Dropping in to Paris for a two-day jaunt to promote his new album, Paperwork: The Motion Picture (Columbia, Oct. 21), rapper T.I. admits he has not had much free time to see the sights. He has, however, noticed that locals keep their fashion game strong. “There’s a genre of people that is very hip and current and feel they are too cool to dress up. But overall, the style of Paris is very dressed up,” he says, from a spacious suite at the Royal Monceau hotel.
The emphasis on looking one’s best is especially apropos given that the first single from his new album is titled “No Mediocre.” Even if the lyrics are heavily weighted toward sexual performance, T.I. (born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr.), 33, makes clear his high expectations for his ladies’ appearance. When asked whether men should be held to the same standards, he replies with a double negative: “Men can’t demand for women not be mediocre if they intend on being mediocre.”
T.I. himself has dabbled in acting, directing, and creating a clothing brand, and has crafted a polished signature style: slim suit, crisp shirt, no tie. So what then to make of his interview attire: a sweatshirt from his label, AKOO (“A King of Oneself”), a baseball cap and Nikes (granted, a pair of limited-edition KD7s)? “I think my style is an extension of my personality, and I upscale it when the occasion calls for it. I’m diverse enough to be able to wear basketball shorts and Jordans, or a three-piece Tom Ford with wing tips, or a tuxedo with a top hat,” he says, cracking a laugh at the last example.
With his charming Atlanta drawl and intimidating public persona (he has spent time in prison for federal weapons charges), T.I. is already something of a badass dandy. On Instagram, where he goes by the handle @troubleman31 and has more than 2.6 million followers, we are privy to his high-roller lifestyle as well as more sentimental photos with his 13-year-old daughter. T.I.’s determined to hit new career highs with Paperwork (the title a nod to Paper Trail, his bestselling record from 2008)—namely a Grammy for Album of the Year. “Paper Trail was the last hugely successful album that I had, and since then people figured I was out of the picture,”
he says. “I think every time we reach a goal, we should set a new one.”