Tee Grizzley is still on the road to building a solidified fanbase and having the world fall in love with his art, so the Detroit native had no problem returning just six months following his debut album to unleash the uplifting Still My Moment mixtape last Friday (Nov. 9).
On the tape, Grizzley interweaves his street tales with inspirational wisdom for the youth to chew on, but makes sure to keep things light with some cheeky pop-culture digs. Tee even hilariously attempted to slide in the DMs of Nicki Minaj last week.
Billboard caught up with the 24-year-old on the eve of delivering Still My Moment, where the “First Day Out” rapper exuded a refreshing exuberance since regaining his total freedom after finally getting off the hindering restrictions of probation in October. “Getting off parole is like walking out them cells all over again,” he explains. “My career is one-hundred percent in my hands now.”
Grizzley actually crafted the project over the summer while on house arrest, but refused to let his unfortunate predicament dictate Still My Moment’s encouraging tone. The gritty MC knows he set the bar high with his riotous “First Day Out” last year, which reached hit No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100, but admits he’s fine if that happens to be his peak when it’s all set and done.
Below, take a deep dive into our chat with Tee Grizzley, as we flesh out the components of the rapper’s Still My Moment, his becoming the face of Detroit rap, his hopes for criminal justice reform and much more.
After delivering Activated in May, what made you want to come back six months later with a mixtape?
Tee Grizzley: I wanted to come back. I don’t feel like it’s a problem putting out a lot of content, especially for an artist like me. I’m still at the point where I’m trying to get people to fall in love with who Tee Grizzley is. I’m just going to keep flooding the streets. There’s a lot of music coming out these days, the music world moves 200 miles per hour. Four months by today’s standard is like a year.
I saw you finally got off probation in October. Can you speak to how much of a relief that’s been?
Getting off parole is like walking out them cells all over again. There was a lot of stuff I couldn’t do when I was on parole. I had a curfew, couldn’t go to certain cities, couldn’t be around certain people, and you miss out on a lot of opportunities. Once that was over with, my career is 100 percent in my hands now. I can do whatever I want with it, and it felt good. I want to do shows out of the country. Now, I can do all that kind of stuff.
Stemming from your robbery charges, I think I saw someone online calling you out for stealing their Xbox. Was that true and have you repaid those you did take from?
Yeah, a lot of people are saying that. They just want some money back, but I already paid everyone back who I got. I know whose rooms I was going in. I really did my homework on who we were about to get. So I already knew who it was when it came to paying people back.
I’m beating his ass —— pic.twitter.com/JzxYu8pIL6
— Tee Grizzley — (@Tee_Grizzley) March 13, 2018
What do you want to achieve with Still My Moment?
I just wanted to put out new content, and that was the first thing. I feel like people are going to love that I took my time on this. As far as the process of making it, I was on house arrest. I couldn’t leave the house. The time I couldn’t move, I just gathered my thoughts and put music together. This was around July and August.
Even with you in that kind of predicament, you still managed to make this project about uplifting others. What inspired you to drive that message home throughout the mixtape?
That’s because I wish somebody would’ve did that for me. If I had someone that been through these certain things that I knew I was probably headed toward, it may have gave me some jewels or real knowledge. I probably would’ve listened and went a different way. I mentor the artists I sign or the kids I deal with in the neighborhood.
Do you feel the pressure of topping what you accomplished with “First Day Out” so early in your career?
I’m not even going to lie — when I’m in the studio, I’m not like, “Alright, let me make a hit.” I just try to make good music to the best of my ability. If it ends up reaching that, then it’s a blessing. If that is my peak, I’m just happy I got that high.
On the project’s opener, you make sure to pay homage to XXXTentacion. What was your connection to his music? I saw you say “SAD!” was one of your go-to songs.
“SAD!” is definitely one of my go-to songs when I want to vibe. I shouted him out because a lot of people think if you’re a rapper then you don’t need to go so far with protecting yourself, but at the end of the day, we’re the targets. If I got 10 people around me, the people who are hating want to get to me — I got to be prepared because that can definitely happen, if it did to somebody as big as him. There’s certain places I don’t even go around just so I can keep myself out of situations.
