Since the turn of the century, Atlanta rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris has proven to be one of the genre’s biggest names. Boasting an impressive string of platinum albums and singles on his own, Harris has also been a highly sought-out collaborator, appearing on tracks with the likes of Destiny’s Child (“Solider”), Justin Timberlake (“Dead and Gone”) , Rihanna (“Live Your Life”) and Lil Wayne (“Ball”).
Despite dropping his most recent album, Us or Else: Letter To The System, just a week before Christmas with little fanfare and promotion, Harris has bigger things on his mind these days. Namely, the political turmoil in which the United States finds itself in since Donald Trump’s election.
After publicly questioning whether Hilary Clinton or any other female could handle being U.S. President in an October 2015 interview – remarks for which he subsequently apologized, noting they were “unequivocally insensitive and wrong” – Harris has, over the last two weeks, issued a series of open letters to the press concerning the political situation at home.
His first letter, addressed to outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, was published in the New York Times on Jan. 6. In it, he praised the president for helping galvanize a generation, expressing his sincere thanks for the leadership shown throughout the course of Obama’s eight-year term.
Harris’ second letter followed a week later and took candid aim at then-incoming President Donald Trump. In the letter, he outlined the many contrasts associated with being an American citizen in the present day.
“We do so much as take a knee during the national anthem and it’s looked upon as Un-American,” he writes. “Yet and still, as many of US continue to live in life-threatening, unspeakable conditions with poisonous water systems, failing schools, broken criminal justice systems, lack of decent healthcare and affordable housing, all while scraping for a basic living wage many of US are still fighting to find our way.
The arrival of the rapper’s third letter coincided with Trump’s Inauguration Day, in which he contemplates how the American people “have been underserved, underprivileged and unfortunate for far too long.”
Like the rest of the world, Harris is watching his homeland with baited breath to see where the next four years leads him and his fellow Americans. Asked whether publishing the letters was serving a sort of therapeutic purpose for him or he viewed them as simply saying what he felt needed to be said, the rapper confirms there is truth to be found in each scenario.
“First of all, I feel I have a responsibility to be saying these things,” Harris declares from an Ontario tour stop last week. “I’m not saying them as a celebrity, but as a man, an American citizen and a father. I truly believe I have an obligation to do everything I can to make the future a better place for my kids and my grandkids. If the American are expecting change by going about things the same way we’ve always done things, it isn’t going to happen. I’m taking it upon myself to try a different approach and hopefully create some dialogue along the way.”
One of the most striking moments of Harris’ letter to Donald Trump arrives in its closing moments when he asks the President, “When the stage is dark and the lights and cameras are off … Who are you? And more importantly, who do you want to be?”
The questions are both powerful and relevant, given Trump’s penchant for reality television.
“I think every citizen in any country that is a democracy should be able to fall back on the reputation of their leader. That goes for the United States, Canada, anywhere. We live in a democracy and the majority rules whether you agree with the direction the country is heading or not. The fact is though, nobody really knows what to expect from Donald Trump don’t really know what kind of person we are being led by and dealing with. Is it the same person on the campaign trail that seemingly promoted racism and bigotry? These are the questions that nobody seems to be able to answer. [Trump] has zero political experience so we can’t look back on his past accomplishments and be able to count on him to take a specific position on an issue.”
Despite widespread criticism, fear, and concern over what the next four years will bring Americans – many believe Trump’s first week in the White House is a forbearer of things to come – Harris insists he is going to do his best to keep an open mind before saying too much more.
“I’ve been vocal and adamant all along that I don’t want to be overly presumptuous about what to expect in the next four years,” he says. “Part of me believes that we need to give [Trump] the opportunity to prove himself, but based on the executive orders he has signed so far, ones that go against women’s rights and one that advocates for the creation of pipelines, I have to admit it’s disheartening to see. It’s almost as though he has no regard for any other groups or walks of life besides his own. It’s going to be up to all of us to find optimism for the foreseeable future.”
What: Tip “T.I.” Harris
When: Monday Jan. 30, 7 p.m.
Where: The Venue, 125 Westmorland St., Moncton
Tickets are $54.50 plus tax and service charge. Advance tickets are available online at www.ticketpro.ca.