GRIP opens up about his new album “I Died For This?!”, signing with Eminem’s Shady Records, and the reason the album format is the backbone of music.
Atlanta lyricist GRIP may be sitting on one of the year’s most lyrically rewarding albums in I Died For This?!, his first release since inking a deal with Eminem‘s Shady Records. A fitting partnership, given Em’s noted appreciation for penmanship and those who show elite talent in that department.
Though while GRIP is certainly capable of lyrical showmanship, his approach is far more akin to an auteur director. Appropriate, given his status as a film buff (“No Country For Old Men is probably my top five,” he reveals), a passion that has come to shape his approach to crafting his albums. Prior to joining Em’s roster, GRIP had already amassed an impressive discography, with conceptually-fueled projects like Snubnose and Porch establishing the depth of his artistry.
On I Died For This?!, GRIP has delivered what may very well be his magnum opus — at least, so far. Ambitious on both a lyrical and musical level, the project finds GRIP exploring new sounds, as well as collaborating with both Bad and Evil on two separate tracks. Yet even with a few high-profile guest actors on deck, the spotlight belongs entirely to GRIP, who proves his worth as a leading man by leaving it all on stage with a tour-de-force performance.
We recently had the chance to speak with GRIP for the latest episode of Rise & Grind. Check out a transcription of the full conversation below, and be sure to go check out his latest album I Died For This?! right here.
Look for a new installment of Rise & Grind every Monday.
Image via Artist
Growing up in Atlanta, we was on the east side. We bounced around a lot. My grandma probably raised me for the first ten to twelve years of my life in Decatur. I got started writing kinda early, like in middle school. I used it as an escape. We were going through it at the house. Just kind of struggling, damn-near-but-not-all-the-way middle class, you know what i’m saying? So I would write.
I loved Outkast since I was a child. I remember one of my first vivid memories of music — that’s still so vivid today — is being seven and riding in my uncle’s hatchback. We were just riding through like a store plaza and hearing “ATLiens.” It was just like: they sound like us. We was so used to hearing the Biggies, JAY-Z, and Nas — that was dominating radio. So then when we heard Outkast, it was just one of those things like ‘oh man, they sound like us! They from the west side, they from wherever!’ I don’t know man, that was just one of the times that made me fall in love with music.
My big sister, she’s six years older than me, so she would always have all the new CDs. She’d play all the music and I would just listen to that. My mom would play oldies. So of course, to this day I still bump like old shit, like 60s and up. I just love music. And as far as outside of what we would consider black music — my cousin, she actually went to a private school in Panama City. In the summertime, I would go down there and visit her and her friends. She had white friends and shit, so they would put me on all of the music outside of rap and r&b. So I was introduced to that very early, and I took a liking to it.
I’m a Capricorn. I kinda believe it, but ain’t just all out like ‘you’re this and that.’ But I see patterns in certain people and I could tell like, oh damn, that might be a Scorpio. Certain things, I don’t feed into it too much — but I do believe in it somewhat.
Top 5 DOA:
3 Stacks. Jay-Z. Biggie. 2Pac. Nas.
Being able to make “Just Don’t Die This Time (interlude)” on “IDFT.” For years I’ve always had ideas in my head, but I’ve never quite been able to execute them. And this was one of the first times that I went into it like ‘damn, this shit would be so fucking hard if I could pull it off.’ But I didn’t think I could pull it off — so when I pulled it off, I was like, ‘oh shit, this sounds how it sounded like in my head.’ It’s not rap, and it’s not like I’m trying to stray away from rap or none of that shit. It’s just that you wanna be able to dibble and dabble in other genres that are influential as well. So for me to be able to do that, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Like damn, I finally was able to do this shit. Now I feel like I’m fully capable of doing other shit. You know what — I feel like I could actually jump off a roof right now, and I would have wings. Nah I’m joking, that was a joke.
