NEW YORK - Although T.I. owns both the No. 1 album and single in the country, the platinum-selling rapper says he still feels like the underdog.
"Nobody has ever given me a win and nobody has ever said, 'T.I., you know he's going to do this thing.' They always (say), 'He's not going to do this much, he's not going to do that good, I don't believe he'll do that well.' So it’s always been an uphill battle for me no matter how big I get I'm always the underdog," he said in an interview.
But the 28-year-old may not be able to claim that underdog title for long. His latest CD, "Paper Trail," sold more than 560,000 copies in its first week to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts, and his newest single, "Live Your Life" featuring Rihanna, supplanted the album's first single, "Whatever You Like," at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
The 28-year-old rapper made the comments before taking the stage at Diesel's 30th birthday celebration in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Saturday night. The circus-themed event for the apparel company featured mash-up performances; other artists performing included N.E.R.D., Hot Chip, Franz Ferdinand, Joel and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte, Chaka Khan and M.I.A., who performed her breakthrough Top 10 hit, "Paper Planes."
Other celebrities in attendance included Lindsay Lohan, "Gossip Girl" co-stars Chace Crawford and Taylor Momsen, actresses Emma Roberts and Zoe Kravitz, and former Destiny's Child member Michelle Williams.
T.I. also performed a song with the pregnant M.I.A., and called the lyricist "the hottest rap chick in the game right now, period." T.I. recently sampled "Paper Planes" for a collaboration with Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. The song, "Swagga Like Us," appears on "Paper Trail."
T.I. said the collaboration between the top rappers is a reflection of the respect they have for one another.
"It wasn't like I said let me get Jay, Wayne and Kanye on the same song," he said. "The song started off with me and Kanye and it was just me and Kanye, and mutual associates of all four of us suggested, 'Hey man, if Jay and Wayne were on here too, it'll be one of the biggest songs in hip-hop history.' So I said, 'You know what, that's a great idea. It's ambitious, but it's a great idea.' So we reached out and they agreed and it's a pleasure to have them involved."
The rapper, whose real name is Clifford Harris, was sentenced to one year in prison on federal weapons charges after he was arrested last October before the BET Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta for allegedly trying to buy automatic weapons. He is scheduled to start his prison sentence in March 2009 after completing 1,000 hours of community service.
"It's a blessing to come from where I was at the beginning of the year all the way to right here," he said. "It's an honor and a privilege to assume such levels of achievement."