Tee Grizzley’s Anthems

Rap’s rising star details the tracks that led to his “First Day Out” success, Jay Z accolades and touring with Jeezy

Tee Grizzley Jeremy Deputat

Detroit native Tee Grizzley wrote his breakout hit in 2015 from his prison bunk, and the urgent “First Day Out” is the sound of Tee fighting for his freedom from his courtroom battles onward. The song’s refrain ended up being a warning shot to the rap game, and Jay Z called “First Day Out” the “best song out” when it was finally released in late 2016. From there, Tee Grizzley released his debut mixtape My Moment as 21 Savage and Jeezy whisked him away on nationwide tours. He has since collaborated with peers as wide-ranging as Lil Durk and Lil Yachty, and continues to command respect with his high-stakes raps, contagious energy and palpable desire to win. In this edited excerpt of his Fireside Chat with Christina Lee on Red Bull Radio, Grizzley details the tracks, moments and co-signs that led to his rapid rise.

Drake – God’s Plan

Drake - God’s Plan

I read in a previous interview that when you were locked up, Drake was one of those people who you saw as “winning.” What was it about his come-up that really spoke to you?

He always would just go deeper than any other artist would go as far as music and the creativity. His success has just been unmatched, and anybody wanting to do the music thing and be successful in it would hope for that. Like for ten years straight, he’s been on the Billboard charts. And out the gate, his singles come out #1. And that’s just like a whole lot of motivation, you know?

Something you did recently that reminded me of the “God’s Plan” video was that you hosted a Black Panther screening. How did that come to be and why did you decide to do that?

I did it for my old high school and middle schools. I saw people who gained a lot just giving back. And I know I’ve gained a lot and I know I have a community that needs somebody to give back to them. When I was going to high school and middle school, nobody never did nothing like that for us. And if they did, I would have always remembered it and it would have meant a lot to us. Because a lot of times, we don’t even get to go to the movies. We just go to school, come home and go outside and be around a whole bunch of violence and drugs and chaos and alcoholics and stuff like that. So for me to be able to take them away from that and let them go see us in a different light, as far as Black Panther goes, is just something I feel like I had to do.

The beat is the frame and the song is the canvas. You don’t pick out a frame first and then paint a picture. You paint the picture first, and then put a frame to it.

When I say my community, I mean like the black community. But not any black community; a black community that’s coming up around poverty and violence and around not seeing the bigger picture in life. You know, when I was growing up, I was only exposed to a few choices – either you get a job, you can be on drugs or you can be the one selling the drugs. And to me, the most exciting pick of the three was the one who’s selling the drugs. I never knew about college or nothing positive. And I know that they go through the same things, so for me to be able to reach back, help them, show them another way, and show them that somebody actually cares about them, that type of community.

Tee Grizzley – No Effort (Starring Mike Epps)

Tee Grizzley – “No Effort”

I want to ask you first about the producer. What should people know about Helluva Beats?

When it comes to the Detroit music scene, he one of the people who, if you a rapper in Detroit, you need a Helluva beat because that’s your initiation into being taken serious in the city.

How was it working with him on “No Effort”?

Well, Helluva got a lot of good beats. But with any producer, I don’t like using beats that they already got. I gotta sit down and rap the song to them and they got to make the beat around the song. So that’s what we did with “No Effort.” When you don’t have a beat, you really can think, you can make every word count.

It’s like painting a picture. The beat is the frame and the song is the canvas. You don’t pick out a frame first and then paint a picture. You paint the picture first, and then put a frame to it.

21 Savage – Bank Account

21 Savage – “Bank Account”

You opened for 21 Savage after he brought you out in Detroit. What was going through your head in the hours leading up to you getting on that first stage with him in Detroit?

First I was upstairs with him. And I had just came home from prison; I didn’t even expect the music thing to take off this quick. It didn’t even register yet, I never had time to just sit back and for it to kick in, because it was just unbelievable. Like, it literally happened, not overnight but fast, so thoughts were just going through my head. Like, “Am I really sitting in this room?” That’s crazy. And then, when I went on stage, they went so crazy for me that even he came out before his set and was rocking with me. And it was like a dream, for real.

I’m really interested in what you mean by you weren’t expecting shit to happen this fast. After having put “First Day Out,” how much legwork did you think you had to put in before going on a tour like that and experiencing that recognition?

