly found in his car, or the ones they say were tucked in his bedroom safe that used a fingerprint scan for access.

Saturday, a few hours before the BET Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta bestowed upon him the "Best CD of the Year" award, Harris, 27, might also have earned himself up to 10 years in federal prison. His first court appearance on the weapons charges is Monday afternoon.

T.I.'s initial court appearance will be at 3 p.m. Monday before Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman at the federal courthouse in Atlanta. "We'll go in [Monday], request bail on his behalf and vigorously defend him," said attorney Dwight Thomas, who with Steve Sadow is representing Harris. Thomas would not comment on what Harris had to say about the charges when the two met at the jail. "I can tell you he's in good spirits," the lawyer said. "He's confident the legal system will work in his favor."

'Gangsta Fairy Tale'

Harris is an artist of intriguing contrasts. Like many hip-hop artists who maintain a hard-core image, he rarely cracks a smile. Yet at home, he bakes biscuits for his kids. Under his moniker T.I., he adopts a persona of a smooth ladies man. But on his new CD "T.I. vs. T.I.P.," he battles another guy in his head, who boasts about his impoverished beginnings and glorifies a "gangsta" lifestyle.

Scholar Michael Eric Dyson — in town Sunday for a speech by minister Louis Farrakhan that took aim at the violence, sexism and greed openly rapped about and portrayed in music videos — said gangster culture is not just part of the rap music scene.

It's been part of American mythology from the beginning and could be seen in cowboy movies where John Wayne can kill dozens, to the forthcoming "American Gangster." But that fact that it happens to and among young men with black faces disproportionately draws the attention of the media and white America, Dyson said.

"What we often forget is that the troubled lives that these young men rap about is the troubled lives that they live," he said. At the spirited, pre-scheduled speech at Justin's restaurant on Peachtree Street, Farrakhan said, "As long as you stay in funk and filth, this is going to turn on you." Hip-hop icon Chuck D, who also attended, said that hip-hop often portrays a "gangsta fairy tale" without talking about the repercussions.

Algrin Davis, also known as DJ Toomp, who produced many of T.I.'s songs, said he tried to warn the rapper, 10 years his junior — about hanging with the wrong crowd and the consequences that could bring.

"I was in his ear all the time," Davis said. Harris has had several brushes with the law — and a close one with death. In June 2004, while serving time in Cobb County jail for violating probation on a drug conviction, Harris used his work-release program pass to shoot a video in the "SuperMax" units atop the Fulton County jail with eight prisoners and a few guards. In the ensuing controversy, the jail supervisor was fired.

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