Interview: Grip – The Atlanta rapper discusses his new album, shaping his vision, Shady Records, and much more

Grip keeps a foot in both worlds. Having recently impressed none other than Eminem and signed with Shady Records, the Atlanta rapper was suddenly within reach of true rap stardom, with as good a shot as any of lighting 2021 afire. Delivering his major label debut album I Died for This!? less than a month after his signing went public, he’s not wasted a moment. Yet, that very album has proved him to be a true anomaly in his industry: displaying remarkably little interest in reaching for familiarity, nor an easy, cheap hit, he’s delivered the most challenging, ambitious work of his career to date.

It’s certainly a gamble, but with any justice, it’s one that will gradually pay off greatly for the determined rapper. Rather than bending to the machinations of major label, mainstream hip hop, he’s delivered an album that feels so organic that it may as well have been created outside of the system it seeks to bend to his well, with Grip determined to stay close with his friends and family (one of his daughters was even present during our interview). Indeed, aside from label boss Slim Shady and Royce da 5’9″, he’s stuck with the same crew he came up with, crafting a supremely organic, true to form statement. It’s a rare showing, let alone for an artist as poised for success as Grip. It may well be the most promising major label debut from an artist in 2021.

I recently chopped it up with the endlessly ambitious artist, and he readily digs into his new project, its development, the major label system, Shady Records, and much more with a consistently reflective, insightful attitude. Read up.

So just to start with, we’re a few days out from the album having dropped, how’s it feel having it out in the world?

Feels good, it feels good. The reception has been good, a lot of people hearing the new music, and diving back into my old shit, Snubnose and back, so it feels good.

I Died for This!? is obviously so different from Snubnose, it’s clear you want to truly differentiate projects, so how did you go about conceiving the direction for this album?

I think that Snubnose, the color was red, and I wanted to kind of go yellow. Bigger sounds. Pretty much, Snubnose was my environment and this one was more so touching on some personal shit. I think that’s just how we started out, how I wanted to attack the next project.

You’ve said Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds were influences, how did they impact the album exactly?

So, they helped with the more, the tracks like “Patterns?”, and not necessarily having just the trap drums and bass, but having the structure, the meat and bones of it all, the instrument I would work on, just listening to those albums, and those different sounds, just thinking back on that era, you know. Having to bring some of that into today, it was just very helpful, you know what I’m sayin’? I’d listen to them, out in L.A., at night time on the beach, I had different thoughts – it evoked different thoughts than just listening to ‘modern’ music.

What else we’re you listening to during recording?

Tu! [the album’s executive producer] was bumpin’ Built 4 Cuban Linx… I was fuckin’ with Stankonia as well, fuckin’ Phil Collins, just a bunch of off the wall shit. I don’t like to listen to too much rap music when I’m making a rap album. I don’t want that shit to rub off on me too much. I kinda just wanna lean on other influences.

Was the album recorded quickly or over a longer period of time?

We started recording it right before COVID shut everything down, so like, early 2020? Took a break, recorded two EPs – HALO and Proboscidea – and then after that, we kinda like jumped back into it, I’d say around summer time, after I’d had my first convo with Em and Paul [Rosenberg], and, you know, we kinda knew that we was gonna go with Shady, so by the time the deal went through, the album was pretty much complete, aside from when Royce [da 5’9″] and Eminem featured. We pretty much already had the whole project done, and it wouldn’t have taken as long if COVID hadn’t hit, if we didn’t take a break. It took a little over a year, honestly. With COVID and all that shit…what ya gonna do.

I didn’t even realize y’all were working on it before the EPs came out, that’s wild.

Started with four or five songs, a new direction, for sure.

So since you already brought it up, a lot of the album is dealing with major labels and the problems that tend to be inherent with them – “I met a man whose pupils were dollar signs” – what made you feel Shady was different?

Well, they gave us creative control off the bat. And it was like… fuckin’ with somebody who was like a hero, someone who was one of your childhood heroes, a fuckin’ legend in this game that you’re in. He’s been there. He’s done that. So it just felt like joining a family, joining the Shady family. They were very reasonable when we had our talks, and me and Tigg [Grip’s manager] had an understanding of what we were getting ourselves into by the time we reached the decision. And…it’s Eminem. [Laughs]

Back to the album itself, it’s put into different acts, and I know you think of it as a play, so how did you conceive the different acts and decide when it was time for a transition?

That was pretty much done, the sequencing, and we knew how certain songs ended, or tempos of certain songs or feels of certain songs, of course like, could be bust into different groups. So it kind of just plays on how my psyche was at certain points. Groupin’ em together, or orchestrating certain sounds, grouping certain sounds together, we would know, ‘Ok, now it’s time for a switch.’ You wanna keep everybody on they toes. Didn’t want anybody to get too comfortable with one sound throughout the project, so on God this time, kind of serves as an intermission, or an interlude. That’s how we were kinda able to just keep it in a certain pocket.

