Storytelling has always been a pillar of rap, but nobody in the industry is doing it like Tee Grizzley right now.
The Detroit native turned his cautionary street tales into a cinematic visual album, which will be packaged as Chapters of the Trenches. The vivid project arrives on Friday (Oct. 14).
Inspired by real-life events, Tee’s “Robbery” series quickly caught fire earlier this year, and with fans thirsting for more, Grizzley delivered a connected universe of sorts with each heart-racing installment, leaving viewers with a thrilling cliffhanger more twisted than the last.
“I hear a lot of people speak on the trenches and a lot of people think it’s cool. Even Lil Durk would tell you, this s–t ain’t gon’ end well,” the 28-year-old explains to Billboard. “I want to let you know these types of stories could really happen.”
Tee Grizzley has also been a trailblazer for rappers while invading the gaming industry. The “First Day Out” artist previously estimated he makes about $200,000 a month from streaming Grand Theft Auto through his Grizzly World RP server, which boasts about 90,000 members.
“Some of my gaming fanbase don’t even know that I rap,” Grizzley jokes. “When I used to be out, people would come up to me about music. Now, I got totally different people coming up to me.”
Check out the rest of our interview with TG, which finds him reflecting on the loss of PnB Rock, rappers paying for security, monetizing gaming, and more.
Take me back to when the idea for Chapters of the Trenches came together and how that went from start to finish. Something like this can go corny very easily.
Nah, facts. It all started with “Robbery.” I didn’t expect it to get the reaction that it got. It’s been crazy and people just kept asking for more parts. When I dropped “Robbery Part 3,” I was like, “D–n, this is real.” I wondered what they would do if I came [up] with another story. If I give them more stories, that would be a breath of fresh air.
I thought I could really go somewhere with the story s–t and nobody [else] was doing it and it gives you something to care about with the music. Somebody puts a song out and okay it’s a song, but you don’t get a real experience out of it like this.
Speak to nobody else really filling this lane and you seeing an opportunity to do so with the visual storytelling.
When I dropped “Robbery Part 3,” it was a real eye-opener. There was definitely a hunger for this type of music and appreciation for it. I felt like I could do it on a level that wouldn’t be corny and interesting. You’re going to be entertained and can’t wait for the next one.
People even made reaction videos to it and when you’re doing that, you’ve struck a chord. Do you have any favorite storytelling rappers or rap songs?
My favorite — I like Meek Mill’s “Tony Story.” Speaker Knockerz’s “RICO Story” as well. Yo Gotti had a “RICO” story. King Von, of course, with “Crazy Story.” Outkast with “The Art of Storytelling” and even Slick Rick. A Geto Boys song I was listening to when I was a kid called “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” Then just like, watching music videos that would come on when I was growing up. It was different than just a song, because that got my attention. It puts the artists in a whole other light — it’s true art.
So that viral tweet saying you were a waiter and a nurse outside of rapping fooled me. I’m a good troll and you got me.
I got so many people proud of me for having those jobs — but when that video comes out they’re gonna be so disappointed.
Do you have any favorite actors? Was the series inspired by any movies you saw?
All that stuff was inspired by real-life events. I like Omar Epps, Mekhi Pfifer, Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and LL COOL J was a good actor. Julia Roberts was one of my favorites. My favorite movie — there’s this movie called Indecent Proposal.
How about Detroit rap having a moment right now? I feel like you kinda knocked that door down for modern street rap when it comes to Detroit going mainstream.
I wouldn’t even say kinda — I definitely knocked the door down. But just because you knock the door down, don’t mean people are gonna go through it. I gotta give them dudes props for actually going through the door. You see so many people get opportunities and don’t do nothing with it. It’s amazing that all those guys did something with the opportunity. They’re going up right now, and they got the city looking good. It’s definitely a group effort.
How did you monetize gaming through Warzone and Grand Theft Auto? I’m a gamer but I just lose money playing.
Basically, I was just playing the game at first, and it was all night. I got my fiancée asking, “Why you still on the game?” Then somebody told me about streaming, and then I’m like, “I’ma have a reason for why I’m on the game this late.” It was real slow at first, and I was playing Call of Duty: Warzone and I thought it was going to take off one day.
Then I got introduced to Grand Theft Auto, and when I started playing that, everything changed about the gaming thing with me. It became a real business.
I know you got the Grizzly World RP and other rappers like Lil Durk have followed suit with their own. Explain to me how that world works on GTA. It’s $100 to get in?
It’s $100 for the application, and you get three tries. If you pass, then you get in. If you get in, then you can purchase different things that only you would have in the city, like a car that only you would have. You could buy whatever chain you want us to make, or whatever clothes you want. Basically, these developers and guys who know how to code make the city however you want it. If you could dream it, you could have it in there.
What made now the right time to get engaged?
There’s never a right time to do nothing. You’re gonna do it or you’re not. You wait on the right time and it’ll never happen. There will always be something to take you away from what you wanna do. It’s kinda like having kids. A lot of people say, “I’m not ready financially.” If my parents thought like that, I wouldn’t be here — because they were definitely not ready financially.
How about it being the highest of the highs and then the lowest of lows with someone breaking into your home the same night as your party?
It was definitely unfortunate, but I was so up here after the party that I wasn’t really tripping, even though a lot of stuff was missing. That will come back. I’m just grateful for the things that could’ve happened that didn’t. My son could’ve been there, or I could’ve been there.
We recently lost the great PnB Rock, and I know you guys were close. Can you speak about your friendship and getting close in recent years?
It was different. That was one of the only people in the industry who made sure he was at every industry event. He came to my baby shower, manager’s funeral, and engagement party. When I was finding a house in L.A., I fell in love with a crib, and I went outside and PnB lived right next door. I didn’t know that either. That kinda made us closer. Ever since we first met, we just clicked. We never talked about a feature and barely talked about music, unless we talked about what we were working on.
I saw a cool video of you guys playing paintball together.
I f–ked him up in paintball. I been airsofting recently, and I was telling him about airsoft guns, and he wanted to come and I knew he wanted to get me back for what I did to him in paintball.
Jim Jones said rappers have the most dangerous job in the world. When we see what’s happening to our rappers, does that cause you to move differently?
Of course. Definitely, it’s a lesson to be learned from it. One thing that’s changed for sure is I appreciate making it home way more now. That’s something we assume that’s gonna happen. After seeing a lot of stuff that’s happened in the last five years, I’m just super grateful. Even leaving the house and seeing my family. You could do everything right, but there’s something you don’t prepare for. What about the stuff you not thinking about?
Do you have advice for younger rappers coming up when it comes to that?
I would say just study what happened to other people. Whatever you don’t want to happen to you, study that and see what they could’ve done differently and incorporate that into how you move. Move like somebody already looking for you.
I would try to move like Drake.
A lot of people don’t want to spend the money. Spending the money, you’d rather spend it on security — because if you gotta do something to somebody, especially people like me that’s a felon, I’m gonna spend what I would’ve on security on lawyer fees, and I might have to do it with no bond. Second thing is, you might lose your life. Everything would be gone, and you might as well spend the extra money. Security is the most important thing.
During our interview in 2018, you told me, “A lot of people think if you’re a rapper then you don’t need to go so far protecting yourself. At the end of the day, we’re the targets.” For me, just seeing all of the people we’ve lost since then, it’s so sad.
And at that time, I was on parole so I was living in Detroit. So when you in those cities and everybody know what you got, and most people got less than you, you know what they would do if they catch you out. If they get the chance to take something from you, they 100 percent gonna do it.