LISTEN: GRIP – JDDTTINT!? ft. Dead Cassettes
For the most part, I be at the crib recording, cause I got a studio at the crib too. So I record mainly at the house. Until it’s time like okay, let’s start getting this shit together. Let’s start maybe playing the rough shit for people and then trying to see who we wanna feature on this shit. Let’s hear it loud. So really when it’s time to hear it loud and get those vibes and shit, that’s when I start going to the big studio. But for the most part, I write in the house or in the car, record it, send it to Tool or some shit. I ride to it for a couple days, weeks even, before I even go to the studio. I’ll make sure it’s already finished.
I Died For This?!:
Coming out of “Snubnose,” I knew we didn’t want to make the same project. We kinda wanted to go bigger, like go big or go home. We knew we kinda wanted to lean on other influences, and make a bold body of work. I feel like motherfuckers be too formulaic, they be scared and shit. They don’t wanna pick a side. They kinda like tweeners, so we kinda wanted to do something bold like all the greats do. We knew we wanted the color to feel yellow — “Snubnose” was red. I knew I wanted strings and shit. The idea for “I Died For This?!” came to me out of nowhere. I thought about what does it mean to me? And what does it sound like to me?
That’s kinda how we started building that. So once we got the deal done with Shady, by the time I played the album for Em, all that was really needed was Royce and Em’s vocals. That was it. The album was pretty much done. All the producers are producers that we had been working with or had connections with. I’m excited to see what we can do on the next go around with more resources.
I remember the first verse I ever wrote, that actually got played in a song. It was cool, for the time. [Laughs] It was cool for the time being. I was still snapping but I sounded like it was my first song on the damn record, kinda. I didn’t have my rap voice down pat yet. You gotta find your voice in the studio. I was like 16. And it was crazy, everybody at school was like, ‘aw man, GRIP snapped on that!’ But looking back…nah.
We did a show when I was like 17, 18. Back in the day. Nothing major. Just learning. Learning stage presence, all that good stuff. You know — performing in front of seven people. [Laughs] Everybody needs that. Everybody needs that. Everybody needs to perform in front of four motherfuckers one time before they go and become this big artist that’s on the road. It’ll humble the shit out of you.
Outside Of Music:
I like beer. I actually made two. We had two beers with our past two releases. Just Don’t Die This Time beer came out with “IDFT?!” and then the Snubnose PB&J stout. I like going to concerts. I have a dog. I’m a regular guy. The goal is to eventually have our own brewery. Atlanta is bubbling right now, breweries are popping up all over the place. I really fuck with the culture. Beer culture is crazy. And I feel like it meshes well with music.
I’m working on [a new project]. I think it’s the fastest turnaround. But then again, “IDFT?!” has been done for so long. We just so happened to release it a couple weeks ago, but to me, it feels it feels old already. The world’s just now hearing it though, so it’s new, I guess. But I’m ready to start working on new shit.
Image via Artist, photo credit: Ari Skin
HNHH: The Shady Records deal must be new territory. You have a great catalog prior to signing with Shady and a dedicated loyal loyal fanbase. Now, anything with Eminem’s involvement is inherently gonna get even bigger, so a new group of fans is gonna be coming in. How do you balance all that?
GRIP: Just take it a day at a time. It’s cool to see new faces. It’s always good to see the old faces — like the people who comment two years ago and still comment today — that’s beautiful to see. But I think it’s also good to see new faces, cause then you know you’re covering more ground. I can’t wait to do shows, see more faces in the crowd. Gaining new fans is golden. It’s all love.
You mentioned Outkast as a major influence — I can see that. The lyricism especially, that emphasis on the writing, the more conceptual stuff too. ATLiens is a concept album. It might not have the most conceptual narrative throughline, but it’s there for sure.
It definitely is, it definitely is. Yeah, man. How I approach the album has a lot to do with my love for film. I think that’s one of my first loves — films. I’m a movie buff, bro.
Same. What kind of movies? Do you have a favorite movie?