As far as hometown legends go, Big Rube has been a presence on both this album and Snubnose, how did you originally link up with him?

Literally just reached out to him. [Laughs] I reached out to him in… 2019? Yeah, the top of 2019, reached out to him, and man, cool guy, he wasn’t hesitant at all, he was actually excited. He pulled up on me, played the album for him, and he jumped on “226”, and from there… ya know what I’m sayin’? We just built the love, built the relationship. When I hit him with this one, he got it back to me fairly quickly, and was fuckin’ with it heavy. So, yeah, we have a relationship, it’s pretty cool. A pretty cool thing.

I never woulda imagined Big Rube would be on a Shady project, that’s cool in itself.

Hell yeah, man. Hell yeah. [Laughs]

So, the Dead Cassettes song, that’s one of the craziest songs on the album, it’s almost experimental, it’s just wild. How did that one come together?

That song came together, once again, in L.A., just chillin’ and shit. I had an idea, I had this DJ Khalil sample, if you would call it, and when I heard it originally, without any drums or bass on it, the first thing that came to mind is the cadence [mimics the sound of the song], just on God this time.

Really what I was thinkin’ about was all of our heroes in pop culture, or in life, period, that did this shit, on a big level, and a lot of succumbed to overdoses, or violence, or were killed, or just went off the deep end. It was kind of like, for me, stepping into that same light that they were in, and, ya know, it was kinda just like, ‘Alright, bro. You just don’t die this time.’ Ya know what I’m sayin’? That’s how you need to be different.

The sound itself came from listening to different shit. By the time I had got the majority of it down… because Dead Cassettes are literally a fuckin’ punk rock group, so I ain’t wanna come to them with a half-ass idea, so pretty much the song was already done. I knew I ain’t really wanna rap on it, but I did wanna add some sounds to it, and just like, some sort of chant to it. That’s how it all played out. And when they heard it, they was fuckin’ with it heavy. They really liked it. We sat in the studio and figured out. But yeah, it’s one of my favorite tracks.

Me too.

Thank you, thank you.

Getting into the lyrics a bit, “You set yourself on fire for a lonely view,” where did that come from, what do you mean by it?

Self sabotage. You know, you do all of these things… you do these things, and you kinda end up playing the victim, almost like. You sabotage relationships. It’s like all of these things: you do it, and you damn near don’t realize that you’re doin’ it. It’s self sabotage. And, at the end of the day, you’re the only one to blame. You’re the one that fought. You’re alone to your thoughts, so kinda realize that the problem is you. The enemy is you.

“Patterns?” is a song that really resonated with me. “I was too young to know I let you down,” struck me. What space were you in when you wrote it?

So, yeah, that was a song that was pretty much about kind of the same thing. How chasing a – this – dream makes you miss out on the big things in life. My kids. Their birth, or just the important moments. And how I didn’t wanna make that shit a pattern, with me not havin’ a pops. Not falling into his footsteps, and his patterns. ‘Too young to know I let you down’ is said twice, because, actually, it’s for both my daughters. So, yeah. You know.

I gotta ask about Tate228. You guys obviously go back, and I thought he absolutely killed his verse on “The Lox”: does he have anything coming up?

Hell yeah, man. Tate228. He’s actually already got a new project already done, we’re just waiting to release it. He’s got other work, find him on streaming services. Dope, dope artist man. Good dude, and his voice is crazy. So, yeah, he’s definitely gonna be makin’ some noise soon.

So for the closing track, I know you and Kay Nellz go back [he’s featured on Grip’s first project, 2017’s Porch], having worked with Kenny Mason on some more recent tracks, how did you go about deciding to include him on the big last hurrah?

That was actually the first song that we recorded. We placed it earlier; we knew how to place certain shit, we didn’t wanna end on a soft note, so we ended on that. Kenny Mason the homie. We go back as well, he’s from Atlanta, we were both kinda in the underground scene at the same time, so we have other songs together and shit, so, you know, always a pleasure to work with him.

You just went into it a bit yourself, but it’s interesting the way the album chills out in the last third, getting into a more reflective and emotive space, and then boom the last track pretty much hits you across the face…

Hell yeah. Gotta go out with a bang.

Yeah, so how did you decide to go out with that particular track?

Because Snubnose ended on “Open Arms”, and it was like, ‘Ehhh, yeah we could, but, nahhh.’ The majority of the album was, I’d say, it was going against the grain, so what better way than to end it on that?

So I know Royce was the first guy from the Shady camp you met, did you know right away you wanted him on “Placebo”, or how did that come about?

