Tee Grizzley Will Show a Different Side of Detroit on His Debut Album ‘Activated’
“This is like an eclipse or something that happens every 35, 40 years,” says Tee Grizzley as he sits inside the XXL office. The Detroit native is assessing his blitz of the music industry, a rise that’s played out like a hip-hop Cinderella story. In less than one year’s time, Tee has gone from a prison cell to becoming one of hip-hop’s most exciting young voices, all on the back of his street-certified rhymes and vivid narratives. “Ain't nobody gonna come from where I come from, keep it real as I did and make it with the local Detroit sound that has never made it in the industry before. Where I'm going, I don't feel like too many people from my city are going to blaze this trail.”
The 23-year-old rapper has good reason to be optimistic about his career ceiling after the breakout year that he’s had. Tee has been co-signed by the biggest names in music and sports, JAY-Z and LeBron James, respectively. He dropped two stellar, well-received projects, My Moment and December’s collaborative mixtape with Lil Durk, Bloodas. And his song “First Day Out,” while released in November 2016—just a month after he came home from prison—rang throughout 2017, sitting alongside the track it emulates, Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares,” as a DJ set list essential.
Tee still has more ground to cover, though. His upcoming mixtape, Still My Moment, looks to continue sharing his life and times while painting a vivid picture of his city’s underbelly. “I didn't think this was possible,” says Tee, standing upward of six feet and nearly 250 pounds, sporting a maroon Adidas tracksuit. “But now that I’ve reached this point, I see myself going to the moon.”
XXL sat down with Tee Grizzley to speak about his linking with Durk, his most challenging moment since attaining success, why he’s cutting off his rapper friends this year and his forthcoming debut album, Activated.
XXL: You and Lil Durk linked up to drop Bloodas in December? How did you two first meet?
Tee Grizzley: I don't even remember how we first met. But we bonded because we come from the same background. Me and him is the same kind of people; our homies is the same kind of people. We both hang around savages. We both come from the slums. Chicago is probably a little bit more crazy; they're raised up, designed and trained to go. And Detroit is like, we're just so aggressive, and we will do it. Niggas ain't trained to, but they will do it, don't got no problem doing it. So we just take a liking to each other.
One of the standout records from Bloodas is “3rd Person.” How did that concept come about?
Me and Durk in the studio just talking, having a regular conversation. We had stopped the music, and were just kicking it. And we're talking about our cities and what we done been through, different stuff. And we like, “Niggas be bad-mouthing. Let's make a song about it, call it ‘3rd Person’ and act like we them.” That's how the song came together. He let me hear his four, I let him hear my first four, and from there we just kept writing and motivating each other, going crazy.
Your take on it was when you got locked up, people didn’t hold you down. And then when you got out, they felt that you were acting differently.
When you're in prison, you don't know nobody [and] you don't got nothing. You're feeling every second. The food is B.S. They don't give you deodorant, soap, underwear, socks. If you don't have that stuff, you worse than somebody that's out here on the streets. You got people out here that you grew up with, that you're telling that you love every time y'all split up. And when you get in here, nobody give you no assistance.
You ask niggas that you meet, like, “Bro, I’ll give you my breakfast tray if you let me get two minutes on the phone.” Go out there, “Man, what's up, I need somebody to send me something. This is my information, this is how you do it. Call everybody, call cuz and them, tell them I need it. I'm in here fucked up.” [They say], “I got you, look, I'm about to put some money on the phone, call my phone in five minutes.” I call and ain't no money on the phone. A week go past, no money. And you're going through this for years, seeing how much people don't care. Then when I come home you expect me to be like everything's cool. It's like, “Damn, what's up? What happened to them five minutes?” I can't do it.
You wrote My Moment while you were still locked up. Tell me about the mindset that you were in and how that contributed to the rhymes that came out?
I tell stories and I talk about my life. So I got so much time to think: OK, we were riding around this night about to do something crazy and I know in the back of my mind, if we get caught and he tell the police on me, if I can, I'ma try to take his life. And if I tell on them, they gotta try to take my life. That's just the code we live by. I got so much time to think, “What have I done? How can I make that into a rap? How can I make it sound good?”
Aside from stories and pieces of your life, you also drop gems in your rhymes too. Things that listeners can learn.
I work on quotables: What can I say that somebody would put on their caption? Instagram is one of the biggest things right now. Everybody be like, “What can I put on my caption? Let me go listen to Tee's songs.” I get streams just off of that. I try to do quotables and in doing that I give people game, too.
What’s one that you think stands out?
"Real niggas ain't gotta say they real." That's a gem. Because, damn, if real niggas don't say that they real, what do they do? They show it.
You had a lot of huge moments in 2017: From a LeBron cosign to being shouted out by JAY-Z. What was the most challenging moment for you?
In my city, somebody gets killed, whole city blames me. I instantly feel a loss of love from everybody in Detroit. Everybody turns their back. They turned against me because they feel like I could've done more to save him. Like, “If you would've had him with you, he would've been good.” That type of situation. And I just sit back like, damn, in the midst of this [success], people are dying from beefing with other niggas. I really can't make no wrong moves out here, because just as quick as you can get people to love you, you can get people to hate you.
How did that affect you?
I learned from it: How to move, what to say, being more careful. When you in the positive light and good space, do everything to keep it that way and be real careful what you say and how you move because your world can come crashing down on you. I thought that I was the one in Detroit that nobody would never hate or turn they back on. Everybody overnight turn they back. Crazy.
You’re hitting the road for Jeezy’s Cold Summer tour. Have you been able to learn anything from him?
By him being successful for so long, you for sure look to learn something from him. He definitely give you some game. He just reached out to me, like, “I got a connection to Detroit. You going crazy right now, let's work, let's get it.” I grew up listening to him, my peoples used to listen to him, ride around trapping to him. So I was like, “I'ma fuck with Jeezy.”
Talk about what you want to get across with your next mixtape and debut album.
My debut album is called Activated. And we're putting a mixtape out called Still My Moment. When people hear my music, they ain't really hearing about no shiny stuff, the glamorous life. They're going to hear that gritty, slum. It's a dark cloud over my city. I've been through it and I'ma tell you in detail. A lot of people just ride past the slums in their music. Boarded-up trap houses, cars parked on the grass. I'm going to take you into those houses, into the minds of the people that's in those houses.
Do you have any plans for 2018?
I'm gonna just try my best to set myself apart and cut off the access. I'm cool with a lot of rappers. They can reach out to me, and I rock with them because we're all new in the industry. 2018 is that new shit. I don't know those niggas no more. I'm about to go crazy, wave about to be super big. I ain't kicking it with y'all niggas. Y'all the competition.
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