As rapper-turned-actor Clifford “T.I.” Harris promotes his new film “Fear,” co-starring alongside Joseph Sikora, Terrance J, and King Bach, he stopped by the podcast “Club Shay Shay” with Shannon Sharpe to talk about his career and why he turned down the lead in the 2002 hit movie “Drumline,” one of Nick Cannon’s breakout films.
Sharpe asked the “Grand Hustle” executive, “How were you able to make the transition so seamlessly from being a rapper to going on the big screen?”
T.I. responded that he didn’t know if he would call it “seamless.”
He explained, “My first film was ATL. I had the pleasure of acting in it because you know, coming up amongst the ranks in Atlanta would bring me into the company of all of the legends in the city; and I could not meet all the legends without coming into contact with Dallas Austin.”
Austin started his career in the early ’90s as a producer for groups like Another Bad Creation, Bel Biv Devoe, Boyz II Men, Monica, and TLC. He also created a cultural arts movement, starting with his Downtown Atlanta Underground retail hub, The Rowdy Store which quickly shifted into being a hangout spot.
“Dallas Austin was a huge, huge, huge producer, songwriter … just an incredible talent, and an incredible mogul,” T.I. continued. “And he was getting into films and they had this one film.”
The rapper, who was working on his first album, told Austin he wanted to be in this film, begging him, “Yo, bruh, put me in it. Put me on!”
The “Whatever You Like” chart-topper said Austin told him he would, asked him to read, and also told him needed to do one more thing.
“They were like, man, you got to learn how to play the drums,” T.I. remembered, adding, “I’m like, ‘Man, I could play like I could play the drum.’ They was like ‘Nah, you gotta learn how to.’”
The back-and-forth continued and then Tip, understanding what was at stake, said, “Man, I don’t want to do that. I just didn’t want to commit myself to it at the time. It wasn’t there, you know? But I read and I didn’t get it, you know, and that movie went on to be ‘‘Drumline.’”
Before Nick Cannon had a chance to play Devon Miles, a drummer at Atlanta A&T University, a newly dubbed King of the South had the role but did not take it because he simply did not want to commit to the process.
People took to social media to share their thoughts on T.I. playing the role.
One person tweeted, “T.I. playing Nick Cannon role in drumline would have been a travesty.”
Another fan of the movie wrote they could not imagine anyone playing the role except for Cannon, tweeting, “T.I. said he was turned down for the role of Devon Miles in Drumline & I’m so glad for that. I can’t picture nobody BUT Nick Cannon playing that role. Lol.”
However, others disagreed, writing, “I could see T.I. in drumline though lol. He has the look.”
“Drumline” without T.I. was still a success, more than doubling the $20 million budget it took to make it. Box Office Mojo reports the worldwide in-theater gross was $57,588,485, and the movie has been in syndication for over two decades on local and premium cable networks and streaming services.
For some, it is a great on-screen replication of an HBCU marching band.
According to Best Colleges, “Marching bands are one of the most recognizable and celebrated organizations at many historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs),” and “are often the center of culture on campus and act as important ambassadors for their university off campus.”
The modern HBCU marching band tradition finds its roots at Florida A&M University (back then College) in 1946 with the creation of the “Marching 100.”
However, the “field band” as they were called in the early years goes back as far as early 1900 at Tuskegee University.
While T.I. was not able to participate in the tradition as a mock student at Atlanta A&T University in the movie, he has over the years given back substantially to Black colleges in Atlanta. In 2020, he taught a class on “The Business of Trap Music” at Clark Atlanta University.