No Country For Old Men is probably my top five. I don’t know man, I just love movies. You know how it goes. You can’t even necessarily just pinpoint one favorite movie. There are so many movies. I love film, so when I approach an album, I kinda want the listener to see this picture that I’m painting. You can visualize it, and just create this world. That’s kinda how I approach making the album, conceptually.
Image via Artist, Photo credit: Ari Skin
You must have a trusted team of producers and musicians because it must be hard to bring some of these visions to life. How do you go about something that has a bit more musical ambition, like JDDTTINT?! When you’re writing a song like that, is it difficult conveying the things you want to do to the people who make it happen?
With that song in particular — we pretty much had the base of it. My boy Ivano and Oliver Blue, we was working heavy on it. I was sending voice notes and shit. When I’m sending voice notes, I’m sounding crazy as hell. I might send something I’ve been listening to, or tell him like yo, I kinda want this shit to sound like mayhem, like chaos. And I guess I say it well enough for him to be like ‘I get what you’re saying.’
You mentioned your albums being different colors in your mind. Do you always associate music with different colors?
With different colors? Yeah. Certain shit feels like…You know what’s red and you know what’s yellow, you know what’s white. We always got a color board. Me and TU! sense that early. Based off the color, the production will fit with it.
I’m the same way. I read about something called synesthesia — it’s a thing that some people have where you identify one sense with another. Like hearing a color, some people have that.
Dope as hell. I’ma read up on it.
The theatrical themes are pretty evident throughout IDFT?!. I was wondering, what was it about the stage play format that really inspired you?
We wanted to be theatrical, just kind of big. And we knew the roses — how you receive roses after the play. So for us, it was more that you don’t receive that rose until it’s too late. That’s why the skeleton has a rose in his mouth. And also, it kind of became an ode to The Eminem Show. It’s like a play of your life.
LISTEN: GRIP -Walkthrough ft. Eminem
It’s fitting that you’d end up on Shady. It seems like you and Em’s minds went to similar places thematically. I was wondering if you guys had connected over that at all when you were playing the album?
Yeah, we spoke on it. I kinda explained what the album was before I played it for him. We just talked a little bit more about shit. But yeah, I’m sure he understood where I was coming from with it.
I’ve heard you explain how the album title works on two levels. I Died For This?! said with defiance and pride, or the opposite — I Died For This?! — disbelief and disappointment. Kinda like, is this it? I’m curious now that you’ve dropped the album, what side of the fence do you currently stand on?
I got both still. [Laughs] I got both still. But I’m leaning more towards the…right now I’m amped, I’m hyped. So it’s like defiance, like I Died For This! I’m excited, I’m working on new music. Right now, I’m leaning towards the exclamation.
I wanted to ask you about the album as a method of listening to music. These days, it can feel like people take the album for granted. What do you think is something that’s unique to the album listening experience that makes it special for both artists and listeners?
It’s like the same thing as going to a movie for me, except I don’t got no popcorn. I be in the car with whatever I might have. I’m vibing to each track, anticipating the next track. You see how well this shit flows together. Like aw, if comes with something on this next one, you already know it’s a classic! It’s just the whole sequence of things that makes it what it is, man. Makes it an enjoyable experience listening to something.
Just like going to the movies. If you just go into the movies to watch a movie for three minutes, and then come back and watch the rest of the movie in three-minute increments…it’s not the same. Like a week apart or some shit like a single week or some bullshit? It’s just not the same. Singles are cool, of course, but whatever. I think that the album format is the backbone of music.
I agree with that. It’s like a fight scene in a movie — could be cool on its own, but it really helps when you’re already attached to the characters who are fighting.
Fuck ya’ll fighting for? It’s just a cool ass fight scene? Like, what happened?! What led up to this?!
Thank you so much for taking the time. Congratulations on all of the success!
I appreciate you, bro. I appreciate y’all for having me.
Image via Artist. Photo credit: Ari Skin.