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Revelations

WORDS BY: MITCH FINDLAY
PHOTOS BY: EMILIO SANCHEZ
01
THE GRAND HUSTLER
01
THE GRAND HUSTLER

“Some of it could have been hereditary. My pops was an entrepreneur. He was a number-runner. A drug dealer. He also was a real estate property owner. He owned property in Harlem. He owned property here in Atlanta. For my uncle, it was the same thing: drugs and real estate. I didn’t know what drugs were at the time when I was young but just watching them and how they moved kinda exemplified to me how a man is supposed to move and earn money for himself and create opportunities for himself. I just replicated that.”

- Tip Harris

I’m sitting alongside Domani Harris, listening to his then-unreleased album Time Will Tell, when T.I. enters the room. He’s on the phone, dapper in a dark blue suit. We shake hands as he retreats to the backroom to conclude his business. The man is notoriously entrepreneurial. His managers Nikki and Dina inform me that he arrived straight from the Hope Global Forum conference, where he spoke as a guest lecturer. T.I. emerges to request a soundtrack. I ask him what he’s been listening to and we opt for Nipsey Hussle. We discuss the events of the conference to the sound of Victory Lap. “I spoke on a panel with Tony Ressler. He’s a part owner to the Hawks,” explains T.I. “A billion dollar guy. There was also Dallas Tanner of Invitation Homes. He’s got, I think, $250 billion in assets.” Such is the company in which T.I. finds himself these days. A credible voice among equals.

He carries his past with him. Adding authenticity to his status as a man of the people. It informs his trajectory. “It was a panel on equity ownership,” he explains. “How to grow the value of our community.” I ask him how the experience compares to playing shows. “It’s definitely left-brain, right brain,” replies Tip. “I never approach them with the same application of skill. The intention of a panel is to inform. The intention of a show is to entertain.” He smiles. “It was dope though!”

01
THE GRAND HUSTLER

It doesn’t take long for his principles to reveal themselves. “Creatives usually have to fund our own ideas, because financial institutions don’t understand the equity until we actually execute it,” he laments.

“By then, we don’t really need them.” He’s a forward thinker, understanding the importance of assessing value without the safety net of hindsight. Especially when it comes to dealing with trailblazers. “Usually, financial institutions take a comp of what has already been done and use that to evaluate how substantial an opportunity this is,” he reflects. “But what if Zuckerburg had to wait on somebody to see how his model was similar to a pre-existing model, before someone would allow him the opportunity to move forward?”

“Financial institutions need to catch up to the creatives, you know what I mean?” he continues. “Everybody wants to play safe. It’s big risk, big reward. If you want to participate in the potential growth of an idea, then you have to take a risk early on.” I mention that his experiences make him an ideal spokesperson for spreading such a cause. “I haven’t really gotten any money from many people,” he says, a rare moment of vulnerability. “All the things I have, I’ve had to fund myself. I haven’t yet, I guess, convinced anybody to bet on my ideas outside of music. And that was because it was a model that had already been created.”

Tip is measured in his responses. His words, though calculated, never feel rehearsed. An intellect in his approach to thinking, having mastered the delicate balance between critical analysis and emotional impulse. Unsurprising given his experiences with trauma. A man who has written an album in a jail cell has lived with pain. I saw the papers myself, lined with minuscule lyrics, economically penned to preserve what little writing space remained. Yet this pain helps imbue his wisdom with the power of authenticity. There is no watching from afar where T.I. is concerned. He’ll walk through the Trap Music Museum without security, face wrapped in a zipped-up hoodie; many things though he may be, a master of disguise he is not.

01
THE GRAND HUSTLER
02
THE SILVER LINING
IN THE SHADOWS
02
THE SILVER LINING IN THE SHADOWS

“I used to sell candy from fourth grade until seventh grade. I always wanted to make one-hundred dollars a week. That turned into two-hundred dollars a week and then five-hundred dollars a week - my Black Friday. Before I could progress past that, I was introduced to crack cocaine. They had things called breakdown dimes. Breakdown dimes were ten dollar rocks that were huge, enormous. You could break them into two or three dime piece rocks that you could distribute. Turning ten dollars into thirty dollars was way different than turning one-hundred dollars into one-hundred and seventy dollars. The profit margins of me selling crack were way greater than the profit margins of me selling candy, which kinda fazed me out of the candy business and into the crack business.”

- Tip Harris

Our sit-down interview begins. He sits across from me, cutting an imposing figure. He once called himself the inventor of Trap Music, a claim swiftly accepted as fact by many of his peers. Few command such universal respect, dully evidenced by his list of collaborators. Jay-Z. Kanye West. Eminem. Dr. Dre. Lil Wayne. Busta Rhymes. Jeezy. Scarface. UGK. A circle of legendary hip-hop artists in which he sits as comfortably as he’s sitting now. There’s a surreal quality about the afternoon. The photo studio in which we’re speaking is lined with white walls, nearly glowing in their brilliance; it’s reminiscent of how one might imagine limbo in physical form. The conversation is to be the first part of a three-pronged excursion. Afterward, we’re to visit Hideoki Bespoke, The Gathering Spot, and The Trap Music Museum. Businesses in which Tip has chosen to invest, each playing a distinctive role in the Atlanta-based empire he’s set out to build.

