“I’m In Competition With the Big Leagues Now”: An Interview With Peezy

Donald Morrison links with Peezy in NYC to speak about teaching people like him about financial literacy through Ghetto University, being an OG of Detroit Hip-Hop, his new album GHETTO and more.
By    November 29, 2023

Image via Donald Morrison

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When you enter Sei Less, the first thing you see is a large lit-up sign saying “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.” The quote is attributed to Drake. The name of this Chinese restaurant near Times Square was apparently inspired by Fabolous and French Montana’s 2022 song “Say Less.” The video was shot at the restaurant “in honor of the Asian community.” In August, Sei Less unveiled a special limited edition menu in honor of the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop, with two VIP cocktails named after albums from Jay-Z and Diddy. One drink will only set you back $50, you know, one dollar for every year hip-hop has been around. This is where I meet Detroit rapper Peezy for our interview.

Peezy spent the better part of 15 years attempting to cultivate the type of rap superstardom he finally reached in 2023. He’s positioned himself to be one of the big breakout acts from Detroit just as the city’s regional hip-hop scene has taken the nation by storm. Similar to how Atlanta became ground zero for inventive rap music in the mid-2000s, Motor City is slowly becoming hip-hop’s next big cultural hub, with artists like 42 Dugg and Babyface Ray putting the midwestern city’s penchant for both assertive lyricists and laid back shit-talkers on the map. Peezy exists somewhere in the middle and it’s almost impossible to imagine his city having this moment without him at the table.

The “2 Million Up” rapper’s storied career began with Team Eastside, a now-infamous Detroit supergroup that spawned at least three of the city’s current best rappers: DameDot, Icewear Vezzo and the aforementioned Babyface Ray. I first discovered Peezy’s informal storytelling and dark humor in 2018’s No Hooks, where Peezy detailed outlandish heists and hilariously specific street tales, all under the belief that a song doesn’t need a chorus to be good. But by 2022, Peezy had begun recording songs with hooks and appeared to be moving into a new phase of his career. He assumed the role of OG, spending time putting on Michigan artists like Rio Da Yung OG and RMC Mike and refocusing his own music to be slightly more sophisticated. His latest release, GHETTO, is his most accomplished yet, with features from Ty Dolla $ign, Key Glock and Larry June. It shows Peezy attempting to take his punched-in Detroit flow to soaring new heights, experimenting with a more mainstream approach to rap through soulful samples, traditional song structures and blockbuster features.

Peezy showed up to Sei Less wearing a dark green and denim Louis Vuitton zip-up sweatshirt, with Louis Vuitton jeans and white Nike Air Force 1’s. He moved like a man unbothered and unworried, dapping up strangers and friends as he made his way through the restaurant. We entered a private room and shuffled into a large red leather booth. Peezy’s manager plugged his own phone in to play music, sprinkling songs from GHETTO in between singles from Drake’s new album and Veeze. At one point, the manager abruptly changed the song before J. Cole’s verse on “The Secret Recipe,” causing Peezy to question the sanity of his manager to great effect. The entire room, including the manager, paused to laugh at Peezy’s indignation. Although Peezy doesn’t say much during the dinner, it was moments like these where you could tell that he’s always listening and that he has a very quick sense of humor.

Peezy orders just about one of everything for the table. There’s chicken satay, a bevy of dumplings, and lobster mac and cheese. I discover he’s pescatarian and we begin the interview over a bowl of shrimp fried rice. He was at his most animated when discussing Ghetto University, an initiative he’s in the process of starting that’s meant to teach up and coming rappers or sports stars how to be financially responsible. Peezy explained that he’s passionate about the idea of helping people like him navigate the financial pitfalls of early success in the music industry. It’s a natural step for an artist who is currently looking to move beyond music. He also tells me he’s extremely interested in fashion, having gone to Fashion Week in Paris for the first time this year and even dedicating a song on GHETTO to the experience. “I can’t lie I love Ricky and Louis, it’s hard to choose, me and Goyard got a relationship, that’s my boo,” he says in the song.

