Will Hagle plays ball like Stromile Swift.
Dan Gilbert would like you to think that the corporate Megalord of Quicken Loans, Little Caesars, and, if his thirst prevails, Amazon, is bringing Detroit back. He’s wrong. Motor City may no longer be a national punchline, but that’s not just because people are filling up overpriced condos downtown. Detroit is relevant again because of Tee Grizzley, the only current rapper who embodies a fully realized version of his city’s specific sound.
Tee Grizzley sounds unlike any of his peers, particularly the Playboi Cartis and other Soundcloud rappers he tried and failed to pitch himself to appear alongside in this year’s XXL Freshman list. He half-talks, half-sings like everyone else, but he also actually raps well in the traditional sense. His Midwestern accent and in-and-out-of-rhythm delivery can be off-putting to those that aren’t accustomed to it, but his style is indebted to the lesser-known legends of his hometown. The Payroll Giovannis and Eastside Peezys of Detroit led Tee Grizzley to be able to rap the way he does, and the rest of the country is finally catching on.
His latest single, “Grizzley Gang,” contains three plus minutes of intricately-written bars, which Tee Grizzley somehow makes feel like a stream-of-consciousness ramble. Presumably, he wrote it and recorded it with limited effort. The beat even sounds akin to “No Effort,” with heavy, growling bass stabs carrying the song. The lyrics cover a wide span of topics, always returning to his favorite subject: the fact that he went from jail to working his ass off in order to be where he is now: a proud owner of a Wraith.
Tee Grizzley appeared self-aware about this thematic trend in his music on “Win,” another loose single he released last month. On that song, he raps, “You don’t want to hear about the indictments in the case I caught? Then bitch, quit listening.” Tee Grizzley’s story, of course, is what brought listeners to him in the first place. The way he packages tidbits of his compelling life story in his lyrics is what’s made them stick around.
“Win” and “Grizzley Gang” are both likely to appear on Activated, a full-length LP Tee Grizzley has been teasing since around the time his My Moment mixtape came out earlier this year. He claims that album will be out before the clock strikes 2018, and his collaborative mixtape with Lil Durk is definitely slated for December. In a year in which most young rappers made fans who appreciate good lyricism feel like useless old fools, Tee Grizzley has been an ironically breathless breath of fresh, Detroit smog-filled air.