Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley continues his speedy release pace and manages to drop his latest mixtape in a rather quiet release week in the calm before the storm – as quite a few high-profile projects are on the horizon. Known for his alignment with the old-school leaning and hard-hitting style that dominates his city’s sound, Grizzley drops a solid set of tracks that doesn’t do much to shake up the status quo. With only two features on the project, Grizzley simply does what he does best over the course of 17 relatively short tracks. While his style can get a little stagnant after a while and there are a couple moments where it’s clear Grizzley doesn’t understand where his greatest strengths lie, it’s hard not to nod your head to most of his flows. Not to mention – there’s a blast from the past in JR Rotem doing most of the beats on this project.
The project’s opening title track sees Grizzley essentially giving a Meek Mill-style status update, switching back and forth between his rapped and melodic styles while the instrumental shifts between orchestral tones and trap material – while the harder parts are the only ones that really connect, something that continues throughout the project as a whole, the almost G-funk energy Grizzley’s older inclinations bring to the track make for an engaging way to bring listeners into his world. “By Myself,” however, really exemplifies the disconnect the style clash of the first track introduces – Grizzley is almost fully melodic on one of the most aggressive beats on the entire project. The beat is the kind of bass-heavy synth-piano audio attack that we’ve heard before, but it’s the kind that could be a slam dunk for almost anyone and Grizzley’s Auto-Tuned melodies simply fall flat and fail to match the energy. The tracks “Loyalty” and “Robbery Part 3” pick the energy back up, the former showcasing some quicker and more involved flows over a complex and busy trap instrumental and the latter demonstrating his top-tier storytelling ability – something that could have been brought out more on this project judging on how well it goes over here. Grizzley spins a tale of his jail time, and it’s honestly impressive that he can keep the rhymes up for so long with how many small details he adds.
Two cities collide on the track “MilTroit” as Grizzley trades bars with Lakeyah, who honestly takes over the track and overrides Grizzley’s performance with her charisma – although the two do have quite a bit of chemistry together. There’s not much originality to be found in terms of the musical content, but it’s still a lot of fun to hear the two together. “Afterlife,” on the other hand, shows that JR Rotem still has what it takes to be a top-tier producer. The instrumental sounds complex on the surface, but there’s an inexplicably electrifying effect to it that makes it sound as though there are milliseconds of supercharged silence throughout as Grizzley takes the opportunity he’s been given and runs with it over some distorted bass hits in the background – the half-whispered intense chorus would see most of his contemporaries dimming the energy, but Grizzley pulls it off well. “Buss It All Down” and “Oh Yeah” show the two extremes of Grizzley’s melodic side, the former exhibiting a forgettable and meandering melody over a cheesy sample from Beverly Hills Cop and the latter proving, strangely, that Grizzley might actually be better singing without Auto-Tune than with it. The trap beat over something almost country-style acoustics in the background and the ghostly howls echoing around the track make a unique backdrop for one of the project’s catchiest hooks.
The project’s second half feels like an inconsistent mixed bag, as great performances collide with odd choices and vice versa, almost none of them lining up at the right time. “Built 4 It” is one of Grizzley’s stronger outings on the whole project, but it’s set to a heavy sample from Tupac’s “Changes,” one of the most overused beats in the game. “Drop A Bag” is similarly fiery if still lacking in originality from an instrumental standpoint, but it feels far too short. The track “Your Grave” might be the biggest misfire on the entire project, as Grizzley issues threats in a voice that sounds like he’s on the verge of dozing off, while the song “No Hook,” typically a title reserved for tracks that are one long, extended verse, actually does indeed have a hook. Still, the track contains one of the most engaging beats on the project, as playful and bright synth harmonies in the back add a nice contrast to Grizzley’s amped-up yelps in front.
As the album reaches its conclusion, listeners shouldn’t be expecting too many more surprises. Tracks like “Hustlin” and “G7” see Grizzley continuing to be a one-trick pony who pulls off his one trick consistently better than most of his contemporaries, while “I’m On” reverts to some sleepy melodic material, this time over a different trend of the acoustic sadboi loop. “Beat The Streets” brings back some of the exact same old-school techniques as earlier on in the album – although the church bells are a nice touch – and Grizzley opts to end the album by letting his brother Baby Grizzley, who sounds a little like 21 Savage, take an entire song.
Grizzley exists firmly in the genre’s middle ground, a highlight in his city but without much of his own artistry to back it up. Nobody’s going to be putting an album like this on their best-of lists at the end of the year, but most hip-hop fans would likely be able to find at least something that they enjoyed if they put it on.
Favourite Tracks: Afterlife, Robbery Part 3, MilTroit, Oh Yeah
Least Favourite Track: Your Grave