Reality TV

T.I. on His New VH1 Reality Show

The rapper-actor tells Allison Samuels about “T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle” and raising six kids.

Piotr Sikora / VH1

Rapper-actor T.I., a.k.a. Clifford “Tip” Harris, freely admits he’s not a big fan of most reality shows. Yet he does in fact have his own VH1 reality show, T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle that features his wife, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle-Harris, and his six children. But that’s a completely different ball game, according to the rapper. Hustle, which begins its second season on Sept. 3, provides its audience with a calming family story as well as an alternative view of celebrity life.

“I did a reality show to give people an idea of who I really am,” said the Grammy-winning rapper. “I wanted my fans to see what my life and my family’s life was actually like apart from all the rumors they see on the blogs and in the news. You can’t believe any of that stuff you read, and I wanted my fans to understand my reality and my world.”

Per Harris’s direction, the average episode of Hustle showcases the rapper’s deft parenting skills and on-point business savvy as the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of his record label, Grand Hustle Records. Humorous outtakes from children’s birthday parties, family vacations, and all-night recording sessions fill most of the show’s airtime and the Atlanta native says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“All that fighting and cussing each other out isn’t my idea of entertainment,” says Harris. “That’s why I don’t watch shows with all that on them. I don’t live like that and don’t want to watch anyone else living like that either. That does nothing for me.”

Harris insists that while his kids often enjoy watching those very reality shows where anger and chaos reign, he says he isn’t concerned with the impact those negative images may have on them, and for good reason.

“That’s not who we are as a family and my children know how to handle themselves in life and in public,” says Harris. “The foundation of good sense was put in them a long time ago, so I don’t worry about them acting out in the same way after they watch shows with foolishness on them. We don’t do that in our house so they aren’t even confused about how to carry themselves.”

Harris’s belief in good behavior at all times may very well stem from his two stints behind bars for illegal possession of machine guns in 2009 and violation of his probation in 2010. Since his release last year from the Forrest City Correctional Complex in Arkansas, Harris has been on his best behavior. Unfortunately, his desire to just “lay low” and stay out of trouble took a small detour in early August after a few of his fans posted mean-spirited comments on Instagram about his wife’s looks.

Comments about how she used to be pretty before she “damaged her face” (suggesting she’d had plastic surgery) really got under Harris’s skin and he responded in kind. Under the username “troubleman31,” Harris went on the attack, warning one follower, “don’t make me turn up.”

“That’s one of the hardest parts of being in the position I am,” says Harris. “You have people able to say whatever they want to you and you know they’d never say that shit to your face. A bunch of punks on a computer just being haters. They’d never step to me with that kind of bullshit because they know what would happen. I’m getting used to it, but sometimes you lose it when they go after your family with that kind of mean shit. Don’t mess with my wife and kids.”

On a more positive note, Harris is rapidly working on his already considerable acting chops and resume, which includes co-starring with Denzel Washington in American Gangster.

The rapper joined the Starz network television series Boss this season in a recurring role opposite Kelsey Grammer. Grammer plays a Chicago mayor and Harris costars as Trey Rogers, a former gangbanger striving for a career in City Hall.

“Being on that set was such a learning experience for me,” said Harris. “So many amazing actors, so many great storylines and great directors all in one place. I was just excited to go to work everyday and learn everything I could about television in front and behind the camera from people with so much experience. You never see those opportunities coming to you so I’m really proud of that show and my work on it.”

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If acting and rapping weren’t enough, the 31-year-old has also entered the world of book publishing. In 2011, he co-authored the book Power and Beauty (Harper Collins) with well-known writer David Ritz. The fictional novel chronicles the lives of inner-city teenagers struggling with growing up amid drugs and violence. Trouble and Triumph (Harper Collins) is his follow up novel that continues the story and hits bookstores Sept. 18.

Still, multimedia success hasn’t dampened Harris’s love for the art form that launched him as an international star. With seven albums, three Grammys, and 20 hit singles under his belt, Harris is hard at work on his eighth album Trouble Man, due out later this fall.

“I’m always going to do music because I love it,” said Harris. “I’m doing other things in television and movies because I’m a businessman. You have to expand as a businessman because that how you stay in business. But I love going into the studio and making music for my albums. I love that feeling of creating new music and getting it out there for the fans to hear. That’s not going to stop no matter what else I do.”