01:10: Hip Hop Icon T.I.

Who better to explore one of popular writing’s most contested modern debates than an icon who has worked on both sides of that debate? That’s why today’s episode of The Writing Process Podcast, the final of this first season, is with T.I.

Conventional wisdom tells that the process of developing rap lyrics was polarized by the genre’s most prolific star: Jay-Z maintained he would develop lyrics in his mind, influencing Biggie’s habit of not writing lyrics either. That transformed a generation of rap stars into memory-led lyricists.

Several rap star headshots spread across a spectrum showing how some write lyrics more than others.
A quirky lil framework to understand how lyricists approach hip hip differently.

The debate is at the heart of whether hip hop, which developed out of an improvisation and oral storytelling tradition, can only be authentically conjured from memory, or if as a newly global movement, it is only now maturing into an writing and editing process familiar to other media.

Atlanta-bred King of the South T.I. became a transformational figure in that paradigm in 2008 when he actively promoted his return to writing and line-editing his lyrics with his Paper Trail album. His 2001 debut I’m Serious had been thoroughly written, in between selling crack, but his next several albums followed the pattern of editing in mind.

Since then, as his mainstream celebrity has blossomed, T.I. has come to represent a crucial data point in this writing trend.

This episode of the podcast focuses heavily on his personal journey as a creative but there is still advice for the rest of us. T.I. has fought for how he wants to be seen and how his creative pursuits influence it. We ought not forget it.