I had to put in a lot of legwork. I was getting a lot of $500, $1,000 shows, you know. All around the city, all around the state. But wait; before we even get to the legwork or me doing shows and promoting my brand, I had to do legwork in the city just being able to do shows, because I’m on parole. So I got to get permission to even do this type of stuff because I have a curfew. So I had to put the legwork in to even get permission to go to the shows. Then I had to put the legwork in as far as like doing all the little local clubs, $500, $1,500 dollars. I had to put the legwork in at the studio, looking up labels when they was talking to me. A lot came behind it before it was just like “OK, bet, it’s figured out now.”

Meek Mill – Dreams And Nightmares

Meek Mill – “Dreams And Nightmares”

What is it about “Dreams And Nightmares” that draws you in?

That intro hit so me hard that I always told myself there will never be another song made like that. Ever. But then when I got locked up and I figured out I was coming home, I’m like, I gotta do a “First Day Out” like Gucci. Because people know I rap in my city. And when I come home, the whole city gonna be talking about, “Oh, this the dude who just came home and he rapping” or whatever. If I drop a video, they all going to go listen to it. But I’m like, “But I gotta hit them hard though.” Because I got their attention.

And it’s sad, because a lot of people only get attention when they get shot or come home from jail. So I’m like, “I’m about to just take advantage of this little coming-home buzz and put some music out.” I gotta do a “First Day Out” like Gucci, but it gotta be more uptempo-like. If I do it like “Dreams And Nightmares,” that probably will be lit. I followed that platform and ain’t looked back since.

That’s wild. You and Meek have since been able to collaborate twice. What was it like to work with him?

I admire his work ethic and his talent. Because you gonna see real talent when you go in the studio with him. And that’s motivation for me, because it make me want to go harder. I want people to see the same thing when they come in the studio with me.

Tee Grizzley – First Day Out

Tee Grizzley – “First Day Out”

So you wrote this song before your sentence was finished. Tell me about how this song came to mind for you.

I was sitting on my bunk one night and I was just writing. I’m like, “I’ma do it calm first, then I’ma turn up.” I said to myself, “That’s going to be on some ‘Dreams And Nightmares-type stuff.” [So] I rapped the “Dreams And Nightmares” to myself and I’m like, “That’s how many bars he had calm before he turnt up.” Because I don’t want to do too many slow bars, ’cause I don’t want people to get tired of the song before I actually get to that point or I don’t want to do it too quick – I want to do it at that right moment. So I did it exactly how he did it. But I’m just sitting on my bunk and I’m just remembering all the stuff that led up to me catching these cases and all the stuff that had happened while I’d been locked up so far. My whole story, I just put it into the music. That’s why people feel it like that, because it’s 100% authentic.

I don’t talk to a lot of artists that write before they have the music. Usually, it’s kind of the other way around; they catch a vibe or whatever. Do you still write like that today?

I do. I can catch a vibe too, though, but honestly I’d rather do it like how I do it. That’s when it’s most effective for me. Because like I said, I like to make every word count, you know? So if I’m just rapping to catch a vibe, I would find myself saying the same things over and over because every vibe going to be the same things coming to your head. Just a different vibe, same things coming to your head. When I sit down, I can actually think about different stuff.

Tee Grizzley – From The D To The A feat. Lil Yachty

Tee Grizzley & Lil Yachty – “From The D To The A”

Tell me about this studio session. How did this song come together?

We already knew we was going to do a song together when I got to Atlanta. So when I got to Atlanta, we just linked up and went to the studio. And I was playing some beats, he like “I love that beat.” Yachty really formatted the song. He was like “We could do some back-and-forth type stuff.” So I let him set the tone.

Is that what you expected of Lil Yachty? To want a back and forth, like a lyrical tit-for-tat?

I’m not even going to lie, I didn’t know what to expect from Yachty. ’Cause you know, he got his own lane. He got a whole different genre than what I got. So for him to go in there and kill it like that, that for sure surprised me.

Tee Grizzley & Lil Durk – Bloodas

Tee Grizzley & Lil Durk – “Bloodas”

You had previously shouted out Durk in “No Effort.” Were you a fan of his by then?

I was always a fan of Durk, I always liked the Chicago movement. It just reminded me of my city. But they was actually winning. Like, they had a deal and they was getting some money. So it was like that was motivation for us, like we could do it too.

When did it become clear that you needed to do a joint album together?

When we looked up and realized how many songs we had together. We had so many songs, it was like we gotta put out a project.

Durk said that you record quickly, but you don’t skimp on quality. What do you like best about working with Durk?

