On Oct. 30, rapper Tee Grizzley will perform at the Fillmore for the final show on his Ain't It a Blessing tour. Along with the significance of holding a show in Detroit on the city's once-infamous Devil's Night, it marks a return home for the rapper after the viral success of his breakthrough single "First Day Out," which documents his life before, during, and after a three-year stint in prison for a series of robberies on Michigan State University campus in 2014.
In the days before our conversation, we check in on Grizzley via social media. In one video, he's in New Mexico, performing for a packed house that seems mostly young and white. Over the opening bars of "First Day Out" the crowd erupts with a collective scream: "Joy Road bitch/but the money long as Six Mile."
Over the course of a week our scheduled interview falls through several times. On the first occasion, the day after his cipher with DJ Premiere airs on the BET Hip Hop Awards, his management reaches out to say that Grizzley missed his flight from Miami and has had to cancel all engagements for the day. When we finally connect, it's the day of Tidal X Brooklyn, where Grizzley is scheduled to perform alongside virtually every one of the biggest names in rap and R&B. A woman's voice on the other end of the phone informs me that we have 10 minutes.
Metro Times: Why is hip-hop so obsessed with being real?
Tee Grizzley: It revolves around gangster shit, drugs, bitches, killing — all that, you know what I'm saying? That's what hip-hop is today. Drugs and all that. And people are obsessed with being real because like, if you fake and you're talking about that, you're gonna look crazy.
MT: So that's what realness means to you?
Grizzley: To me, being real is being yourself. You know, that's whether you're a pop artist or whatever. Being who you are. You feel me? People so obsessed with being real in hip-hop because they don't want people to think that they're lying.
MT: What was it like growing up on the west side?
Grizzley: My upbringing was like, I had a household where... I ain't nothing like I was raised like. You know what I'm saying? Like they wanted me to get good grades, and they wanted me to be good, and they wanted me to do all this, but the whole time — when you tell a child to do this but they see you doing something totally different — that's gonna turn out, you know what I'm saying? Like they say, 'Go to school. Do this. Do good. Don't sell drugs. Don't get into these streets.' But I'm seeing them in the streets. I'm seeing them sell drugs. I'm seeing them getting drunk. You know what I'm saying? So it's just like, this is all I know. You're telling me not to do this, but this is all I know. I was only exposed to the streets.
MT: Your Detroit show is on Devil's Night. Do you have any crazy Devil's Night memories when you were growing up?
Grizzley: Man, listen. I was about to go to this haunted house, me and my momma and all my cousins went to this haunted house. And I'm like, 'I ain't going in. I ain't fucking with it.' Because it was supposed to have the best haunted house in the state. I'm like, 'I'm straight, I ain't going in this bitch. I'm about to wait for y'all outside.' So I waited for them outside, and I found a whole bunch of money outside ... like $800 in twenties.
MT: No way.
Grizzley: Swear. I'm mad because I gave it all to my momma. I was like, 'Look momma, look what I found.' She was like, 'Give it here.' Gave me $40.
MT: Right. So you found success, obviously. Do you believe in karma?
Grizzley: I do.
MT: So obviously, you're reaping rewards now, but you did time for robbery. How do you make sense of that?
Grizzley: I make sense of that because I've done some bullshit in the past, but I also done a lot of good too. The bad things caught up, just like the good caught up. And it's gonna keep repeating itself, I feel like. That's why throughout the time I try to do more good than bad.
MT: Do you have anything to say to people who might look at someone — maybe someone who's in a situation where they need to do something unethical to put food on the table, to get a little bit of money in their pocket — and judge that?
Grizzley: I mean, to the people that would judge them, I'd say you don't know what that person's going through. You don't know what that person's got to look forward to. They might only be exposed to the stuff that they're doing. So you know before you can judge that person... you really can't. You can't judge them because you're not in their position. If you was in that position, you probably would just not put food on the table at all, instead of going out and trying to figure out something for your family. You know some people would do worse things, given that they were in that situation. You have to really be in a person's shoes to understand. There's no way I can explain it. You would have to really be there. Until you in them shoes you really can't say how you're gonna maneuver. That's like a barber — you know, a lot of barbers watch sports, and they talk about what a player should have did, and how a player should have won this game. But you don't know how tired that player was. You don't know if that person gave it his all, and if what he did was better than what you wanted to do, but it just didn't work.
MT: Who do you listen to right now? Whose music do you appreciate?
Grizzley: I appreciate Drake's music, I appreciate Future's music, I appreciate Lil Durk's music. I appreciate Uzi, Meek Mill, I appreciate Migos.
MT: Greatest Detroit MC?
Grizzley: Greatest Detroit MC... Eminem.
MT : We were going to ask you to pick Kid Rock or Eminem.
Grizzley: Gotta give it to Eminem.
MT: Nice. Alright man, you got anything else you think readers should know about your work?
Grizzley: I dropped a new single called "Win." My social media — Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat — is @Tee_Grizzley, so reach out to me.
MT: Thank you so much, it means a lot you taking the time out to talk with us.
Grizzley: Fo sho, appreciate it bro.
Tee Grizzley performs with Lud Foe, OMB Peezy, Sadababy on Monday, Oct. 30 at the Fillmore; 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; thefillmoredetroit.com; Doors at 7 p.m.; Tickets start at $25; 18+ only.