To best understand the sixth and upcoming season of the hit VH1 reality series T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle, all you really have to do is listen to the rapper’s latest single “Dope.”
Dr. Dre produced the track, which is a mix of old and new school sensibilities with T.I’s eloquent southern cadence cradled in the arms of an R&B hook. The soulful and catchy vocals are courtesy of both singer Marsha Ambrosius’ silky voice and an Aaliyah sample.
Like the song, the series T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle combines the sugar with the salt and the old with the new. It premieres Monday July 18 and features a giddy and expecting Clifford “T.I.” Harris and his wife Tameka “Tiny” Cottle Harris before their baby girl Heiress Harris was born. Heiress made her world premiere in March and this season’s episodes were shot beforehand. She is the couple’s seventh child.
“You won’t actually see the baby,” Harris told ESSENCE during a recent promotional interview in Los Angeles. “But you will see Tiny be a trooper. She handles babies and having babies like nobody’s business.”
Heiress’ biggest challenge these days, her proud papa said, is sleeping through the night. “I don’t mind her not sleeping because I’m up anyway most of time. I’m a night owl,” he said. “But if I’m not there and she isn’t sleeping and Tameka can’t sleep, that may be a bit of a conundrum.”
Juggling marriage and fatherhood with his music and acting careers doesn’t seem to be a conundrum for Harris, who turns 36 in September. He’s taking it one project at a time, he said, including a partnership with Pepsi and an upcoming thriller titled Sleepless, which stars Jamie Foxx, Gabrielle Union and Michelle Monaghan and arrives in theaters in February 2017.
Meanwhile, his upcoming album doesn’t have an official title or release date – at least not one Harris wants to share yet. When asked about the choice to sample Aaliyah and pair up with Ambrosius on “Dope,” Harris took the humble route.
“I can’t take credit for the conception,” he said of the song, which is an unofficial tribute to Aaliyah. The singer died in a plane crash 15 years ago. “But as soon as I heard it, I knew it was something that was definitely mandatory. And Marsha is just an incredible talent. She can sing just about any note and has a lot of range.”
Acting wise, Harris wowed critics with his performance as Cyrus, a runaway slave turned Union soldier in A&E’s reboot of Roots. Initially, Harris didn’t want to take the role and play an enslaved character but once he read the script, he came around. Roots, which debuted on Memorial Day, recently received seven Emmy nominations including a nod for outstanding limited series.
“I just bit the bullet and did it,” he said. In order to play a convincing amputee, Harris had to perform with his arm pinned behind his back for hours on end. What was even harder, he said, was figuring out how to execute the miniseries’ ending.
“I remember trying to prepare for the scene where we were leaving the plantation and it’s almost like you don’t know how to feel,” said Harris, whose credits include Ant Man and House of Lies. “Are you happy, because you’re free or are you confused because you don’t know where you’re going and you have nothing? It was difficult.”
But Harris is proud that the new Roots has been well received given its updated plot twists, sense of justice and pro-Black messages.
“With us being in the information age, and having access to so many more facts than before, it allowed us to show more of the story,” Harris said. “People are beginning to wake up. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, crack swept the nation’s attention and hip-hop in the early 2000s was about spending money and ignoring responsibilities.
“Now people are used to having money and things have calmed down and people know crack is whack. Now there are more opportunities to educate and inspire and evolve.”
T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle premieres Monday July 18 at 9 p.m.