Hip-hop history has always been a point of fascination for me, a characteristic I feel that we may share. I ask how he feels about the modern day documentation of hip-hop. The whirlwind manner in which Instagram logs fragmented snapshots of a narrative in progress. “It’s definitely an evolutionary period,” he responds. “It’s produced and consumed so fast. One’s perspective could be that there’s not enough done to fully absorb the information that's being consumed. It’s there forever. If you put up a tweet, it’s up there forever,” he continues. “Even though you might not remember the tweet from today, tomorrow, in three years, you can go back and it’s still there. It’s a representation of your perspective at that moment in time. I think it’s a gift and a curse.” I point out that many of those currently documenting said representations are publications like our own. He acknowledges that as fact, crediting the blogs and magazines as valuable keepers of chronology. “Unless there’s some sort of catastrophic crash,” he muses, conjuring thoughts of a worst-case scenario. The thought of hip-hop’s minor, yet character-building micro-events being wiped out in a Y2K-esque devastation is alarming to say the least. I ask him if there’s value in a sort of “Hip-Hop Encyclopedia,” penned by a task force of the game’s most respected. Would that not, after all, hold more weight as a point of authority? “I do think there’s an intangible value in having the art be held and controlled by the artists,” responds Tip. “The things cultivated by true artists, and true lovers of the genre are so important. The passion is there. The authenticity is there. The desire to maintain integrity is there.”

02
THE SILVER LINING IN THE SHADOWS

Enter the Trap Music Museum . The first of its kind. A tangible voyage through the history of an iconic and deeply influential cultural subgenre. A place in which an oft-misunderstood lifestyle can be explored in depth. And all of it presented with brutal honesty, guided by a deep-seated understanding of Trap Music and its long list of pioneers. “We wanted it to represent the people who we knew were the most significant contributors to the culture and who have been the most significant maintainers of the culture,” explains Tip. “I think that it is ultimately valuable to be able to timeline the series of events. When they happen. How they happen. Who made them happen. What they caused to happen next.”

He describes the story of Trap Music as one of triumph. “It exemplifies resilience,” he elaborates, drawing back on history. “The crack epidemic was made to break us. We were supposed to be entangled in the web of drug use and drug offenses. That and that alone was supposed to be the outcome. They enhanced the drug laws and gave mandatory minimums and militarized the police department so we could be treated like animals within our own communities. For the most part, it worked. But trap music was the silver-lining in the shadows. The very environment and conditions that were supposed to break us were used as a tool to change our way of life. For us and our families for generations. It turned us into entrepreneurs.”

There’s admiration in his tone when he looks to the past. “Eazy-E, a young crack dealer, didn’t have more than selling crack in mind at the time,” begins Tip, like one reciting a childhood fable. “He had a friend who didn’t sell drugs, by the name of Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre had a dream. Eazy didn’t even have a dream. He had finances. Dr. Dre couldn’t have walked into a bank and asked for a loan to get studio time but Eazy-E could do that for him. If not for the crack Eazy-E sold, would Dr. Dre have been able to get his start and become a billionaire right now?”

02
THE SILVER LINING IN THE SHADOWS
03
CANNIBALS
03
CANNIBALS

“If I had other options, I would have gladly chosen those other options instead of what I chose. Little did I know that the community was being saturated. Infested with it. By powers that be that were beyond me or anyone around me. It was going to be more than a task for me to escape it anyway. So I succumb to the temptation. And the lessons that I learned from that helped shape and mold me into the man I am.”

- Tip Harris

“There can be no good without bad, no bad without good,” says Tip. We’re speaking about perception. How a listener can request authenticity from an artist and proceed to cast them aside at the slightest deviation from their own set of moral standards. “People want football players to be tough on the field,” he continues. “They want them to knock people’s head off to protect their quarterback. They want them to run people over and make it to a touchdown. But then when they take that same intensity off the field and they’re violent or aggressive, have a road rage incident, a night club incident, or a domestic abuse incident...That’s not part of the game, but it is an unfortunate result of it.” He trails off for a moment. “Our human nature doesn’t allow us to cut our emotions on and off as needed.”

I ask him about the dangers of using music as a form of escapism. For some, myself included, trap music is a window into another person’s reality. Not everybody is willing to apply empathy to something they may not understand, content to simply skim through music on a surface level. But these are real stories borne from real pain. “The weight of the circumstances must be considered and acknowledged,” explains T.I. “That’s the only way you can gain true clarity of what trap music represents. Segregation drove all of us into one side of town. We didn’t have many options back in the fifties and sixties. So when segregation drove us to that side of town, they deprived of proper education. Valid opportunities. Worthwhile experiences. We began to cannibalize.”

