Just as quickly as he popped up on the scene, Tee Grizzley has dominated it. Detroit born and bred, Grizzley has transcended all societal barriers and risen to the top despite a series of testing obstacles holding him back. In spite of a 18 month prison stint, a strict 30 month parole period and the widely held assumption that “no one makes it in Detroit”, Tee Grizzley has garnered the support from the likes of Lil Pump, Jay Z, Chance the Rapper, and 5.8 million monthly Spotify listeners.
Now that Tee Grizzley has come off parole he’s gearing up to take on the rest of the world, and considering how far he already has it doesn’t look like it will take him long. Nation of Billions was invited to Paris to witness his international debut, and the palpable energy in the club when Tee Grizzley took to the mic to tell of a future that lays before him. The morning after his appearance, we met up with Grizzley to get a better understanding of life before, during and after parole, and the music that’s been present throughout.
To release two substantial bodies of music in a year is an impressive feat for any artist, let alone an artist on parole. Releasing both a debut studio album (Activated) and a mixtape (Still My Moment) this year – to say Tee Grizzley has been grinding is an understatement, especially when we hear what his parole conditions entailed. “I couldn’t go to certain cities, I couldn’t go to my own city, couldn’t work with certain rappers”. When I press him on what kind of rappers he couldn’t work with, he tells me that it was “rappers that had any run in with the laws”. As we talk further, it becomes more apparent just how stringent this condition was. Tee Grizzley tells me how he couldn’t be seen with any convicted felon – even fans. “Someone took a picture of me and I got locked up – I use to ask everybody ‘are you a felon’, and this guy said he wasn’t but when he posted it to Instagram the police saw it and it turned out he had lied”. Luckily, Tee Grizzley was able to prove that he had no prior knowledge of the fan’s conviction, and was released. Moreover, Grizzley had to be back at his house by 2pm every day, severely restricting his studio time. When asked how he not only just managed to abide by these rules but also create such an accomplished mixtape with collaborations from Chance the Rapper, Quavo, Offset and Lil Pump he remarks that “it was either do this for 30 months or 15 years in prison”.
Tee Grizzley was originally sent to prison for a series of robberies he committed whilst attending Michigan State University, with police finding roughly $10,000 worth of stolen goods and $10,000 in cash on him and two other rappers. According to Twitter, he is trying to rectify these previous misdoings and is slowly paying back those he stole from, as well as attending impoverished schools in Detroit to hand out trainers to kids who performed well on their GPA. This motivation to inspire kids to stay in school comes from hindsight, with Grizzley’s childhood, or lack thereof, teaching him the importance of giving children drive and goals to aspire to. It is inspiring to see Tee Grizzley take on this responsibility to engage the youth, and I wonder who could have played this role for him. “I looked up other Detroit rappers,’cos no one makes it in the industry from Detroit so the industry is not real to us, like, I still can’t believe I made it this far in it”. Indeed, one only has to look at where Grizzley has came from to see the truth to this statement.
Just be a kid as long as you can, enjoy it, enjoy your parents, enjoy your friends, enjoy your schools ‘cos there’s going to be a time when you need to be an adult and you can never be no kid no more.
A father taken by the streets and a mother serving a 15 year sentence for drug trafficking, to really understand Grizzley’s difficult past one need only to listen to the track ‘Babies to Men’ – ‘Why they let us get our hands on them pistols?/ Why we ain’t get a book on all the shit that came with it/ Why our peoples ain’t tell us the government had an agenda?’. As we talk about his experiences growing up, he comments on one defining moment of his childhood: “one day a car sped up and another car sped up behind it and we saw our uncles hopping out of one car and one is shooting at the other car and they were shouting at me and my cousin ‘go in the house, go in the house’, and they come in there with a whole bunch of guns and stuff like that, and they were like ‘here’, and me and my cousin were kids, they gave us two loaded guns – ‘don’t let no body shoot the house or run past’ they told us”, he pauses before continuing, “after that, there ain’t no more going outside and playing”. It’s from this episode, that Grizzley has an important message to the kids: “coming from someone that had to grow up so fast I feel like I literally went from a baby to a man, no childhood in between no chance to play. Just be a kid as long as you can, enjoy it, enjoy your parents, enjoy your friends, enjoy your schools ‘cos there’s going to be a time when you need to be an adult and you can never be no kid no more”.
However may ways it could have gone, now we’re sitting in a 5* hotel in the heart of Paris. Grizzley is wearing a Gucci hoodie and a Louis V belt with two weighty chains draped around his neck – including his signature half man/ half-beast pendant chain. No longer restricted by 2pm curfews and travel bans to certain American cities, he has just performed at an iconic club in the heart of Paris to a hyped crowd. To consider how far he has come with so much holding him back, the trajectory now for Tee Grizzley seems earth-shattering.
As Grizzley’s life is about to become more and more unrelatable, filled with otherworldly moments that are only experienced by a small minority, I wondered how this would affect his music. Grizzley’s seminal hit ‘First Day Out’ that kick started all this, amassing over two million views in under three weeks and industry heavyweight fans such as Jay Z and Lebron James, was recorded the day he got out of prison and talks frankly of his experiences with Federal court and prison. But as his life moves further away from this point, I ask Tee Grizzley how the music will still resonate with the fans that applaud his music for it’s authenticity and realness when it comes to representing the streets. “One thing that will never change is the way I display stuff. I’m like a projector you can play anything here that you want. You could put the world in here. But the way that I say it or the way that I display it – it’s gonna be the same way and you’re gonna understand it and see it that way.”
Whilst it is true that Grizzley’s projector will forever comment on issues in a perspective that is true to his past and flex, there has been a shift in the latest mixtape that acknowledges Grizzley’s new lifestyle. However, it’s not just the classic switch that most rappers have to gloat about extreme riches (although Grizzley touches on his new fortune on a few occasions), but rather a reflective mixtape that comments on his personal growth. With all the rawness and aggression that spawns from his desperation to succeed that is fast becoming his distinctive style, there is also a contemplative tone that verges on motivational. In ‘Wake Up’ Grizzley tells kids to ‘Beefin’ wit’ niggas about shit so stupid, we shouldn’t be beefin’ about it/ If you in high school, I encourage you, go try to make it to college’ and motivates those incarcerated to ‘Daydream, make a plan, write it out/ Don’t forget that your mind free’. He then goes on to talk about how he ‘Blew 50k without thinkin’ about it’, but this stunting is delicately weaved into a broader message on the mixtape: Tee Grizzley isn’t forgetting where he came from, and is using his journey as a way to inspire others.
As for his future, it’s looking bright. With a passport, free-reign on who he can collaborate with and no restraints on when and where he can go to the studio, we’re excited see where Tee Grizzley will go from here.
Still My Moment is out now to stream or download. Keep a look out for his upcoming tour dates,too.