In the age of Soundcloud rappers, an artist like Tee Grizzley stands out. He is technically more capable than most of the artists that would be considered his peers. Grizzley isn’t insanely lyrical, but he more than makes up for it with his lyrics about his hardships and street life with a certain finesse that is comparable to a Chief Keef or Kendrick Lamar. The fans got the first taste of Grizzley’s rapping prowess with his hit song “First Day Out”, which was released in 2016. With the help of a viral clip from Lebron James, it was only a matter of time before Grizzley got his shot at the big leagues.
Unfortunately, despite Grizzley’s undeniable technical and storytelling capabilities, he fails to make an indelible first impression on his commercial debut, Activated. The album is eighteen tracks with the lot of them feeling like a slog to get through. Along with that, the album is mired full of lackluster lyrics and production that feels overproduced and melodramatic. There are moments of substance on Activated though, but they are sprinkled in amongst the mediocre ones.
The sad thing is that I expected a little bit more from Activated considering how much I enjoyed Tee Grizzley mixtape My Moment from last year. The tape catered to Grizzley’s storytelling ability and technical prowess by giving him the chance to flow on his own without features. On top of that, the album had all of the fat cut out, leaving the filler tracks on the cutting room floor which focuses the album into thirteen solid songs. Not all of these were perfect, you got a sense of who Tee Grizzley was and what his personality was like.
Conversely, this album feels like an attempt from the studio to give you a sense of what Tee Grizzley is like. Activated feels overly tinkered with to the point where it feels sterile and sucks the life out of the tracks where Grizzley is delivering hardened bars about his past. Sure, the beats sound good, but it ultimately takes away from the message. The production on the album feels expensive, too expensive in fact. ends up making the album feel boring as well. When you add that that to the fact that album is bloated with eighteen tracks that span to an hour, tediousness starts to set in.
The features on the album are a mixed bag. While some features serve their purpose well enough, some feel like they were added purely as an attempt to crossover into radio. The two songs that feature Chris Brown for instance, “Set the Record Straight” and “F*ck It Off”, are the most egregious attempts at this. This ends up with the features feeling completely out of place and awkward or completely wasted. The aforementioned “Set the Record Straight” is a prime example of the former. Chris Brown handles the chorus which is so lifeless and forgettable. If you programmed an AI to create a chorus for a song, it would probably come up with something like this. At least “F*ck it Off” fares a little bit better, with Tee Grizzley and Chris Brown talking about their come up and subsequent successes. It still ends up being mostly forgettable though.
While I’m not a stickler for lyrics, it’s worth noting that lyrics on Activated range from superb to downright hilarious. One moment you’ll hear a line that’s discussing how his mindset was during his time in prison and how difficult life was, then immediately will mention how he’s (“..in love with his girl’s ass-cheeks. Not kidding.). It’s admittedly pretty funny when this happens and I’m not saying that album has to be all motivational and introspection, but it leaves the record feeling aimless most of the time without a clear objective.
The album shines when Grizzley ditches the attempts at commerciality and embraces the qualities that make him stand out. One of the main elements that separates Grizzley from his contemporaries is the ability to tell an engaging and detailed story about his past. For every song like “Set the Record Straight”, you get excellent tracks like “I Remember” and “Keys to the Streets.” The former is easily my favorite as Grizzley raps about the struggles of his and subsequent come up. It’s a deeply personal track that runs the topical gambit from Grizzley having to share clothes with one of his friends to those same friends walking out on him during his time of need. The track also is boosted with a feature from YFN Lucci that is downright excellent.
It’s in these moments that Grizzley reinforces his true potential as an emcee who has the ability to look inward and reveal to us the path that led him to the top. It’s very reminiscent of a Kendrick Lamar. There’s a lot of heart on these tracks and when Grizzley taps into that, he’s prone to making great songs.
Of course, not every song has to be introspective, however. Sometimes you just want to hear a song that you can turn up to and in that regard Activated somewhat delivers. The tracks with Lil Pump and Lil Yachty, “Jetski Grizzley” and “Light” are pretty solid with production that lends to each artist respectively. The track with Moneybagg Yo is also pretty decent as well.
While there are some highlights on Activated, they are buried underneath a project that suffers from being average. The attempts at trying to go commercial hinder the album from ultimately being something great, which is unfortunate because I still believe that Tee Grizzley is a capable artist with a lot to say. If steered in the right direction, he could make an album that could be a game changer. We’ll have to see, but I’m more excited for the future prospects rather than the product we were just given. Time will tell if he is able to capitalize on his full potential.