Up-and-coming Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley is off parole. His time in prison has been the central theme of his career to date, and his biggest song — and the first to bring him national attention — was “First Day Out,” a furious, Meek Mill-reminiscent track about his first day as a free man. But, even as his career began to explode last year, his legal situation has hampered Grizzley’s ability to capitalize on the attention. When we spoke by phone last week, he had finally received a passport. “It feels great,” he says, explaining that he’s eager to leave the country to meet the fans in China and France who had booked him for his first international shows.
Grizzley was also excited for his new mixtape, Still My Moment, which was released last Friday. Though recording was possible since being released from prison — he debuted his album Activated earlier this year — the conditions of his parole meant his time in the studio was limited, and the songs were rushed. “I feel like a better artist,” he says. “Now I can take my time.”
“There are people I want to make proud,” Grizzley explains. “And I’m not even talking about my family members or my city, because I already beat the odds. People don’t make it out of Detroit. Labels don’t come to Detroit and get people. Or they wasn’t before I came along.”
Tee Grizzley shared more with Rolling Stone about his time off parole, working with Chance the Rapper and becoming a better hip-hop artist.
Rolling Stone: Your debut album came out earlier this year, so why did you want to follow it up with another project so quickly?
Tee Grizzley: I’m at a point right now where I’m not really comfortable not releasing new music. I want to give the people my all. I record quick, I get it done quick.
How many songs do you have left in the vault right now?
I’ve got 25, 30 songs.
So enough for the next project?
Yeah, I’ve got enough for another project, but I may not drop another project. I feel like Still My Moment is going to be so strong that people are going to be on it for a while. But I’m going to keep working, so as soon as I feel like they’ve heard everything, I’ll make them fall in love with something else.
What’s the difference between Still My Moment and Activated?
It’s like two different ballgames. When I made Activated, I was still on parole, so I could only do so much. I couldn’t really go to the studio, so when I did go to the studio I had to, like, cut a lot of songs. On Still My Moment, I’m free. I could take my time. [Being free] changed my life because I could really focus and tune into what I’m saying. When I’m rushing, I can’t really go back and edit it. Now I can take my time.
And that makes for better songs?
I believe it makes for better songs. There are things on Activated that I wish I could have changed, on some songs, that would have made it better. I love the project Activated, and I’m happy with the work, but I’m just ready to go harder all the way around. I think people are going to think that this is my best project yet. I really do know that.
This will be my third project. My Moment was a great body of work and people loved it. Activated was a good body of work and people loved it. Still My Moment I’m in my same mode as My Moment, but it’s just deeper, you know? It’s growth.
You had a lot of high profile features on Activated, but fewer on Still My Moment.
I’ve got some features on Still My Moment, but for the most part I’m just going to give them me. I came into the game on my own, it wasn’t really from features. My fans want to hear me. It’s cool to collaborate with the people I’ve collaborated with, but I don’t want to overdo it because I need to stick to what got me here.
How did you link up with Chance?
We linked up just on some cool stuff; he was a real positive guy. He’s like a big brother. I feel like Chance is a positive dude and I be needing that, because I’m around so much negativity. I think we were at an event together, and I just told him how much I respected him and how I looked at him. And he was like, “Man, I rock with you.” He let me know that he messed with the music, and we kept in touch and built on some — not on some music stuff, some real bond type stuff.
Were you two in the studio together for “Wake Up?”
We were in the studio together. I already had a vision for the song and he was all for it.
What’s it been like, getting off of parole?
It feels great. It feels great. I can really give my fans what they deserve, and I can finally leave the country. I just got my passport. I can go to other places and touch base with my fans. I’m excited to go to the places that hurried up and booked me! I feel like that’s where the fanbases are at: China, Dubai, Paris, Australia. There was a time when I couldn’t get booked in my city, so for those people to love me enough to get me to come out there, I’m just excited to go out there. I’m excited to go to those places.