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By Mark Bell | February 14, 2014

James Del Gatto’s documentary feature, Rubberband Man, looks at the ascent of rapper T.I., rap music’s King of the South. Eschewing the routine Behind the Music-style rise and fall of a musical icon, Gatto’s film excels due to its unfiltered footage, captured over five years from 2003-2008. Whether such content would be given an “okay” by a music artist’s publicity team now is debatable, but the footage exists and has been put together to tell a compelling story.

And that is the story of the rise of rapper T.I. from the drug-dealing “Trap” of the Bankhead neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia, to the jet-setting heights of music stardom to the ever-present state of paranoia that puts T.I. in and out of jail even while at his most successful. While the rap world was knowledgeable of the criminal underworld that ruled many a New York and Los Angeles rap story, the exploits of those in the South was less well-known until a new wave of Southern rappers hit the scene, with T.I. finding much success as one of those illuminating voices. His tales of “The Trap” gave him legitimacy to those he spoke for; he wasn’t pretending to be anything but what he was.

As his success grows, however, his insistence in straddling the two worlds causes him continued strife. When conflict breaks out between him and another rapper, it turns as deadly as it would for any gang-banging situation. Fearing for his safety, more success means more money to defend oneself, and in T.I.’s case, that means arming up with an arsenal of weapons that puts him right back under the scrutiny of the police (after numerous previous issues in his life).

It becomes fascinatingly tragic to watch T.I.’s story unfurl. He’s smart and knows what is going on; he knows that he’s at a stage in his life where he shouldn’t be handling situations, or even getting himself into certain situations, like he’s done in the past… but he can’t seem to help it.

Even as he finds greater success with songs that aren’t about his life in the “Trap,” he can’t get beyond it. When he explains his reasoning for acquiring enough guns to lay siege to a small town, it makes perfect, paranoid sense. He’s not worried someone might want to kill him, he knows people want to kill him, because they keep saying as much. And when he explains how these stories end, with a famous rapper gunned down and their murderers left free and unpunished, his overwhelming defensive choices again seem reasonable.

For fans of T.I., this is essential viewing for getting the back story on the man you love, often straight from his mouth. If things do end tragically for him, it’ll be all the more upsetting considering his self-awareness. For others who are less familiar, it’s an intriguing portrait of the artist, but his story is still being written, so an overall narrative arc does not necessarily exist yet. Again, though, T.I. comes off intelligent and wise beyond his years, and as charismatic as they come, so even if a more traditional arc didn’t exist when the footage ends in 2008, it’s still entertaining to spend time with him and his story. Here’s hoping his story doesn’t become cliché, and becomes one of ultimate inspiration instead of eventual tragedy.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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