February 3, 2009 / 10:51 PM / in 9 years

Rapper T.I. turns prison journey into reality TV

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new reality TV show depicts a U.S. rapper preparing to go to prison for a year on weapons offenses, but rather than glamorize his crimes, hip hop star T.I. is trying to teach others not to make the same mistakes.

T.I. -- whose real name is Clifford Harris -- says he wants to turn his life around with “T.I.’s Road to Redemption,” a series on New York-based cable channel MTV in which he also aims to give seven at risk youth a wake-up call.

“I‘m saying as much as I can, in whatever way I can, to stop this teen-on-teen violence epidemic, this back and forth nonsense that happens in the inner city all too often,” the rapper, 28, told Reuters as he changed the battery on an ankle monitor he has to wear until he enters prison.

The Grammy award-winning rapper was arrested on October 13, 2007 -- the 32nd time he had been arrested -- with machine guns and silencers and spent more than six months under house arrest, facing a possible prison sentence of 30 years.

But in a deal with prosecutors, T.I. -- who is not allowed to own firearms due to a previous drug conviction -- pleaded guilty to illegally possessing weapons and his sentencing was suspended for one year.

Under the deal, if T.I., a father of six, completes 1,000 hours of community service by next month, he will serve one year in jail. So far he has completed more than 900 hours, mostly talking to young people in a bid “to inspire change.”

His reality series -- in which he tries to shock some young people by showing them what it’s like to spend time in a prison cell, or taking them to a morgue to see a corpse -- is not part of his community service.

MTV decline to comment on whether the rapper is being paid for the reality series.

BITTERSWEET YEAR

The rapper, who starred alongside Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in 2007’s “American Gangster,” said his own wake-up call was his 2007 arrest by federal agents.

In the first episode of his series, due to air on February 10, T.I. talks about the death of his childhood friend in 2006. The pair had left a nightclub when a fight broke out, and their car was stopped at traffic lights as another vehicle pulled alongside them and a gunman opened fire, killing his friend.

“The grief, pain and anger, mixed with paranoia ... and knowing that the people that did it didn’t get caught ... is what led me to that parking lot on October 13,” the former teenage drug dealer says on the show.

T.I. co-founded Grand Hustle Entertainment and Forbes magazine ranked him No. 12 on its list of “Hip Hop Cash Kings” in 2007, estimating he banked about $16 million that year.

He told Reuters he wants to teach teenagers “the value of an education, applying thought to action, being responsible for your own actions, accepting responsibility for the mistakes, learning from them so you don’t keep making them.”

Since his arrest, T.I. released “Paper Trail,” which gave him his third consecutive No. 1 album and includes hits such as “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life” and earned four 2009 Grammy nominations. He is due to perform at Sunday’s Grammy award ceremony.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said of his pending incarceration. “I‘m not looking forward to what I have to go through, but I am looking forward to putting it all behind me.”

Editing by Mark Egan and Vicki Allen

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