One thing I like about Durk, he always surprise me. A lot of people’s music or lyrics don’t move me; I could care less for em, ’cause people can’t rap to me. You know what I’m saying? So if you actually can rap and it’s sweet to me, I’d be surprised. Every time Durk go in the booth, it be like that for me.

Takeoff & Tee Grizzley – We The Ones

Quality Control – “We The Ones”

Takeoff is a little mysterious. What is something that people need to understand about him?

What people need to understand is that he got some bars. People sleep on Takeoff hard. You gotta start listening to what he be saying, because he really be going.

Some hip-hop heads wouldn’t necessarily envision a Detroit artist working with an Atlanta artist and they’ll say, “Oh, they gotta sound like where they came from,” if that makes any sense. Do you subscribe to that? Do you think that regionalism in rap still matters?

I don’t think it matters, for real. Because Big Sean and Eminem don’t got the Detroit sound. They just got raw lyrical talent. And ain’t nothing wrong with that. If it work for you and people like it, then you should do it. Because at the end of the day, don’t use no restrictions that people put on you when you could be successful within your own creativity, you know? If I knew how to sound a way that grabbed the world’s attention and it didn’t sound like I was from Detroit, I wouldn’t care because at the end of the day, that’s working for me. I’m living my dreams off of it, so I’m happy.

Tee Grizzley & Jeezy – Cold Summer

Tee Grizzley & Jeezy – “Cold Summer”

How did you meet Jeezy?

I forgot how I met Jeezy, but I know he always show a lot of love to Detroit. You know, Detroit’s like Jeezy’s second home. Just like Atlanta is a lot of people from Detroit’s second home. And Jeezy ran around with a lot of people from Detroit. So whenever somebody trying to do something positive or start to become successful and they from the streets, Jeezy try to show them love and give them game and try to make sure they winning and successful because that’s how much love he got for the city.

He’s talked before about how he’s tried to be a mentor with next-generation rappers such as yourself. What is the best piece of advice that he’s ever given you?

Oh man, it’s so much. One thing that has stuck with me all the time is... I had asked him about some other rappers. I’m like, “I gotta do it like them, because they winning off it.” He like, “If you want to be like somebody else, who gonna want to be like you?” And that stuck with me, so it’s like you gotta do you, at all times. Understand and acknowledge greatness and give credit where credit is due, but when it come down to you, you gotta find yourself like everybody else did.

Young M.A – OOOUUU

Young Ma – “OUUUUU”

What strikes you most about this song?

She really went crazy on that song. I just respect her for being able to do that. I respect her for being able to come out that strong and grab everybody’s attention and make people love her and become fans of Young M.A and shine some light on New York.

She has so many quotables in that song. Do you have any one particular line that’s your favorite?

I like how she come on, “Yeah they hating but they broke though.” Because that’s a fact; the people that’s hating on me, they not successful in no field.

Tee Grizzley – Colors

Tee Grizzley – “Colors”

The title refers to colors on your chain. So I have to ask you, which chain is your favorite and why?

My favorite chain has a bear with a salmon in its mouth and the salmon got like green and pink and yellow. Like, you know how you look at a fish, at they scales and it’s like all them colors? So that’s how I had the chain made.

I was the bear at first and it was just the bear. But now, I’m the bear again, but this time he eating. So I had to give it an update.

Your debut is going to be titled Activated. Explain the title to me.

Activated mean a lot to me. So, it’s like my whole life I just saw everybody else win. I saw everybody else get money, I saw everybody else be popular, I saw everybody else have they way, I saw everybody else always look up to somebody else or reference somebody else in terms of success. And then, it’s like out of nowhere, coming from a bad place, a horrible place, I finally got my moment and I finally got my time. And once I got it, the only feeling I could describe for that was just I feel like I’m activated.

You said something recently on Instagram that I found very interesting. You said “I still find myself beating on tables and letting my soul bleed.” Why do you think that is?

Because I just get a kick out of it. When I beat on the tables and make the music, it’s like when you in the studio, that feeling that you get in the studio when you rapping and you hear a beat. It’s the same type of feeling, but it’s a different feeling. But it’s that same type of passion. Plus, I feel like I come up with my best music like that, when I’m beating on the table. It’s nothing getting in my way; it’s no vocals that’s not going through, no chords that’s not being recording, sounding different or nothing. It’s just like straight from the source and it don’t get no better than that. It’s like a live instrument and a machine that make beats.

By Christina Lee on May 24, 2018

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