03
CANNIBALS

“Those of us who did get opportunities, experiences, and better education, not enough of them stayed in the community,” explains Tip, with the smooth confidence of a favorite professor. “They said, ‘rather than be fed on by the rest of the cannibals, I’m gonna take my family and move them out.’ So now, there is an entire community of misrepresented, underfunded people, with little to no way of success. And here comes crack. To be honest with you, most people either saw it as an escape,” he continues. “By way of consuming it and getting their mind to take them to a euphoric state, or to distribute it and earn enough funds to remove their family from the hell-hole. For the people who make trap music, it could have turned out so much worse.”

He proceeds to liken trap music to a soldier returning from war, having seen and partook in harrowing and traumatic experiences. “Just because they are not still at war does not mean they are not still affected by the things that they saw,” he muses. “They called it the war on drugs but it was really the war on us. We are telling stories and creating inspiration for those still stuck in it, to let them know that you do have a shot, you can make it out if you believe in yourself.” Yet for those willing to open their mind, Tip makes it clear that trap music can serve an educational purpose. “It’s an inspiration for some and information for others. That’s what trap music and the Trap Music Museum represents.”

03
CANNIBALS
04
“MISTER TIP”
04
“MISTER TIP”

“Since the war on drugs hit my side of town, the businesses were wiped out. The people who were affluent were either killed or arrested. Imprisoned, I should say. The property has somewhat deteriorated. Schools and their curriculums have devalued themselves to next to nothing. Somebody who cares enough, who knows enough, who has enough - they have the responsibility of stepping in and doing something to change it. If not me, then who? If not now, when?”

- Tip Harris

It’s mid-afternoon when we arrive at Hideoki Bespoke. The parking area feels private, with a sloping driveway flanked by well-maintained landscaping. T.I. emerges from his black Rolls Royce and we follow him into the building. On the inside, the entrance is rather innocuous. As we reach the third floor, the game is revealed. Hideoki is a lavish space, its walls lined with some of the finest suits I’ve ever seen. Bold colors, dandy-esque oxbloods to rich and sophisticated navy blues, all handcrafted and custom-designed with meticulous care. An ornate black rhinoceros guards the entrance.

T.I. is in excellent spirits, laughing as he exchanges greetings with operations director Brian Short and founder Dedrick Hideoki Hagiwara Thomas. “Welcome to the Hideoki Haberdashery,” says Tip, kicking off a tour of sorts. “All the suits you seen me wear, they started as swatches of fabric.” He produces a book of said fabrics, complete with countless colors. “We flip through all these books, figure out what fabric of suit we want. What patterns, what colors.” He proceeds to step into a kitchen. Bottles suggesting expensive tastes line each shelf. “Here at Hideoki we have a ritual, before we get started on any kind of business.” He pours himself a cocktail and raises a glass.

04
“MISTER TIP”

As he’s sipping, some of Hideoki’s clientele enter. T.I. is cordial in his greeting, excusing himself to play the gracious host. As they peruse the selection, T.I. continues. “This is not your average off the rack suit. This is tailor made to suit in every season. I have a different delivery, if you will, of ensembles. As you can probably gather, fashion is very important to me. Fashion is an extension of my mood or expression. Another way for me to be creative. As we begin to build a client-based relationship, we find other ways to work together. I first came here as a patron, I bought some suits and bags. And then the opportunity presented itself for me to be a part of the business in a more formal fashion. I took advantage.”

04
“MISTER TIP”

He makes his way onto the patio, a scenic place of solitude. “The view is phenomenal,” he remarks. “This shit look like a French Chateau. I like to come here to take my mind off shit. When people and their opinions begin to bog down the clarity of my creativity.” Eventually, he finds himself drawn to the rhino, a majestic creature to be sure. “One of the images of Hideoki is a rhinoceros,” explains T.I. “Whether you know this or not, rhinoceroses don’t move backward. They only move forward.” “And they’re dangerous,” adds Thomas. Upon spending time with the visionary team behind Hideoki, it’s clear that Mister Tip has chosen his causes wisely. “Listen, you say you want to buy black?” he asks. “That don’t mean it has to be sub-par. This is top tier quality, Italian-made goods designed by a black man from Pickens, Mississippi.”

Our next visit is The Gathering Spot, a members-only club founded by Ryan Wilson and TK Peterson. The raison d’etre calls back to Tip’s established principles. It’s no wonder he was drawn to an establishment tailored toward cultivating a wave of emerging creatives. “People from politics, music, film, real estate, technology, and the arts can all cohabitate,” he explains. “It’s where I first met our mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms. It’s where Harry Belefonte and I did a town hall meeting. It’s where I went and saw Louis Farrakhan when he spoke. It’s where Stacey Abrams did voter registration rallies.”

