'Twas the season

The hip-hop life isn't all about going for self and lining your wrists with bling, as local rap star T.I. proved this holiday season. T.I. took his title as "the people's champion" seriously as he gathered his troops, including manager Jason Geter, Grand Hustle artists C-Rod, Big Kuntry, MacBoney, AK, Xtaci, super-assistant Hannah Kang and others, to deliver toys and food to some of Atlanta's neediest residents just before Christmas.

For about four hours, former drug dealer-turned-rapper T.I. led a caravan of more than a dozen cars that traveled to various southwest Atlanta public housing projects handing out toys and food. The entourage created excitement wherever it went. T.I. himself attracted more attention than the dolls, footballs and toy motorcycles, with fans clamoring for his autograph on posters and CDs.

A few even performed for the star. At one point, a boy, around 15, broke into a freestyle rhyme, while a woman, who was likely in her 40s, started singing background vocals to accompany him.

This show of charity comes at the end of a great year for T.I., who — with a hit album and his face on the cover of the January Vibe — is one of the hottest acts in hip-hop. But, according to his personal assistant, T.I.'s Santa Claus act is nothing new. Even when he was selling drugs, he used to travel through the 'hood each holiday season passing out gifts. The cops pulled him over one year because they couldn't believe he was delivering goods and not stealing them.

T.I.'s most recent gift-giving jaunt started winding down once his crew reached University Homes around the corner from the Atlanta University Center. There, they were joined by Mississippi rapper David Banner.

T.I. didn't say much throughout the day. But other members of his group were more vocal about what they observed passing out gifts in Atlanta's meaner streets. Said one transplanted New Yorker: "I had no idea it was so hard down here."