During “1 Night,” you touch on having a fractured home with one parent in jail and the other dealing drugs. What impact did that have on your upbringing?
It had a big impact on me because it made me think, “What do I want to do?” I’m thinking I could either be broke or get money in the streets. My mom went to jail in the streets and I thought I wouldn’t get locked up by doing it differently and not messing with the people she was. That’s all I was exposed to. I thought that was the way of life.
I never was a complete fool. When teachers would say, “When you all graduate, you won’t have anywhere to go” — I’m the type of person playing chess and thinking ahead. I thought that was a good question. Am I going to be winging it? I didn’t want to be in that position, so I set myself up to go to college. So if all else failed, I had that to depend on and come out on top.
How did you link up with Chance The Rapper for “Wake Up”? He was the perfect fit for a record like that.
I knew Chance was the perfect person to slide on there. Once I knew what I wanted to make the song about, he was the most qualified person, because that’s what he’s really on. I had put that together. On there, I’m talking about stuff I just wish people had told me. It’s not just anybody telling you either. Of course, someone that graduated college could easily say it, but I come exactly where you come from. I’m telling you, this is the best way to go, and you’ll hear it differently because we got the same experiences.
“Hustlin” was a standout record to me. I liked how you had Bryan Hamilton on their singing about the streets.
That’s been my favorite song on there. I wrote that whole song when I was locked up. I didn’t want to sing it because the vision I had for it wouldn’t have been like I imagined. I can only do so much when it comes to the singing, but I wanted somebody serious for the lyrics on that song, so you could feel it. I asked Bryan to help me bring that song alive and it came out how I envisioned.
On “Keep the Rest” you reference Tupac as your favorite rapper. What was about him that struck a chord with you when you discovered his music?
He’s definitely in my top five. I didn’t hear anyone else talking like he was. I grew up around other people that probably played a song or two, then I’d go back home and research it.
What message did you want to leave people with on the closer “Babies to Men”?
I just wanted to bring people into my upbringing. This is how we started off, and this is where we’re bringing it toward. We literally went from being little small kids, [to] before you knew it, we were catching felony charges. There’s a lot of family I got that’s dead or locked up. We had times together where I could have just appreciated it more. There’s people that still have them in their life but might not talk to them.
Last month, I noticed you were hanging out Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. How’s your basketball game?
Hassan is my man. We rock with each other heavy. I was in Miami shooting the “Hustlin” video and he wanted to go to the gym. We walked into the arena, and a lot of Miami Heat players were in there hooping already. I saw D-Wade. I got some work out there on the court, for sure.
I feel like we always see you in the studio with another prominent artist every week.
I feel like we’re all peers, and it’s good that we vibe because steel sharpens steel. It’s not even to get a song, it’s just about learning from them. A lot of these artists are who I learn from. I’m doing a joint project with YNW Melly. Me and Lil Durk are going to come with Bloodas 2. It’s in the works, probably January or early February.
Do you feel like you’re one of the only mainstream rappers representing Detroit in the truest sense?
I feel like I was, but when I got the light, I started shining it on other people coming up as well. I think Big Sean is working on some new music. I locked in with him recently. As far as the Detroit scene, I would definitely say I’m the face of that.
With your experiences with the prison system, what criminal justice reform would you hope to see in the coming years?
I’d rather see prison become a place for rehabilitation. A lot of those guys are coming out worse. They’re not learning anything and they come back into society with all that time wasted. They had time to think about how they would get away with the crime next time. I want to see schooling and learning trades so you can have a job when you come out. I’ve been in there, so I know the struggle.
Before they come home, let them go through something that helps prepare them for a transition to society. They need to learn how to conduct themselves in interviews. You have to think, we haven’t even been around females. I want to see better food and treatment of [inmates]. The food is horrible. If you go in there, you won’t eat anything for three days.