Published May 14, 2018He's been a robber on the run and an inmate, and now he's releasing an album with guest spots by Lil Yachty and Jeezy. So it's a dire disappointment to not hear Detroit's Tee Grizzley detail more of that compelling life experience on his debut studio album, Activated.
He doesn't exactly squander the opportunity, at least not entirely. The album's latter half boasts highlights like "Too Lit," a song whose ominous horn notes and airy keys are augmented by Tee Grizzley's intimate, mile-a-minute insights about not being able to get rich off drugs, which compelled him to try his hand at selling stories, or how his lack of a father figure turned him into a self-starter. Throughout all those trials, he insists he "never blamed God."
Meanwhile, on another key track called "Bag," his raps serve as recollections about his days with flat pockets, before he works to inspire his listeners to stand tall during their darkest hours over a galvanizing rhythm and a speak-singy chorus. If this one doesn't compel you to stay on your grind, nothing will.
Throughout even those most shining moments, this gruff, rugged-voiced MC remains viscerally practical and capable, if a bit rudimentary in terms of flow and wordplay. It'd be an understatement to say he's no rival for Kendrick Lamar's Pulitzer. But much of the time, Tee Grizzley never even comes close to trying, unspooling punchline after punchline about his jewellery and rap prowess instead. That often makes for entertaining, if less than riveting fare (just try not to smile at his shoutout to Canada Goose that keeps him warm from Detroit's chilly haters).
And yet, Tee Grizzley should have devoted far more of this sprawling 18-track LP to the meatier details of his trials and tribulations, instead of hinting at them with all-too-brief asides between posturing on one-liners (the aforementioned stronger tracks being the exception, rather than the rule). The spare, raw production doesn't help, saddling chunks of the running time with same-y vibes.
Next time this Motor City MC should cut such fat, and flesh out the promising anecdotes about his struggles, in order to live up to his visceral potential as a down-to-earth wordsmith with life lessons to share. For now, Tee Grizzley is practically fizzling out in his pursuit of the funny stuff. (Atlantic Records / 300 Entertainment)