T.I. has carried an entrepreneurial spirit with him ever since he signed his first major record deal with Arista Records — actually he was self-employed in his trap days as well. The label released the Atlanta hustler’s debut album I’m Serious in 2001, but Tip soon found himself looking for a new recording home. That’s when Atlantic Records saw the the same vision that was building in the rapper’s mind. Not only did T.I. want the backing of a label that was fully confident in his own music, but he wanted a true partner for his own imprint, Hustle Gang Records.
It would take several more years for the relentless business man to establish himself in the music world, but when he finally became a household name, the southern king was ready to introduce listeners to his own roster of talent.
“Well, you know we got a little history here. We got some present day and some future, and I think that’s the beautiful thing about what we’ve been able to orchestrate here. It’s a testament to the culture and what we represent in Atlanta,” says T.I. about his new and improved crew. “It’s an institution of culture. I feel like as an institution of culture we should represent every slice of the culture. It’s people who represent all different walks of life of hip-hop. Wherever you from, whatever you rockin’ with, we got somebody for you.”
What started as a small family entity now boasts names like Trae Tha Truth (who also serves as president of the company), B.o.B., Young Dro, GFM Bryce, Yung Booke, 5ive Mics, Tokyo Jetz, RaRa, Brandon Rossi, Translee, London Jae and more. Recently, they came together for the group album We Want Smoke, which is currently bringing in new fans by the day.
“There has to be a certain sense of unity that comes outside of music.,” T.I. tells VIBE. “If you ain’t united outside the music, if y’all don’t kick it on the daily, if y’all don’t talk, then when you put those people together to do music or to perform, you can tell it’s kind of awkward. We’re a family and a unit for real no matter what. I think that is reflected in our performances and in our art.”
He hopes to build this brand into the next big thing in hip-hop, and not with just the music. Hustle Gang plans to release new clothing collections, television shows, movies and more. For now, he’s just focused on getting his team in front of the right eyes and ears.
“I mean to be honest, anytime you have to manage or anytime you are responsible for so many different, diverse personalities it always presents some challenges and certain adversities,” says Tip about the long road ahead. “But nothing in life worth having comes easy. I don’t expect anything to be easy; I just expect it to be right.”
He contiues: “All of us have very organic stories as to how we came together. There was no force or nothing that traditional, by hip-hop standards, in how people meet link up today. I saw something in them. Whether it was their music or their personality, or their work ethic, or their individuality. Ain’t nobody came here to just hop in the streets, so even if you are from the streets, you have the ability to do something different in Hustle Gang, and that’s our primary focus.”
Listen to We Want Smoke below.