Upon our arrival, the evening has already commenced. The DJ is putting in work, earning points through her use of Notorious B.I.G. The Spot is full, with many members sitting down across the various tables. Networking. Vibing. T.I. moves in silence and many eyes follow. He introduces me to TK Peterson, praising the young man’s trailblazing status. He reaches the bar and orders food, seemingly lost in thought. It’s almost time for us to part ways. Yet stepping foot inside the The Gathering Spot has revealed integral insight into Tip’s perspective. How he sees Atlanta and the creative minds within it. When he speaks on The Gathering Spot, he speaks with a sense of pride; not because of his involvement, which is by his own admission limited, but because of what it represents.

04
“MISTER TIP”
05

REVELATIONS
05
REVELATIONS

“Artists and their lyrics speak to the needs of a time. I think of “don’t push me because I'm close to the edge.” That song, when you hear it, you'll always think of Harlem. When the buildings were vacant and boarded up. About the pre-crack era. You’ll think about kids playing on the rubble and trash because that's what that song represented. Pre-Giuliani. When the mafia controlled everything. The blacks had next to nothing. After Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes was gone. That was a dark period. There wasn't a lot of opulence. That song is gonna represent that time forever. If you are looking for a song that describes that time, you’re gonna play that.”

- Tip Harris

“I don’t know how they will understand me,” says Tip. “I don’t know how they have understood me. All I can do is be honest about my past, my present, and hopefully my future.” This exchange occurred during the closing segment of our interview. Before Hideoki and The Gathering Spot. Before attending the Trap Music Museum and experiencing Tip’s vision first-hand. Given the context of everything I came to learn in the following hours, these conclusive moments of our one-on-one discussion felt particularly poignant.

“I’m sincerely passionate about helping people who can’t help themselves,” he explains. “I honestly feel that I was put here to do what most people either aren't in a position to do, or have no interest in doing. Filling the void of the underserved areas of society. I care because I came from that.” Given everything that Tip has accomplished, it’s easy to forget the nature of his journey. And thus, the Trap Music Museum , dedicated to preserving the legacy of its most integral pioneers with a refreshing degree of historical accuracy.

T.I.’s display features emblems of triumph and tribulation in equal measure. Handwritten lyrics to “I’m Illy” that he penned while incarcerated, arranged on two sheets. My tour guides, the informative and endearing duo of General Manager Krystal Garner and Marketing Director James Miller, explain that the guards weren’t exactly generous with the paper. A nearby case harbors a small arsenal of twin handguns and automatic rifles. One of his iconic suits stands in display, foreshadowing his later investments in Hideoki. At the centerpiece sits his Grammy Award, which he took home in 2008 for the Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne-assisted posse cut “Swagger Like Us.”

Strictly as fan, the Museum left me awestruck. On one hand, a well-curated and thoughtful celebration of hip-hop’s Southernmost innovators, with enough exhibits to trigger one’s eager tourist; there was a steady lineup in front of 2 Chainz’ iconic pink trap car. On the other hand, the museum stands as unflinching reflection on the bleak reality many of our favorite rappers once faced. From their pain comes our enjoyment, and such a sacrifice should not go unforgotten. A collage made up of twelve mugshots - Meek Mill, Jeezy, Takeoff, Boosie, Tip, Offset, Kodak Black, 2 Chainz, Future, Quavo, Gucci Mane, and Webbie - offers a bittersweet reminder: “We Did It For Trap Muzik.” For added emphasis, the Museum features a jail cell exhibit, built to disturbingly claustrophobic scale and lined with sobering statistics.

05
REVELATIONS

Even Tip, who currently stands on the verge of his own empire, once found himself in such an environment. It might have bested him. And yet here he sits, in a custom made Hideoki ensemble, ruminating on his current perspective. “Hip-hop, to me, is spoken of in Revelations as the meek that shall inherit the earth,” he explains. “We are the have-nots. Through our own means, through the guidance of God and the God within us, we have created a platform for ourselves, that has become the largest, most powerful, most influential force in the world. We control commerce. Everything that there is to be sold, we sell it. Everything that there is to dominate, we dominated. We’ve outlived Rock n’ Roll and RnB. Hip-Hop is the world now. Whoever likes it or not.”

05
REVELATIONS
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Revelations

WORDS BY: MITCH FINDLAY
PHOTOS BY: EMILIO SANCHEZ
01
THE GRAND HUSTLER
01
THE GRAND HUSTLER

“Some of it could have been hereditary. My pops was an entrepreneur. He was a number-runner. A drug dealer. He also was a real estate property owner. He owned property in Harlem. He owned property here in Atlanta. For my uncle, it was the same thing: drugs and real estate. I didn’t know what drugs were at the time when I was young but just watching them and how they moved kinda exemplified to me how a man is supposed to move and earn money for himself and create opportunities for himself. I just replicated that.”

