T.I. is on a mission, and it has to do with rebuilding his old neighborhood in the Center Hill section of Atlanta. In 2017 he started a real estate company called Buy Back the Block, and considering what he’s accomplished already the name couldn’t be any more fitting.
In a recent interview, Tip said that he’s partnered with fellow Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and bought the Bankhead Seafood building, a beloved eatery that closed earlier this year after five decades of being in business.
On top of that, he purchased a number of lots in his old neighborhood and bought six buildings as well. So far Tip has spent over $2 million out of his own pocket, without any outside assistance and it seems he’s just now getting started.
“I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s in the Center Hill section of Atlanta, just off Bankhead Highway,” he told Inc. “Back then that part of town was considered the lower end of the middle class. After the crack era the community stalled, and from 1994 to 2012 it became an extremely desolate area for business. There’s no major grocery store chain, there’s no fresh produce, there’s no CVS, there are liquor stores.”
But the rapper said he doesn’t want to improve the area then make it so expensive that people can’t afford it. He wants to do the opposite, so those who’ve always been there don’t have to move.
“Now, with the BeltLine and Mercedes-Benz Stadium a stone’s throw away, there’s an incentive to redevelop,” T.I. explained. “But I didn’t want it to be one of those situations where luxury condos go up, and people who are native are pushed out to the fringes because they can’t afford to live there. I wanted to provide development that would allow people from the area who love the community to be able to afford to stay.”
Tip also said he’ll turn a lot of the buildings that he purchased into “mixed-use” housing, and it’s possible that two of the properties will be ready by the close of 2019. One building will have over 100 units and the other will have less.
In addition, the Grand Hustle founder is working with veteran real estate agent Krystal Peterson so that housing costs are kept affordable, and he’s doing other things like beautifying the neighborhood.
“Green spaces and gardens are incredibly important,” said T.I. “We want a movie theater, bowling, laser tag, stuff I didn’t have. I’m trying to build a community where the people within it can be proud. If they’re proud they’ll have more of a sense of wanting to maintain it.”
“I’d love to see children walk and play and live in green spaces,” he added. “I want to see senior citizens excited about the next generation. The only way to do that is to invest. Why wait for someone else to come into a community where I went to elementary school, where I rode my bike and played?”
It seems a number of rappers share T.I.’s theory since others are investing in their neighborhoods too. Dr. Dre, for example, gave $10 million to build a performance arts center in his hometown of Compton, Calif.
And Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle invested heavily in his Crenshaw neighborhood and opened Vector 90, a co-working space for young people, entrepreneurs and creatives of all types. The rapper Slim Thug has given back to his Houston community as well by launching Boss Life Construction, a company that builds quality, affordable homes in low-income neighborhoods.
According to T.I, he doesn’t want people in the Black community to equate success with escaping local problems, and he’ll try to be an example. “So many times our answer to fixing things is ‘I’m gonna make some money and leave all these people behind,’” he stated. “There’s rarely an intent to get rich and make where you came from better for generations to come. It’s extremely ambitious, but I’ve worked myself to a place where I should be the one leading the charge. In my mind, that’s what it means to be king.”