There’s a sense of gratitude that emanates from Peezy when we talk. He’s just over two years removed from an 18-month prison sentence that threatened to derail his career, and in that time he’s kicked his lean habit, picked up a healthier diet and recorded his most successful music to date. He also just announced his first American headlining tour and is thinking of getting into acting. As our dinner winds down Peezy tells me New York is his favorite city aside from Detroit and that he plans on meeting some friends in Harlem later. We walk out of the restaurant and he’s bombarded with cameras and people asking for photos. The last thing I see is Peezy stepping into a Black SUV stuffed with shopping bags, just as the car pulls away.

What can you tell me about Ghetto University?

Peezy: It’s about taking guys like me, who are from where I’m from and from my culture, and helping them learn how to build credit, build businesses up. Teaching them how to pay taxes and how to use credit cards versus money, just how to do shit the right way while still having a rapper image. We’re just basically teaching longevity.

I feel like that’s especially important in this business, where you see artists getting taken advantage of by the music industry because they’re not prepared to manage their finances once they start getting real money.

Peezy: And people like us? We’re scared to ask for help. And we think money is everything, and it’s not, you know what I’m saying? We might be thinking just because we’ve got some money that we got the right connections and the right avenues and we don’t. You think money is everything until it’s time to go buy a car with cash and they say you can’t do it like that. You can try and buy a house with a million dollars cash and they’ll say your money’s no good. There’s ways to get what you want done the right way.

It’s an investment in yourself.

Peezy: The reason I feel like I can teach it is because people have watched me come from nothing. They know I’m not just hopping out the blue saying this stuff. They know I really took the steps and they watched me. Everything I’m saying is more credible because it’s coming from a guy from the roots as them. That’s why it’s called Ghetto university, because I’m teaching my people shit. Athletes too, because a lot of people are scared to ask for help. I’m partners with a lot of different companies so I feel like I have something to offer.

Who is the ideal candidate for Ghetto University?

Peezy: Me and my business partner, my accountant who I’m doing this with. She helped me get motivated to do this because it took me damn near two years to get here. It’s for people like me. I have something that I can teach and there’s people out there who would rather hear it from me than somebody in an office wearing a suit. Because I can present it in a cool way.

I read that you quit drinking lean.

Peezy: With lean it was really hard, because that’s the only drug I’ve ever been addicted to in my whole life. When I was younger I wasn’t educated on what it was. I didn’t even know I was having withdrawals. Now it’s like everybody is doing it because they think it’s cool, but they don’t really know that that’s a drug you really got to afford to be able to drink. They don’t really know what it does to the body.

How has your music changed in the past few years?

Peezy: I’m one of the original step-out guys from the city. I’m always trying to figure out a way to stand out and figure out new shit. Every day there’s somebody new coming up.

The competition is stiff in Detroit.

Peezy: I always looked at it like this: there’s 52 states in the nation and there ain’t no telling many cities are inside each state. Do you know how many people rap? Can you even imagine how many people are rapping inside each city in every state in the nation? So If I’m not thinking of a way to stand out and try new shit, I’m just fading away with it. I’m blending in with everybody else. I have to do new shit. I have to just try.

Especially since you’ve been making music for so many years.

Peezy: That’s what I’m saying, man. Nobody wants to hear me doing the same shit, rapping on the same beats. I’m in competition with the big leagues now. I’m not in competition with the city. I’m in competition with a whole different league of people.

I feel like GHETTO really rises to the occasion in that respect. It feels like your first foray into Grown Man Rap. Especially the tail end of the album, utilizing more R&B and sample driven beats.

Peezy: I don’t have a formula. I just know within a catalog of music, you gotta have a little bit of everything.

When was the last time you remember writing your lyrics down?

Peezy: I don’t even remember when my last time writing was. It was probably in prison. Before that, who knows. We don’t write.

Did you use any of what you wrote in prison for songs when you got out?

Peezy: Yeah, I used a few. But I still got notebooks filled with shit that I didn’t use. I made Babyface Ray stop writing. We were working on Ghetto Wave in 2017 and we used to write music in our phones and shit. I was like “bro, we ain’t doing this. Just go in there and go. Just have fun with it.”

It felt like writing was holding you guys back a little bit at some point.

Peezy: Yeah, we went in that b*tch and made a whole album in a weekend, no cap! All freestyles.

What are you guys like in the studio? Do you guys like to have a lot of people in the studio when you record?

Peezy: I’m already a shy person. I don’t like when people be staring at me and shit.

You seem like someone who is shy at first but opens up when you get comfortable around people.