- Tip Harris

I’m sitting alongside Domani Harris, listening to his then-unreleased album Time Will Tell, when T.I. enters the room. He’s on the phone, dapper in a dark blue suit. We shake hands as he retreats to the backroom to conclude his business. The man is notoriously entrepreneurial. His managers Nikki and Dina inform me that he arrived straight from the Hope Global Forum conference, where he spoke as a guest lecturer. T.I. emerges to request a soundtrack. I ask him what he’s been listening to and we opt for Nipsey Hussle. We discuss the events of the conference to the sound of Victory Lap. “I spoke on a panel with Tony Ressler. He’s a part owner to the Hawks,” explains T.I. “A billion dollar guy. There was also Dallas Tanner of Invitation Homes. He’s got, I think, $250 billion in assets.” Such is the company in which T.I. finds himself these days. A credible voice among equals.

He carries his past with him. Adding authenticity to his status as a man of the people. It informs his trajectory. “It was a panel on equity ownership,” he explains. “How to grow the value of our community.” I ask him how the experience compares to playing shows. “It’s definitely left-brain, right brain,” replies Tip. “I never approach them with the same application of skill. The intention of a panel is to inform. The intention of a show is to entertain.” He smiles. “It was dope though!”

01
THE GRAND HUSTLER

It doesn’t take long for his principles to reveal themselves. “Creatives usually have to fund our own ideas, because financial institutions don’t understand the equity until we actually execute it,” he laments.

“By then, we don’t really need them.” He’s a forward thinker, understanding the importance of assessing value without the safety net of hindsight. Especially when it comes to dealing with trailblazers. “Usually, financial institutions take a comp of what has already been done and use that to evaluate how substantial an opportunity this is,” he reflects. “But what if Zuckerburg had to wait on somebody to see how his model was similar to a pre-existing model, before someone would allow him the opportunity to move forward?”

“Financial institutions need to catch up to the creatives, you know what I mean?” he continues. “Everybody wants to play safe. It’s big risk, big reward. If you want to participate in the potential growth of an idea, then you have to take a risk early on.” I mention that his experiences make him an ideal spokesperson for spreading such a cause. “I haven’t really gotten any money from many people,” he says, a rare moment of vulnerability. “All the things I have, I’ve had to fund myself. I haven’t yet, I guess, convinced anybody to bet on my ideas outside of music. And that was because it was a model that had already been created.”

Tip is measured in his responses. His words, though calculated, never feel rehearsed. An intellect in his approach to thinking, having mastered the delicate balance between critical analysis and emotional impulse. Unsurprising given his experiences with trauma. A man who has written an album in a jail cell has lived with pain. I saw the papers myself, lined with minuscule lyrics, economically penned to preserve what little writing space remained. Yet this pain helps imbue his wisdom with the power of authenticity. There is no watching from afar where T.I. is concerned. He’ll walk through the Trap Music Museum without security, face wrapped in a zipped-up hoodie; many things though he may be, a master of disguise he is not.

01
THE GRAND HUSTLER
02
THE SILVER LINING
IN THE SHADOWS
02
THE SILVER LINING IN THE SHADOWS

“I used to sell candy from fourth grade until seventh grade. I always wanted to make one-hundred dollars a week. That turned into two-hundred dollars a week and then five-hundred dollars a week - my Black Friday. Before I could progress past that, I was introduced to crack cocaine. They had things called breakdown dimes. Breakdown dimes were ten dollar rocks that were huge, enormous. You could break them into two or three dime piece rocks that you could distribute. Turning ten dollars into thirty dollars was way different than turning one-hundred dollars into one-hundred and seventy dollars. The profit margins of me selling crack were way greater than the profit margins of me selling candy, which kinda fazed me out of the candy business and into the crack business.”

- Tip Harris

Our sit-down interview begins. He sits across from me, cutting an imposing figure. He once called himself the inventor of Trap Music, a claim swiftly accepted as fact by many of his peers. Few command such universal respect, dully evidenced by his list of collaborators. Jay-Z. Kanye West. Eminem. Dr. Dre. Lil Wayne. Busta Rhymes. Jeezy. Scarface. UGK. A circle of legendary hip-hop artists in which he sits as comfortably as he’s sitting now. There’s a surreal quality about the afternoon. The photo studio in which we’re speaking is lined with white walls, nearly glowing in their brilliance; it’s reminiscent of how one might imagine limbo in physical form. The conversation is to be the first part of a three-pronged excursion. Afterward, we’re to visit Hideoki Bespoke, The Gathering Spot, and The Trap Music Museum. Businesses in which Tip has chosen to invest, each playing a distinctive role in the Atlanta-based empire he’s set out to build.

