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T.I.’s BET Hip Hop Awards performance was dope

The ATL rapper says his latest EP ‘Us or Else’ isn’t to make money but to continue the movement

On Oct. 4, T.I. appeared at the top of the stairwell on a darkened stage, illuminated only by a spotlight at the BET Hip Hop Awards. The artist dressed in all black by design. Atop his head sat a slightly tilted black beret, reminiscent of Huey P. Newton, a founding member of the mid-1960s Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. A black glove covered his right hand.

The music from his single We Will Not — the latest from his EP Us or Elsebegan to play as protesters donning “We Will Not” shirts filled the stage. They held signs with phrases that have been commonly spotted at recent demonstrations after the latest shootings of black men by police: “Black Lives Matter,” “United We Stand” and “Fight the Power.”

“United, we all stuck in this bulls— together, showin’ these folk we just won’t take whatever, or else they just roll up and shoot up whatever, just like they’ve been doin’ forever,” T.I. rapped.

When the camera panned to a wider shot of the stage, a protester can be seen falling to his “death” after being tapped by the police batons of the two white officers who appeared onstage. One by one, the protesters dropped. By the end of the performance, T.I. was the only one who remained, flanked by the two officers. As they attempted to hit him with their batons, they too fell to the ground and joined the other protesters.

As dramatic and powerful as the scene was in its entirety, the performance sent a strong message the artist wanted to convey.

T.I. performs onstage during the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center on September 17, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

T.I. performs onstage during the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center on September 17, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Marcus Ingram/BET/Getty Images for BET

“It was just supposed to be a very simple performance with me on the steps, and the protesters coming out,” T.I. said. “At the very last minute, I had the idea of the policemen. I didn’t know if they were going to let me do that, but I spoke to Jesse Collins and the people at BET about it and they conceded. I think that it was a nailed performance. It was the performance that we wanted. Now, whether or not it got the overall reaction that we wanted, that just goes to show how many people are either blinded by or against the movement.”

T.I. has been one of the more prominent voices in the music industry while using his platform to speak out against social injustices and police brutality. In 2014, shortly after the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the now 36-year-old released his single New National Anthem to address police brutality, racism and other injustices people of color continue to face in America.

“I think that some things are bigger than business,” T.I. said. “The state of the nation that we’re in requires everyone to do their part. That’s the major and the minute — blue-collar, white-collar, the rich and famous, the regular working-class ladies and gentlemen — I think everybody has to do their part, so me, I think the main thing I can do is use my platform to just generate healthy dialogue and institute some form of change.”

Two years later, things remain the same — or worse.

Of the deaths caused by police in 2015 and 2016, 486 out of 1,970 victims have been black men, according to data from The Guardian. According to The Washington Post, 169 of those black men have been fatally shot by police in 2016.

Police brutality across America has sparked national outrage, movements and protests from citizens demanding that police be held accountable for their actions. Recent high-profile shooting deaths, including that of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, have prompted athletes and other celebrities to become outspoken about policing, systemic racism and accountability.

T.I.’s latest EP, Us or Else, is one dedicated strictly to these issues.

“This wasn’t something that I did for monetary gain or something that I wanted to be record-breaking in a sense,” he said. “I just wanted to invest my art, my talent, my platform into a cause for this moment, for right now … I think after my cycle subsides with Us or Else, someone else should invest their time, talent and platform. It’s not gonna make you no money, so don’t look to do that. Just get out there and do some dope music that actually addresses the issues that plague our nation.”

T.I. doesn’t believe his music is the only solution, but hopes that it at least is a conversation-starter that will generate the necessary discussions America needs to heal and move forward as a nation.

“I hope [people] just take away the urge to have a discussion,” he said. “I can’t give anyone their position. I don’t want to give anyone their opinion. I just want them to be urged to have a discussion, whether they feel things are on the right track or they feel things need to be put on the right track … that’s the only way we can change things — by challenging the way that they are right now.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.