Tee Grizzley – Chapters of the Trenches (Review)

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While Tee Grizzley burst into the mainstream with 2018’s Activated, he has seemingly been surpassed in recent years by other members of Detroit trap scene. Starting out, Grizz made a name for himself with such an approachable, mainstream adaptation of the city’s signature funk and speed, as well as with big features. Some might call it watered down, but he really paved the way for the likes of 42 Dugg and Babyface Ray to run hiphop today; and that’s not to say Grizzley was never talented in his own right. He reemerges in 2022 to put on a lyrical masterclass and once again reinvent Detroit trap with Chapters of the Trenches.

Concept albums in trap, let alone such thoughtful lyricism in the young Detroit scene, are relatively rare. Yet Tee Grizzley brings a truly unique spin to it by making each song a self contained, in depth street tale; even denying himself any potential for a hit, spitting for 40 minutes straight without so much as a hook. From partners in crime turning on each other for a bag, to contrasting instances of love in the hood, to a family turned opioid empire, Grizz tells the full story of his city through extreme, yet widely relevant instances of crime and prevailing spirit.

Can spit it ’cause I lived itChapters of the Trenches

Grizzley might have shown capable lyricism and emotion in the past (i.e., the iconic “First Day Out”), but Chapters of the Trenches is impressive by any artist’s standards. The stories he tells, while relatively grounded and straightforward, are woven with legitimate tension and depth. Each bar reveals a new layer of characterization or twist that leaves the listener on the edge of their seat, often ending with a thought provokingly bleak revelation (“Twan got up, them n—-s embraced each other, Twan put the metal to his head and he busted”). In some cases, love wins out; but all too realistically, there is rarely a happy ending. It’s quite dramatic and each song could warrant a full screenplay of its own, with Grizz justifiably releasing quite a few accompanying visuals.

While Chapters of the Trenches might place lyrics first, there are some musical factors that break up the constant allegory. Much of the production is handled by Helluva, who has recently been earned some acknowledgement as a Detroit legend, having pioneered its modern sound since Doughboyz Cashout days. As such, the beats range from epic trap bangers to more subdued and soulful, fitting the full range of emotion Grizzley raps with.

“Seen So Much” is an almost Just Blaze worthy cascade of homey keys and electric riffs, inspiring Grizzley to reminisce on the many tragic, humbling sights of the can and how invigorating it is to get out. Other small touches such as the occasional melodic bridge (see “Jay & Twan 2”), leave something more memorable and evocative among it all.

Loosely leading into “Seen So Much” is the “Ms. Evans” chapter, a jarringly playful, yet tragically believable story of a teacher’s relationship with a student. While the storytelling and music are solid as ever, statutory rape doesn’t hold up well for many relistens.

Chapters of the Trenches is not a gimmick or half hearted attempt at lyrical exercise; rather, it’s a testament to the capabilities of hiphop as a medium for sharing experiences and pathos. It raises the bar for Detroit trap, demanding not just a hot single, but a consequential and complete artistic display. Closing it out with the voice of his man Baby Grizz, Tee Grizzley proves the genre is a valuable platform for the voiceless to trade war stories and make it out.

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