Hip-hop history has always been a point of fascination for me, a characteristic I feel that we may share. I ask how he feels about the modern day documentation of hip-hop. The whirlwind manner in which Instagram logs fragmented snapshots of a narrative in progress. “It’s definitely an evolutionary period,” he responds. “It’s produced and consumed so fast. One’s perspective could be that there’s not enough done to fully absorb the information that's being consumed. It’s there forever. If you put up a tweet, it’s up there forever,” he continues. “Even though you might not remember the tweet from today, tomorrow, in three years, you can go back and it’s still there. It’s a representation of your perspective at that moment in time. I think it’s a gift and a curse.” I point out that many of those currently documenting said representations are publications like our own. He acknowledges that as fact, crediting the blogs and magazines as valuable keepers of chronology. “Unless there’s some sort of catastrophic crash,” he muses, conjuring thoughts of a worst-case scenario. The thought of hip-hop’s minor, yet character-building micro-events being wiped out in a Y2K-esque devastation is alarming to say the least. I ask him if there’s value in a sort of “Hip-Hop Encyclopedia,” penned by a task force of the game’s most respected. Would that not, after all, hold more weight as a point of authority? “I do think there’s an intangible value in having the art be held and controlled by the artists,” responds Tip. “The things cultivated by true artists, and true lovers of the genre are so important. The passion is there. The authenticity is there. The desire to maintain integrity is there.”

02
THE SILVER LINING IN THE SHADOWS

Enter the Trap Music Museum . The first of its kind. A tangible voyage through the history of an iconic and deeply influential cultural subgenre. A place in which an oft-misunderstood lifestyle can be explored in depth. And all of it presented with brutal honesty, guided by a deep-seated understanding of Trap Music and its long list of pioneers. “We wanted it to represent the people who we knew were the most significant contributors to the culture and who have been the most significant maintainers of the culture,” explains Tip. “I think that it is ultimately valuable to be able to timeline the series of events. When they happen. How they happen. Who made them happen. What they caused to happen next.”

He describes the story of Trap Music as one of triumph. “It exemplifies resilience,” he elaborates, drawing back on history. “The crack epidemic was made to break us. We were supposed to be entangled in the web of drug use and drug offenses. That and that alone was supposed to be the outcome. They enhanced the drug laws and gave mandatory minimums and militarized the police department so we could be treated like animals within our own communities. For the most part, it worked. But trap music was the silver-lining in the shadows. The very environment and conditions that were supposed to break us were used as a tool to change our way of life. For us and our families for generations. It turned us into entrepreneurs.”

There’s admiration in his tone when he looks to the past. “Eazy-E, a young crack dealer, didn’t have more than selling crack in mind at the time,” begins Tip, like one reciting a childhood fable. “He had a friend who didn’t sell drugs, by the name of Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre had a dream. Eazy didn’t even have a dream. He had finances. Dr. Dre couldn’t have walked into a bank and asked for a loan to get studio time but Eazy-E could do that for him. If not for the crack Eazy-E sold, would Dr. Dre have been able to get his start and become a billionaire right now?”

02
THE SILVER LINING IN THE SHADOWS
03
CANNIBALS
03
CANNIBALS

“If I had other options, I would have gladly chosen those other options instead of what I chose. Little did I know that the community was being saturated. Infested with it. By powers that be that were beyond me or anyone around me. It was going to be more than a task for me to escape it anyway. So I succumb to the temptation. And the lessons that I learned from that helped shape and mold me into the man I am.”

- Tip Harris

“There can be no good without bad, no bad without good,” says Tip. We’re speaking about perception. How a listener can request authenticity from an artist and proceed to cast them aside at the slightest deviation from their own set of moral standards. “People want football players to be tough on the field,” he continues. “They want them to knock people’s head off to protect their quarterback. They want them to run people over and make it to a touchdown. But then when they take that same intensity off the field and they’re violent or aggressive, have a road rage incident, a night club incident, or a domestic abuse incident...That’s not part of the game, but it is an unfortunate result of it.” He trails off for a moment. “Our human nature doesn’t allow us to cut our emotions on and off as needed.”

I ask him about the dangers of using music as a form of escapism. For some, myself included, trap music is a window into another person’s reality. Not everybody is willing to apply empathy to something they may not understand, content to simply skim through music on a surface level. But these are real stories borne from real pain. “The weight of the circumstances must be considered and acknowledged,” explains T.I. “That’s the only way you can gain true clarity of what trap music represents. Segregation drove all of us into one side of town. We didn’t have many options back in the fifties and sixties. So when segregation drove us to that side of town, they deprived of proper education. Valid opportunities. Worthwhile experiences. We began to cannibalize.”

