INTERVIEW: Tee Grizzley details his new album, ushering in a new era of Detroit rap, Kanye West, YNW Melly, and challenging himself with Timbaland's production.
Two and a half years ago, Tee Grizzley emerged out of prison and dropped “First Day Out” -- a song that would not only become his first entry on the Hot 100 charts but ultimately change his life for the better. In that time, his life's made a complete 180 transition. He became the hottest new rapper from Detroit since Big Sean, released five projects, and most importantly, got off parole as of last fall.
That might be the biggest difference between his latest project, Scriptures and his previous efforts. He’s liberated from the legal issues that once inspired his breakout hit but with that, he’s able to experience more and it's evident on his latest album. Scriptures is his best project to date with Tee’s pen as sharp as ever, as he effortlessly flows over rich production provided by one of the most influential hip-hop producers of all time, Timbaland.
With Scriptures out now, we recently caught up with Tee Grizzley to discuss his relationship with Timbaland, how Kanye West was the catalyst in connecting him with Timbo, his friendship with YNW Melly, and more.
Photo By HNHH
HNHH: Hey, thanks for speaking with us. How’s everything going?
Tee Grizzley: Everything going good, just prepping for this project to come out.
I just heard the project. I rock with all of your projects but you’re on to something special with this one.
That’s what’s up then. I definitely appreciate it.
So we know that Kanye West helped make this collab project come to life. So first off, how did you connect with Kanye? What was that studio session like?
So, one of my friends was working with Kanye, YNW Melly, and he had called me one day like, ‘Kanye wants you to pull up.’ I pulled up, played some shit for ‘Ye and then ‘Ye was just -- like, I was shadowing him for like a week, just working and stuff. One time we was working in Miami, Timbaland just happened to be in the studio and I just made the best out of the opportunity that was in front of me and to make it with Timbaland, not even knowing what was going to come from it. I just wanted the relationship with a legend. We ended up doing a whole project together.
How was the energy between you and Timbaland when you first started collaborating and how has it developed since? What was the first song you two recorded together?
Shit, he was like telling me, ‘N***a, you hard as fuck.’ That shit meant a lot to me. So the energy was already like, it was a good vibe. And then when we got to workin’ together, he was happy with what was coming out from his beats and I was happy with what was coming out from it. Shit was just crazy.
Your other projects have been largely produced by Helluva. How was it locking in with someone like Timbaland for a full album?
So, it definitely was a different approach that I had to take to it. You know, with Helluva beats, it’s like that’s what I’ve been hearing my whole life so I know how to do it and I immediately know what I wanna do when I hear the beat. With Timbaland shit, it makes you sit down and think and really come up with shit, you feel me? Like, I had to take my time on it and I really, I had to take a more serious approach with it.
He’s made hits for over two decades at this point but you’re someone who hasn’t necessarily thrived off of Billboard charting hits but rather your mixtapes and other bodies of work you’ve put out. Do you feel like there’s any more pressure having someone like Timbaland produce the whole project to gain more commercial success? Or is that even something you focus on?
I ain’t gon’ lie, I don’t even focus on that when I make a project. I just try to make good music, you know what I’m saying? Because the music game -- I don’t really get pressured or feel a way when certain success don’t come because I know that the music game is chance, it’s not skill. You know what I’m sayin’? So you never know what could happen. You don’t even have to be sweet to have a lot of commercial success, you don’t really have to say nothin’. You could talk about a lot of nothin’ and have a lot of commercial success so I just look at it like, I’m just trying to make the best music I can and whatever happens, happens and I appreciate everybody that’s supporting me along the way.
Tell me about the significance of the project’s title, Scriptures.
The significance is like, whenever I think of scriptures, I think of the truth. You know, based on what truth somebody believes in. Some people think the Qu’ran is scriptures, some people think the Bible is scriptures, some people feel like whatever scroll that came from their religion is a scripture and they look at them like the truth. You know? And I’m tellin’ the truth with this music and some of it is words I live by so I look at it like it’s scriptures to me.
Tee Grizzley at the HNHH office
You’ve become one of the hottest newcomers in the game in the past few years but you’ve been on parole until late 2018. I know in the “Off Parole” documentary, you said that it’s prevented you from playing shows in certain cities and working with certain artists but you’ve still managed to work within the boundaries. Now that you’re off probation, what do you think you’re able to do more of?
I’m able to do a lot more traveling. You know, a lot of shows that I had that I couldn’t do, I could do all of those now. With the felony, it still stops me from going to certain countries but certain places like Paris, Mexico, you know, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, I could go just do that. I could just get up and go, do that without having to do all of this extra stuff that’ll prevent me from doing a show. You know, so, I’ve been doing a lot more traveling. It feels like I got out of prison all over again, for real, because, I had a strict hold on me.
Now that you are able to travel, how do you find traveling influenced your music?
Everywhere I go, I’m just trying to soak it all in, and get a real feel for stuff. Everywhere I go, it be like that. It be like, I’m lookin’ for food, I’m lookin’ for the people that are from these different places ‘cause I’m so excited about going to these different places so once I finally get there, I just be trying to soak it all in but now, some stuff I’m used to. But now, when I go to new places, the air be different to me. I just try to soak it all in. A lot of places I never thought I’d ever make it to.
What were some of the most memorable experiences for you traveling outside of the States?