Peezy: I don’t know how to really like, deal with being around people. I only know how to turn my character on and off.

Has the Flint connection remained strong?

Peezy: I was just with YN Jay last night. I was with RMC Mike the day before that. I also talked to Rio yesterday.

How is he doing?

Peezy: He’s good, he ain’t got nothing to be sad about.

Some of the best music from the past few years was from Rio in the months before he started his 44 month bid. He had such an interesting perspective on prison and going away.

Peezy: He’s smart. You know he went to college?

I’m not sure I knew that. Do you still live in Detroit full time?

Peezy: Yes.

What can you tell me about Detroit versus Detroit ten years ago?

Peezy: The lights shining on Detroit. We got our own lane now. Detroit rappers used to have to go looking for deals, now labels are coming to Detroit looking for rapers.

The tables have really turned in that sense.

Peezy: They’re rebuilding the downtown area right now. Detroit is a good place to be currently and I ain’t going to lie, I knew there would be a time that we’d come back up.

Do you enjoy touring? Are you excited for your big tour in a few months?

Peezy: I never really did a lot of touring. Sometimes I hate leaving my house. I just like being at home, chilling, being comfortable.

Do you have a studio there?

Peezy: Believe it or not, I don’t really go to the studio as much as I used to. I used to go in there every day and do like 30 songs on a good weekend.

That’s crazy. Do you ever finish a song and come back to it later? What’s your editing process like?

Peezy: Very rarely. If it doesn’t sound right I’ll leave it at the booth.

Who did you listen to growing up?

Peezy: Everybody. I know my history.

Would you consider yourself more of a Biggie guy or a Tupac guy?

Peezy: Both, because you can’t choose between them. They do different shit for me. Biggie gives me swag. Biggie is a smooth player. With Pac’ it’s like, whatever I’m going through, I can go find a Tupac song about it. Pac’ is just relatable. Biggie was just such a player you had to love him.

What about Jay-Z and Nas? Same answer?

Peezy: I like them both differently, pause. But at the end of the day, music is just music. That’s all it is. We’re just comparing music. You can say a lot of motherf*ckers are better than people musically. But that’s not putting everything on the scale. You could say “he got more influence, or he’s nicer, or he treats people with more respect, he’s more relatable.”

So when you’re comparing or judging artists, you’re thinking about all of that?

Peezy: I’m thinking about all of that because I know what kind of person I am. Nas has always been like a teacher and once again, this isn’t about Jigga, but some people are only trying to teach others when they feel like it’s beneficial to them. With Nas, he’s always been the same. The goal and the mission have always been one. There’s just always been educational shit in his music. He’s trying to teach us to be something.

Do you try to do something similar with your music?

Peezy: I can but I’m not Nas, you know what I’m saying? I gotta give it to them how I give it to them. Based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve lived through. I gotta show that there’s better ways, not from Nas’ standpoint, but from my standpoint. It takes time because not everybody is good at accepting change. And fortunately, the people who pay my bills, I don’t need them to change. I just gotta put the medicine in the Kool-Aid and mix it in there for people.

Is it harder being a rapper right now than it was 10 years ago?

Peezy: It’s easier. It’s easy if you put the work in. I’ve been doing this shit for ten, fifteen years. I always felt like nobody was going to sign me.

Do you have any plans of signing anybody to the label any time soon?

Peezy: Not currently. But it ain’t always about putting somebody on paperwork. It’s not always about that. You can still change somebody’s life just by being there for them, guiding them the right way and helping them make the right decision in their career. I’m just waiting until I can do it the right way.

Do you like Indica or Sativa?

Peezy: I just like good weed. Which one is which again?

What’s your favorite city outside of Detroit?

Peezy: New York City. I like the culture. I’m really just a n*gga who loves putting clothes on. I just love getting dressed.

I was told you’re really into fashion.

Peezy: I can spend all day, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, buying clothes all day, every day. They’ve had to tell me to stop.

I know you have a crazy sneaker collection.

Peezy: It’s an addiction like drugs is, there ain’t no difference. It’s like picking your phone up and going on Instagram.

Do you shop online as well?

Peezy: Yeah, I get a lot of shit early.

You were just at Fashion Week I saw.

Peezy: I was in Paris for Fashion Week this fall but I’m trying to go back next year. It’s beautiful over there.

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