03
CANNIBALS

“Those of us who did get opportunities, experiences, and better education, not enough of them stayed in the community,” explains Tip, with the smooth confidence of a favorite professor. “They said, ‘rather than be fed on by the rest of the cannibals, I’m gonna take my family and move them out.’ So now, there is an entire community of misrepresented, underfunded people, with little to no way of success. And here comes crack. To be honest with you, most people either saw it as an escape,” he continues. “By way of consuming it and getting their mind to take them to a euphoric state, or to distribute it and earn enough funds to remove their family from the hell-hole. For the people who make trap music, it could have turned out so much worse.”

He proceeds to liken trap music to a soldier returning from war, having seen and partook in harrowing and traumatic experiences. “Just because they are not still at war does not mean they are not still affected by the things that they saw,” he muses. “They called it the war on drugs but it was really the war on us. We are telling stories and creating inspiration for those still stuck in it, to let them know that you do have a shot, you can make it out if you believe in yourself.” Yet for those willing to open their mind, Tip makes it clear that trap music can serve an educational purpose. “It’s an inspiration for some and information for others. That’s what trap music and the Trap Music Museum represents.”

03
CANNIBALS
04
“MISTER TIP”
04
“MISTER TIP”

“Since the war on drugs hit my side of town, the businesses were wiped out. The people who were affluent were either killed or arrested. Imprisoned, I should say. The property has somewhat deteriorated. Schools and their curriculums have devalued themselves to next to nothing. Somebody who cares enough, who knows enough, who has enough - they have the responsibility of stepping in and doing something to change it. If not me, then who? If not now, when?”

- Tip Harris

It’s mid-afternoon when we arrive at Hideoki Bespoke. The parking area feels private, with a sloping driveway flanked by well-maintained landscaping. T.I. emerges from his black Rolls Royce and we follow him into the building. On the inside, the entrance is rather innocuous. As we reach the third floor, the game is revealed. Hideoki is a lavish space, its walls lined with some of the finest suits I’ve ever seen. Bold colors, dandy-esque oxbloods to rich and sophisticated navy blues, all handcrafted and custom-designed with meticulous care. An ornate black rhinoceros guards the entrance.

T.I. is in excellent spirits, laughing as he exchanges greetings with operations director Brian Short and founder Dedrick Hideoki Hagiwara Thomas. “Welcome to the Hideoki Haberdashery,” says Tip, kicking off a tour of sorts. “All the suits you seen me wear, they started as swatches of fabric.” He produces a book of said fabrics, complete with countless colors. “We flip through all these books, figure out what fabric of suit we want. What patterns, what colors.” He proceeds to step into a kitchen. Bottles suggesting expensive tastes line each shelf. “Here at Hideoki we have a ritual, before we get started on any kind of business.” He pours himself a cocktail and raises a glass.

04
“MISTER TIP”

As he’s sipping, some of Hideoki’s clientele enter. T.I. is cordial in his greeting, excusing himself to play the gracious host. As they peruse the selection, T.I. continues. “This is not your average off the rack suit. This is tailor made to suit in every season. I have a different delivery, if you will, of ensembles. As you can probably gather, fashion is very important to me. Fashion is an extension of my mood or expression. Another way for me to be creative. As we begin to build a client-based relationship, we find other ways to work together. I first came here as a patron, I bought some suits and bags. And then the opportunity presented itself for me to be a part of the business in a more formal fashion. I took advantage.”

04
“MISTER TIP”

He makes his way onto the patio, a scenic place of solitude. “The view is phenomenal,” he remarks. “This shit look like a French Chateau. I like to come here to take my mind off shit. When people and their opinions begin to bog down the clarity of my creativity.” Eventually, he finds himself drawn to the rhino, a majestic creature to be sure. “One of the images of Hideoki is a rhinoceros,” explains T.I. “Whether you know this or not, rhinoceroses don’t move backward. They only move forward.” “And they’re dangerous,” adds Thomas. Upon spending time with the visionary team behind Hideoki, it’s clear that Mister Tip has chosen his causes wisely. “Listen, you say you want to buy black?” he asks. “That don’t mean it has to be sub-par. This is top tier quality, Italian-made goods designed by a black man from Pickens, Mississippi.”

Our next visit is The Gathering Spot, a members-only club founded by Ryan Wilson and TK Peterson. The raison d’etre calls back to Tip’s established principles. It’s no wonder he was drawn to an establishment tailored toward cultivating a wave of emerging creatives. “People from politics, music, film, real estate, technology, and the arts can all cohabitate,” he explains. “It’s where I first met our mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms. It’s where Harry Belefonte and I did a town hall meeting. It’s where I went and saw Louis Farrakhan when he spoke. It’s where Stacey Abrams did voter registration rallies.”