Okay, like two of the popular places were like Hawaii and Paris -- and Bel-Air. That’s in California. Growing up, I never even thought about these places. I only heard about Bel-Air because of Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. I heard Paris because… well, it’s Paris. And heard about Hawaii from different movies and stuff like that. I always knew about these places but I never even had a thought in my mind that I was ever going to get there. So once I finally got there, I was like, damn, this is crazy.
I also wanted to get your take on Meek Mill's probation reform initiative. How do you feel about what he’s doing? And do you ever see yourself doing something similar to what he’s doing?
Like the reform thing?
I feel like I already do that in a way. I’m just not public with it. I may go public with it, I may not but I think it’s more important for me to keep making sure I’m lookin’ out for those people that’s in there in the best ways that I can.
Mary Sheffield (Detroit Councilperson for District 5) said that she felt parole still helped your career in terms of community engagement and giving back to your community. Do you feel that there was a positive outcome from that scenario despite restricting you?
I feel like I learned discipline ‘cause if I just came back home, for real, I probably would’ve been running wild, trying to do a lot. Because I was fresh out, you know, I got locked up at a young age so I didn’t have money and I wasn’t able to do nothing. So I definitely feel like it eased me into my situation, as far as life goes.
On “God’s Warrior,” you mention that your music is a reflection of the surroundings in Detroit. When you’re making music or even drafting up a tracklist, do you aim to make sure whatever you’re producing resonates with your city and your hood more than having some sort of global appeal?
I do try and make my music more universal so that everybody could understand it and feel it.
I feel like you’re helping usher in a new wave of Detroit rappers. I know you’re working a lot with Sada Baby and Peezy. Do you feel that Detroit’s hip-hop scene was slept on over the past few years?
I feel like it has because our music doesn’t sound like other places. It’s that, you could tell that it was a hard place growing up. ‘Cause it’s rough out there and I’m just reflecting that.
A few weeks back when you released “Locked Up,” you handed out $10K worth of Rolling Loud passes for your set to kids with incarcerated parents in partnership with Children of Promise and Children of Inmates. How did that idea come about?
Certain stuff I do, I just wish somebody would’ve just done it for me. So, you know, I just be doin’ it for people.
Was it something you planned weeks ahead of time or just something you wanted to do on the spot?
I was really just talking to my momma and she was telling me, like, about a lot of the people’s kids who she’s in there with that know about me and stuff like that and be talkin’ about me. I’m like, ‘Dang, I didn’t even know that I had a little fanbase with the people’s children in there.’ I was like, ‘I should get them passes to Rolling Loud.’ It was a spur of the moment, for real.
You dropped “Locked Up” right before Mother’s Day as well. I know a lot of members of your family hasn’t been able to witness your success first-hand. Did your mom or your brother know that you made the song before it dropped? Have they been able to hear it? If so, what was their reaction?
She told me she broke into tears to that song, like she damn-near started crying. She love that song.
Timbo went on Instagram last night and praised you for your skills as a storyteller, one track in particular that highlighted that was “Had To” and “Sweet Thangs.” What’s brilliant about it to me is that on those songs is that you show the good and the bad, the action and reaction to things you’ve done. What inspired that track?
Those beats just motivated me, you know what I’m saying? I wanted to do the best I could because of the beats. It’s not like I could instantly come up with something. I really had to sit down and think and try to really rap.
I listened to “Had To” two or three times and the way you break down the first verse about the robberies and the second about the girl, I thought it was brilliant.
It’s crazy, I was just listening to that in the car like trying to make an interpretation of how I felt about the song. I heard it a million times. You know, when you create it, it be different so I’m actually happy you just said that. You just gave me some sort of confirmation I was looking for.
Who, to you, was the most surprising or meaningful co-sign you’ve received since coming into the game?
I think LeBron James was the most surprising and the Jay-Z one was the most meaningful. ‘Cause Jay-Z, I have a long history with him -- I have a long history of being a fan of his growing up, so that was probably the most meaningful. The most surprising had to be LeBron ‘cause I was definitely not expecting that.
Where were you when you saw LeBron posted the clip with “First Day Out” playing?
Man, I was just at the crib, chillin’. You know what I’m saying, I’m just chillin’ and I’m just going through my DMs and somebody sent it to me and I was just thinking it was a regular, somebody that listens to music so I ain’t think too much of it but then when he got to rappin’ it, I’m like, 'What? This n***a know the words to this shit? He just listened to it.'
YNW Melly and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie feature on “Young Grizzley World.” You mentioned that it was YNW Melly who introduced you to Kanye but how did you and Melly first meet?
Me and Melly met at a Rolling Loud concert. He didn’t know that I knew who he was and then when I told him I fuck with his shit, he was just like -- he was happy about that and we just been locked in ever since. We just got to workin’ on music and before we know it, we was about to put out a set.
Do you two have more music together?
We got a lot songs together. We could get ready to put out a whole tape like we got a lot of shit together.
After Scriptures, what’s your next move? At this point, you’ve dropped five projects in a little over two years. What else do you want to accomplish?
I don’t know, for real. I’m just blessed and happy that I could still put out stuff and people fuck with it, for real. Because a lot of people be out of there after one song, like there’s a lot of people I forgot about so I’m just happy I could still put out shit and people support it.