T.I. almost said “hell no” to his role in the History Channel remake of 1977’s Roots, but he was compelled to move past his misgivings. Coaxed by director Will Packer to participate in the 2016 version of Alex Haley’s 1976 tale, the rapper geared up for the role of Cyrus, a runaway slave who convinces Kunta Kinte’s grandson Chicken George to join the Civil War’s Union Army. After a back and forth with Packer and an introduction to his character, T.I. was sold.
“He wouldn’t take no for an answer — luckily for me — and he forced me to analyze my apprehensions and where they actually derived from,” he said during a sit-down with BET.com. “Once I got the script and saw the purpose of Cyrus, my character, I felt compelled. It felt like something I had to do, not something I necessarily wanted to do.”
In his formative years, T.I. wasn’t particularly moved by the required watching of Roots in school; he thought of it more as a diversion from actual work. It wasn’t until life’s prejudices, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and John Singleton’s Higher Learning opened his eyes that he was able to appreciate the breadth of Haley’s gripping and emotionally-taxing story. Once on board to bring his portion of the series to life, the new Roots series was the subject of both acclaim and widespread criticism – from his fans to his fellow musicians.
“I’ll feel relieved when people see it and like it,” he admitted. “It was a phenomenal experience. The most important piece of work I’ve ever done. I’ve never had people be more critical of my performance in something than this.”
As for his own children, the rapper hopes they will be more inquisitive than he was.
“I just hope they sit, watch it and ask questions,” he said. “That shows that their genuinely interested in it. That they sit and watch and go, ‘Why did this happen?’ and ‘What does that mean?’ That’s what I hope. Whatever dialogue, whatever epiphanies, whatever introspective things come from that in those sittings, that’s all I can ask for.”
Watch the latest installment of Roots on the History Channel tonight at 9 p.m. EDT.