Sometimes there comes a moment where many begin to wonder if what we have been doing the past few years is what we want to do in the long run. This thought flew through the mind of Atlanta rapper Grip as he saw his career on a steady path toward irrelevancy. His debut Porch laid the blueprint for the kind of artist Grip is, a strong storyteller. Unless you have bars or a specific form that aligns with a trend, the likelihood of breaking through is rare. And much to his chagrin, Grip was ready to call it quits until Eminem made the call and allowed him to be reborn – sort of speak. His debut with Shady Records, I Died For This, shows Grip’s growth as an artist, especially as a storyteller and creator.
Grip is unlike many Atlanta rappers, as he diverges off the path laid by recent history. Atlanta has always been rooted in bouncy overtures on the production, distinguishing itself from the hip-hop of other areas. As of recent, trap music has been on a consistent incline that most underground rappers have as much notoriety as your favorite YouTube rapper that remixes every popular song. And, unfortunately, this is the case as these rappers have a lot to say, unlike Migos. Another rapper from the area has shown to be a dynamic storyteller, Wara (formally Wara of the NBHD). His presence, along with underground Atlanta rapper Tate228 and Dungeon Family’s Big Rube, contribute to the bigger picture.
I Died For This?! is far from your typical debut, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC; it is about telling his story and upbringing. The only difference is the universal appeal that comes from the music. Grip’s debut takes us through his upbringing and everyday situations burdening him and his community. Grip’s creativity sounded limited in the past, with simple bounce production weighing his style down from growing. However, Eminem’s call has brought the crew needed to polish this project ten-fold as we listen to the unique concepts from Grip. Ranging from the monstrous hard-rap rock interlude with the band Dead Cassettes to the inflection of his delivery on “Gutter!” Grip has a sense of direction and tackles it from every direction at full force; unfortunately, Royce Da 5’9” doesn’t deliver with the same drive and focus as Grip and other rap features.
A more than proven rapper, Grip comes at this album with differentiating flows, rhythmic patterns, and production, personifying himself as a chameleon in rap. The production is sometimes bombastic or gritty or infected by smooth-jazz rap, and each time Grip never feels displaced. He isn’t one-note, focusing on making sure he is heard and not wasting his time getting blinded by excess and luxury. Ever since his debut, ‘17’s Porch, he has been on many Hip-Hop blog radars as he made a name with his intricate storytelling. Grip has had moments where he has shown a chameleon nature, but its potency on I Died For This creates some authentic jaw-dropping moments — especially the transition from “JDDTTINT!?” to “A Soldier’s Story” to “Walkthrough.”
“A Solider’s Story” is Grip’s straight autobiographical song. He speaks on his past, like mistakes made as an artist and growing up in Atlanta. The smooth-jazz boom-bap production lays a simple background frame that supports his delivery instead of being emphasized. It then transitions to a bombastic and bouncy production on “Walkthrough,” mirroring slightly similar aggression from the tone of “JDDTTINT!?” Within the crevices of Grips’ stellar flows and lean production are some features that catch my ear quickly. Having heard nothing of Dead Cassettes, who are on “JDDTTINT!?” they left an imprint that has me keen on discovering more of their work.
Eminem is the featured artist on “Walkthrough.” Similar to Big Rube on “Enem3,” it is a call back to the past. Big Rube delivers an articulate spoken word poem at the end of “Enem3,” defining one’s inner struggle with constant doubts about yourself. Eminem surprises the masses here, and unfortunately, kills Grip on his own song. Like The Game said, with gusto, on 2005’s “We Ain’t,” “Lo, get Dre on the phone quick/Tell him Em’ just killed me on my own shit.” Eminem does not care who you are, but he will support you and still murder you like he did Grip on “Walkthrough.” It has been some time since Eminem came on a song like a gold medal freestyle gymnast — filled past the brim in tricks. Eminem’s verse is humbling as he recounts his history of becoming a superstar as a way to pave a path for Grip to follow.
Mixed within the album are some forgettable songs, especially as it nears an end. After the monstrous “Glenwood Freestyle,” he hits the brake pedal softly as he rounds out the album with some kind of a modest bang. It bypasses you due to some less than interesting production. It phases through, eclipsing the intro and into the beautifully composed “And The Eulogy Read?!”
I Died For This took me by surprise. Grip improves upon his last work in 2019 and shows us that Eminem has found new talent to eventually take the reigns as the new star of Shady Records. If you’re a hip-hop fan, I highly recommend this album and Grip as he is going places.
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