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Lately, it seems every musician is endorsing or supporting one cause or another—be it a new design for Coke’s discotheque presence, the Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels, or, in Clifford “T.I.”/”Tip” Harris‘ case, troubled youths.
In his juridical ass-kissing MTV docu-series “T.I.’s Road to Redemption:45 Days To Go,” the 28-year-old Grammy-winning rapper intervenes in the lives of a group of “at risk teens” in an effort to “save himself by saving others,” according to MTV. The MTV show’s site also features a live “Countdown to Incarceration,” which displays the days, hours, minutes and seconds ’til T.I.’s sentencing hearing this March, where he could face up to a year in prison for federal weapons charges.
T.I.’s first youth-reforming project for MTV’s cameras (because, as Miss Teen South Carolina would say, nothing absolves faux pas like a grandiose “for the children” gesture) is Pee Wee, a teenage hustler from the ‘hood where the now-famous Rubberband Man used to deal. In the series premiere, Pee Wee—presumably cherry picked by T.I., who met the teen at a gas station during a trip home some time ago—is shown the error of his ways via staged arrest and imprisonment, heart-to-hearts with Tip, and a visit to a funeral home where the body of an allegedly (neither T.I. nor the mortician were sure of the deceased’s livelihood) hustlin’ peer was dressed to the nines, waiting to be deep-sixed. In the end, Pee Wee stays off the streets for a few weeks and is rewarded with acting lessons (his passion, of course) and a plane ticket to L.A. to appear with T.I. onstage.
The show is feel-good in all the ways obligatory-but-not-court-mandated community service allows, and almost as earnest. Watching two street-hardened dudes try to “talk” about their feelings can be downright excruciating at times, and T.I.’s laconic musings and introspective reflections are regrettably shallow, if, thankfully, seemingly unscripted. But after the anticipation of this first episode and exclusive “T.I. Speaks Out” interview regarding the series’ impetus subsides, I wonder if the show’s reformative scare tactics, reality checks and Pavlovian reward scheme formula will continue to captivate viewers in the weeks ahead.
As a fan of T.I.’s musi—”Whatever You Like” is both my ringtone and my internal monologue—I’m sure I’ll, regrettably, hang in there til that incarceration countdown reaches 00:00:00:00.
“T.I.’s Road to Redemption” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV.