In T.I.'s show -- and in his life -- it's all about the hustle

Even if rap music isn't one of your favorites, you'd find Tip "T.I." Harris interesting. The guy has a high-octane life -- something he's teaching in his reality competition show, "The Grand Hustle." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

of folks can't rap or write or act. What they can do, they think, is

Or maybe not. Just
ask Tip “T.I.” Harris, who has mastered all of those skills and
now has a TV show about the art of the hustle.
“Your hustle
(should) maintain the speed of your city,” he said. Atlanta has “a
tenacious energy in the air. As soon as you get out of the airport in
Atlanta, you kind of can feel people moving to accomplish goals and
reach their dreams.”

That's where he's
built a big-deal career. He's had three albums reach No. 1 on the
Billboard charts and four more reach the top five .... He's been in
movies, including two big-budget “Ant-man” films as Dave, the
hero's friend and crew member .... He's done three reality shows
(including the current “The Grand Hustle”), plus fashion, real
estate and more.

“Tip has never
stopped since the moment I met him,” said Brian Sher, who is his
agent and produces “Grand Hustle” with him. “He's always,
always moving.”

That really is
“always,” Sher said, complicated by the fact that they live three
time zones apart. “I'll wake up in the morning and I'll have missed
calls from him – one at 2:15 a.m., one at 4:15 a.m. and one at 5.
And texts saying, 'Call me. Where are you? What are you doing?'”

That's the sort of
approach Harris, 37, expects from “Hustle” contestants, as they
vie for a job in his company. One task involved a music event to show
off his new performers.

“They spent so
much time on decorations and refreshments,” Harris said, “that
they didn't spend enough time getting bodies in the room.”

He soon gave them an
angry lecture. “That is Tip being Tip .... He was genuinely
furious,” Sher said.

The hustling began
early, Harris said. “I started selling candy in 4th
grade. I'd get $100, break it into five twenties. (With) each $20,
I'd get $100 worth of candy .... I did that in 4th, 5th,
6th grade. And that's how I got all my bike accessories
and all of my little toys and such.”

The toys are bigger
now, but he says the key is the same: “Work ethic. You had to be
willing to show up early, leave late, accept opportunities others
passed up.”

Still, let's not
confuse Harris with a Boy Scout. This is a high school drop-out who
has been arrested often (mainly for drugs and probation violation),
once sentenced to three years in prison. Even after his success in
music, he wasn't bringing a work ethic to his movie career.

“'ATL' was my
first movie,” Harris said. “They probably paid me about 75 cents.
(In music), I was at the height of my career, probably had just
received $12-13 million. So I'm showing up late, just doing all the
things that people who shoot movies hate to see ....

“Finally, Brian
had to break it to me that, 'Man, if you're late agan, you're going
to get fired.'”

He promptly changed
his ways, he says, and expects the “Grand Hustle” people to do
the same.

“T.I. and his crew
will choose one person to be named king or queen of the hustle,”
said Connie Orlando, BET's programming chief. “The winner will
land a six-figure project managing one of T.I.'s companies.”

It will be an
enviable job ... assuming that person doesn't mind getting lots of
late-night phone calls.

-- “The Grand
Hustle,” 10 p.m . Thursdays, BET, rerunning at 11.

-- Began, with 16
contestants, on July 20