Upon our arrival, the evening has already commenced. The DJ is putting in work, earning points through her use of Notorious B.I.G. The Spot is full, with many members sitting down across the various tables. Networking. Vibing. T.I. moves in silence and many eyes follow. He introduces me to TK Peterson, praising the young man’s trailblazing status. He reaches the bar and orders food, seemingly lost in thought. It’s almost time for us to part ways. Yet stepping foot inside the The Gathering Spot has revealed integral insight into Tip’s perspective. How he sees Atlanta and the creative minds within it. When he speaks on The Gathering Spot, he speaks with a sense of pride; not because of his involvement, which is by his own admission limited, but because of what it represents.

04
“MISTER TIP”
05

REVELATIONS
05
REVELATIONS

“Artists and their lyrics speak to the needs of a time. I think of “don’t push me because I'm close to the edge.” That song, when you hear it, you'll always think of Harlem. When the buildings were vacant and boarded up. About the pre-crack era. You’ll think about kids playing on the rubble and trash because that's what that song represented. Pre-Giuliani. When the mafia controlled everything. The blacks had next to nothing. After Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes was gone. That was a dark period. There wasn't a lot of opulence. That song is gonna represent that time forever. If you are looking for a song that describes that time, you’re gonna play that.”

- Tip Harris

“I don’t know how they will understand me,” says Tip. “I don’t know how they have understood me. All I can do is be honest about my past, my present, and hopefully my future.” This exchange occurred during the closing segment of our interview. Before Hideoki and The Gathering Spot. Before attending the Trap Music Museum and experiencing Tip’s vision first-hand. Given the context of everything I came to learn in the following hours, these conclusive moments of our one-on-one discussion felt particularly poignant.

“I’m sincerely passionate about helping people who can’t help themselves,” he explains. “I honestly feel that I was put here to do what most people either aren't in a position to do, or have no interest in doing. Filling the void of the underserved areas of society. I care because I came from that.” Given everything that Tip has accomplished, it’s easy to forget the nature of his journey. And thus, the Trap Music Museum , dedicated to preserving the legacy of its most integral pioneers with a refreshing degree of historical accuracy.

T.I.’s display features emblems of triumph and tribulation in equal measure. Handwritten lyrics to “I’m Illy” that he penned while incarcerated, arranged on two sheets. My tour guides, the informative and endearing duo of General Manager Krystal Garner and Marketing Director James Miller, explain that the guards weren’t exactly generous with the paper. A nearby case harbors a small arsenal of twin handguns and automatic rifles. One of his iconic suits stands in display, foreshadowing his later investments in Hideoki. At the centerpiece sits his Grammy Award, which he took home in 2008 for the Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne-assisted posse cut “Swagger Like Us.”

Strictly as fan, the Museum left me awestruck. On one hand, a well-curated and thoughtful celebration of hip-hop’s Southernmost innovators, with enough exhibits to trigger one’s eager tourist; there was a steady lineup in front of 2 Chainz’ iconic pink trap car. On the other hand, the museum stands as unflinching reflection on the bleak reality many of our favorite rappers once faced. From their pain comes our enjoyment, and such a sacrifice should not go unforgotten. A collage made up of twelve mugshots - Meek Mill, Jeezy, Takeoff, Boosie, Tip, Offset, Kodak Black, 2 Chainz, Future, Quavo, Gucci Mane, and Webbie - offers a bittersweet reminder: “We Did It For Trap Muzik.” For added emphasis, the Museum features a jail cell exhibit, built to disturbingly claustrophobic scale and lined with sobering statistics.

05
REVELATIONS

Even Tip, who currently stands on the verge of his own empire, once found himself in such an environment. It might have bested him. And yet here he sits, in a custom made Hideoki ensemble, ruminating on his current perspective. “Hip-hop, to me, is spoken of in Revelations as the meek that shall inherit the earth,” he explains. “We are the have-nots. Through our own means, through the guidance of God and the God within us, we have created a platform for ourselves, that has become the largest, most powerful, most influential force in the world. We control commerce. Everything that there is to be sold, we sell it. Everything that there is to dominate, we dominated. We’ve outlived Rock n’ Roll and RnB. Hip-Hop is the world now. Whoever likes it or not.”

05
REVELATIONS
0/1000CLOSE
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top comment

dope!

Not So Slim Shady

Great read, looking forward to the next one!

AVeryNiceGuy
AVeryNiceGuy
Aug 3, 2019

for the writer: this read sometimes more like a press release for T.I. than a true profile of him. hip-hop today isn't as unanimous in its appraisal of T.I. as you are - he's had numerous beefs with the younger generation, he isn't indisputably recognized as the founder of trap, and a lot of people clown him in general. it doesn't mean that every profile has to be negative or critical in energy, but so much of the tone was just being were awestruck that you simply got an interview with T.I. and the interview centered around that. it's not a bad story, it looks great and it's definitely an accomplishment for you, but keep that in mind for the next profile you write.

Rose Lilah
ADMIN
Rose Lilah
Aug 2, 2019

what do you guys think!!

AYEH David

real smooth