It was simple as I sent him somethin’ one night, and he sent somethin’ back. I wasn’t even necessarily expecting him to send anything back, but ya know, Royce is, uh, [chuckles] a master lyricist, so he got it back quick as hell. It was like, ‘Aww shit, bet, let’s go!’ That shit was like… some monster words. It was cool. I wasn’t even necessarily expecting that, so it was dope for him to jump on that and body it.

The last third on that track, the beat, is just nuts. Swirls and clicks, I don’t even know how to describe it. [Laughs]

Yeah, yeah man. [Laughs] Dope ass track man, shout out to Tu! and Beat Butcha on the middle track.

With that track, I felt like you were saying that, I don’t know how to put it, but that a song with just ‘fire raps’ is kind of a “Placebo” for the listener, is that how you feel?

I think what I was saying was, yeah these other verses that people are listening to, yeah, it kinda sounds good, it might sound good on the ear… but, it’s a placebo. [Laughs] That shit ain’t heal you, that shit ain’t do nothing for you. Of course, for me, it was just a lyrical exercise. I think hip hop’s in a good spot, a good place, it’s always had its balance so to speak, so this is just what it looks like today. I think it’s pretty well balanced. I think that’s just the generation we’re in, radio controls a lot of shit. The culture of hip hop, with the internet, these kids can easily get a microphone and make a video, and if it sounds similar to something they have an instant chance of getting recognized. So, I think that’s just kinda where we’re at in the world right now. It is what it is.

I think TikTok has been one of the worst things for rap, folk competing for these little 10 second snippets.

Yeah…I don’t even have one, well, I have one, but I literally don’t have anything on there.

Was it tempting to try and use the Shady label muscle to try and get big guests other than Em, or did you consciously stick with the crew you came up with? I’d love to hear you with Goodie Mob or 3Stacks [Editor’s Note: André 3000].

Aw yeah, of course, 3Stacks, one can hope, one can wish. [Laughs] Hopefully one day, get that 3Stacks feature. But nah man, Em and Royce were the biggest names on there, everybody else was like folks that I know. I kinda wanted to keep it that way, not overextending, you know, when people still didn’t even know who the fuck I am. Nobody knew who the fuck I was, so, it wasn’t my time to try and get something that I couldn’t get on my own. Just happy with what Em and Royce gave, I didn’t feel like I needed too big of features or shit like that. Of course, I’d like to work with certain artists and shit like that, but, yeah.

So now I gotta ask, who do you want to work with going forward?

Aw man, it’s a lot of people. That list goes on…forever. [Chuckles] 3Stacks, of course.

Going off that, any major producers you’d want to work?

Yeah, man, there’s a few, there’s a few. Alchemist, and a few others. But, I mean, when it happens, it happens, ya know what I’m sayin’? What we got, I feel like it’s something special. Whoever does wanna contribute to it, to the next project, or in the future, that’s cool, but I ain’t just…I ain’t too worried about it. Until somebody reaches out or it becomes possible.

So how did you decide which track you wanted Em on?

Once we knew that we could get an Eminem feature, we just made that song. And, yeah, I kind of made it with him in mind. That was literally it. I told Toon to cook up a beat, and he sent me a couple beats and that was the one. Went in and made a hook, talked about something I felt he could relate to and… he bodied it. It turned out crazy. I think we got good chemistry, I definitely wanna get on more tracks with him. [Laughs]

He used to feature his own crew on his albums a lot, but recently he’s been more going outside for guests. You gotta get him back on that. [Laughs]

Aw, yeah man. That would be great, man. I’d try to go hard. That’d be one of my best verses that I’d write for that shit. Maybe one day.

This is a random aside, but whenever I talk with anyone associated with Em, I say the same thing: you gotta get him to do an album with The Alchemist.

Aw yeah, for sure. I’m sure it’ll happen man, I’m sure it’ll happen. That’s his DJ. Bo Jackson, that shit was hard. Definitely. I’m sure it’ll happen. I gotchu.

As far as the Shady family goes, have you linked up with Westside Boogie at all?

Nah, we’ve spoken on Instagram but that’s about it. He’s dope.

Going on a tangent here, but what’s the last great book you read?

The last great book I read was probably 1984. I dunno man, pretty much just like it’s a book where it’s an imaginary world, in the future and shit, and the way it built the world, and the whole thing resonated with me because when I create an album, I like to build a world. I can give you a bunch of tracks, a bunch of tracks and a bunch of raps, but I kinda like to build this world and let you into this world, and get lost in the shit. I feel like that’s kinda what I did with the book.

In a way, whatever you do next is “after death”, are you looking to jump right into something else, or more savor this moment?

A little bit of both. I’ve already started working again, just sounds and inspirations, and seeds, using the inspiration of having released a major project. I’ve started working, haven’t fully dove into shit yet, but I’ve definitely got something in mind. Hopefully we talk soon.

Grip’s new album I Died For This!? is out now on Shady Records – read our review.

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