Tee Grizzley My Moment

[300 Entertainment; 2017]

Styles: Detroit, YouTube, Gold’s Gym
Others: Team Eastside Peezy, Meek Mill, Kevin Gates

Fifteen minutes of fame is a lot to ask for these days. The new stardom is measured in moments, flashes of brilliance deservingly rewarded but impossible to replicate. The dissolution of the barriers to entry into the rap game has shone a light into the depths of tightly insular regional rap scenes, but the increasingly unclear path from a song to a sensation have left many unable to replicate the success that broke them. By definition, few can manage the iconoclastic individualism of a Chief Keef or Lil B — for each of them, there’s a Kirko Bangz or a what’s-his-name, the guy who did “All Gold Everything.”

Optimistically, six months and a single album as a free man is too little to consign Tee Grizzley to the latter camp. There’s a lot to love: a compelling backstory, an obvious ear for melody, and “potential,” the universal currency of livemixtapes.com diviners. Alas, artistic development is a little beyond the scope of the modern record deal. My Moment was released through 300 Entertainment, a label built around the application of big data principles to identify unsigned artists exhibiting the early signs of virality (thus allowing the artists to be signed for much less). They’ve been incredibly successful; Grizzley’s deal came within two months of the video for “First Day Out,” the album’s lead single.

The affiliation explains one of the major flaws of My Moment: the album, the rapper’s solo debut after a pre-incarceration stint with Detroit ultra-locals AllStars BallHard, is little more than a vehicle for the monetization of a single song. This, of course, is far from a novel strategy for the record industry, but here it completely undermines the form of the album. Punctuated by explosions and a “ho-ho-Holiday season,” tracks like “Catch It” and “Real Niggas” would make for promising mixtape fodder incidental to and indicative of Grizzley’s artistic development and refinement. But in the context of this album, they are notable only for existing in the half of the album that actually sticks after a few listens.

The remainder of the album falls into a particularly bland archetype, the stuff of motivational Instagram accounts with names like work.grind.hustle. Lyrically, Grizzley is able to distinguish himself somewhat due to the personal specificity of his accounts; lines like “Neil’s mama know that her son safe, ‘cause at all times I’m ridin’ with him/ D’Angelo ever get killed, I can’t tell the story ‘cause I’m dyin’ with him” are far from mere loyalty platitudes. The stories gain gravitas from the inclusion of details that usually don’t make the glamorized version; equal time is given to shootouts and court dates in these retellings. On the other hand, the album so repeatedly invokes specific people and events that it’s impossible not to wonder what awaits once Grizzley’s life story to date is exhausted.

Narrative is just one route to making worthwhile rap, of course, but for now, it’s his strongest by far. By and large, the production falls well short of what one would expect from a label-funded effort, too often reliant upon a diegetic, one-note signification of mood that’s laid out within the first (and only) three piano chords. While the worst offenders are all courtesy of Helluva, perhaps overrepresented on this particular release because of his work on “First Day Out,” the sensibility leading to the choice of the beats is itself concerning. Heavy-handed emotional prescription sets the tone for the rest of the track, making a recovery to nuance in lyrics or delivery all the more difficult.

All told, Grizzley’s accomplishments are impressive for his age and for the short span of his career, indicators from which one would usually be able to set reasonable expectations of an artist’s present and future. But with that timeline disrupted by the label’s rush to turn a hit into sales while it was still hot, the stakes for any and all subsequent releases will be much too high to feel confident despite the inconsistencies of My Moment. While it’s heartening that many of its missteps arise from factors external to his rapping ability or charisma, it’s hard to have faith that Grizzley will be able to maintain the attention of his new fans for long enough to turn his moment into something more.

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