T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle: TV Review

T.I. and Tiny VH1 Portrait - P 2011

T.I. and Tiny VH1 Portrait - P 2011

A vehicle designed to help jumpstart the Atlanta-based rapper’s career following his release recent from prison on drug charges, "T.I. & Tiny" will need to dig deeper if it wants to attract T.I. many new fans.

The real conflict of the VH1 show concerns how the Atlanta rapper balances work and family during his first few weeks at home after a prison.

In the rap world a hustler is somebody who uses his street smarts to rake in big bucks. If that means dealing drugs or weapons, pimping out women, and other activities generally frowned upon by law enforcement officials, so be it.

There’s little doubt that Clifford Harris, a.k.a. T.I., ranks up high in the annals of hustlerdom. The self-described "King of the South," T.I. boasts the kind of rap sheet no mother could love, starting with a 1997 arrest for cocaine dealing. So frequent were his run-ins with the law over the ensuing 13 years, it’s a wonder that TIP (why stop at one alias?) had any time left over to pursue a music career. But Harris not only managed to release 7 successful albums, he also founded his own label, Grand Hustle Records, and even  tried his hand at acting in the films Takers and ATL.
Alas, the hustling life began catching up with T.I. in 2009, when he was sentenced to jail for purchasing automatic weapons in violation of his parole. In 2010, shortly after his release from a halfway house, Harris was sent back to prison for 10 months after police discovered a cache of ecstasy, codeine and pot in his vehicle following a traffic stop.

But that was then. Now, not quite three months since his release from a federal lock-up, we’re led to believe in VH1’s new series T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle, Harris has finally figured out his life priorities.

“You know, at the end of the day, the most important things to me in the world, God, family, hustle, in that order,” T.I. tells the camera following a lead-in montage of clips detailing his recent legal woes.

The real conflict of the show concerns how Harris balances work and family during his first few weeks back home. Tameka "Tiny" Harris, the co-star of what turns out to be a surprisingly banal drama, has stood by her man throughout his prison stints, looking after the six children that the couple has between them (four from past relationships) at the couple’s lavish Atlanta mansion.

"These past ten years we’ve been together, he’s been gone almost three,” Tiny says in a cut-away interview. “This has to be the last time."

Tiny spends much of the first episode looking forward to jump-starting her sex life with T.I.

“Get naked and get in the bed,” Tiny tells T.I. as their 3-year-old son, Major, plays next to them in the bedroom.

T.I. does his best to re-establish order in the home, admonishing Tiny for having taken over his side of the bathroom vanity with her perfume bottles, and teaching Major to keep his shoes off in a living room with all white furnishings.

“Go draw my water, woman!” he orders her with a forceful spank.

Their banter is playful enough, but belies a relationship in which a clear power dynamic has long ago been established.

“Ain’t I been to jail enough times for you to know how to treat me when I come home?” T.I. asks.

“I don’t want to hear that,” Tiny responds as she heads to the bathroom to fill the bathtub.

Executive Producers Cris Abrego (Flavor of Love), Christian Sarabia (Same Name), Rabih Gholam (The Surreal Life), and Ben Samek (Rock of Love) know that T.I.’s legion of fans will be drawn to yet another glimpse inside their rap hero’s inner sanctum. And with dozens of reality shows chronicling the private lives of pop stars — from Why Not? With Shania Twain to Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business — there’s a solid case to be made that audiences prefer this sort of moment-by-moment intimacy over the more detached career retrospective found on Behind the Music.

To be sure, in some sense, all of reality television is an act of self-promotion, and for T.I., a guy who has spent his life bragging about being a hustler, it’s no great revelation to learn that his latest venture is a thinly-disguised, and often boring attempt to get him back into the public eye.

“That’s priority number one: Get hot and get paid. I mean, after staying out of jail, of course.” T.I. tells his manager and Hollywood agent at the recording studio.

In other words, the hustle is officially back on.