Once dubbed "the Jay-Z of the South" by Pharrell Williams, T.I. gradually came into his own and established himself as one of rap's most successful MCs during the early 2000s. Like Jay-Z, T.I. -- born Clifford Harris in Atlanta, GA -- carried a balance of smoothness and toughness, and although 2001's I'm Serious didn't shoot him out of the gate à la Reasonable Doubt, he consistently grew and launched a string of major hits with 2003's "24's." Throughout the six following years, T.I. maintained a consistent presence on urban radio stations in America: 2003's Trap Muzik, 2004's Urban Legend, 2006's King (released in tandem with T.I.'s debut screen appearance in ATL), 2007's T.I. vs T.I.P., and 2008's Paper Trail -- all released through the MC's deal with Atlantic -- were Top Ten albums, with the latter three even spending time at the very top of the chart.
For better or for worse, T.I. also courted a good deal of controversy during his rise to superstar status. Far more ink was spent on his legal issues and conflicts with other rappers, including fellow Southerner Lil' Flip, than his Katrina relief efforts and other humanitarian involvements. One notable event occurred on May 3, 2006, when T.I.'s crew was caught up in a shooting after a show in Cincinnati. The crossfire left three people injured, while longtime friend and personal assistant Philant Johnson was fatally wounded. Despite such incidents, T.I. continued to flourish as the decade drew to a close, charting three chart-topping rap singles and four Top Five pop hits between 2008 and 2009. His career took a breather in 2009, however, when the rapper entered an Arkansas prison to serve a yearlong sentence related to federal gun charges. T.I. was released from prison at the end of 2009, serving the rest of his sentence at a halfway house in Atlanta. Just prior to the December 2010 release of his seventh album, No Mercy, he returned to prison, sentenced to 11 months for violating his probation. ~ Andy Kellman, allmusic.com