In 2018, we dubbed the fledgling rapper GRIP “Atlanta’s Next Great Storyteller.” This was a bold claim—in retrospect, maybe a little premature—based on the strength of his 2017 project Porch, a concept album written from three perspectives and packed with dense lyricism, athletic flows, a meticulously arranged spectrum of moods, and the immediate sense that he’d poured his heart and soul into the music.

From the outside, it looked like GRIP’s years of unwavering dedication to his craft were paying off—he was winning over diehard fans and word was spreading in the industry. The streaming numbers weren’t huge, but major labels were reaching out, and opportunities were dangling above him. It seemed like a big break was imminent. 

But behind the scenes, the father of two was still trying to make ends meet. While A&Rs were calling and critics were crowning him one of rap’s great hopes, GRIP was driving Uber for extra income. And while we were spotlighting him as one of the next storytellers of his generation, he was dealing with his car getting booted in his own driveway. It seemed like he was living in two worlds at once. “Something gotta happen bro,” he texted in May of 2018. “I got way too much on my fuckin’ plate. I’m out here going broke for this dream man.”

By that point, GRIP had already been releasing music for years. He and his manager Tigg—a friend he’s known since high school when he was working at a Kroger grocery store—were excited about major label offers and industry heavyweights reaching out, but they knew the drill. By then, they’d watched a generation of rappers get eaten up by the major label system, and knew GRIP’s ambitious music might not be what a label ends up investing in long term. So, despite the temptation to jump at the first opportunities that came their way, the two stood their ground, rejected the easy pay days, and focused on building something that would last.

Over the next years, GRIP kept his head down, remained independent, and dropped new music consistently. In 2019 he shared Snubnose, another heavy concept album featuring some of his best work yet. Progress was being made and more doors were cracking open, but his budding rap career was still paired with setbacks and complications. Plus, he would soon encounter more roadblocks. Like a global pandemic that shut down the entire music industry, for example.

GRIP stayed productive during quarantine, dropping a series of singles and EPs—all uniformly great—but after a merciless 2020, he was reaching a breaking point. He had life-changing label offers fall through at the last second, he had lost the opportunity to go on tour with Brent Faiyaz due to COVID, and as he put it, “It feels like I get slighted left and right.” In the middle of the pandemic, still independent, still hungry, still feeling snubbed by an unforgiving music industry, GRIP was ready to give up.

And then Eminem called.

“We all got excited about GRIP after we heard Snubnose,” Eminem explains. “It was really refreshing to hear a new artist so focused on making a conceptual project and it caught my attention.”

While most labels operating in 2021 make decisions rooted in streaming numbers and social media followings, Eminem was looking for something else. “It’s definitely great when artists we sign connect with a larger audience, and 50 [Cent] is a perfect example of that,” Em says. “Obviously we want anyone who signs with Shady to succeed. But first and foremost we’ve always focused on the raw talent and ability of the artist as an MC. We’ve always been pretty clear on that being the main thing we look for: high level fundamental skills and mechanics are definitely the priority.”

“We’ve always focused on the raw talent and ability of the artist as an MC. We’ve always been pretty clear on that being the main thing we look for: high level fundamental skills and mechanics are definitely the priority.” – Eminem

The Eminem co-sign goes a long way, as evidenced by the mass migration of Shady fans toward GRIP’s movement, but it started with the mutual respect between both parties. “It’s really important in a creative collaboration for there to be that personal connection for it to succeed,” says Em. “Shady is a boutique label and we don’t sign a lot of artists, so we have a chance to get involved at a deeper level with the ones we do. And I think that goes both ways. I like to be motivated by the artists we sign and I want to feel pushed by their creativity as well.”

As far as what’s next, Eminem is leaving the creative work to GRIP. “The people we sign have a point of view and vibe that made us want to work with them in the first place,” he says. “Part of our job is to help them get out to a bigger audience but also I don’t like to insert myself where I’m not needed. I am looking to find where and how I can get involved that adds to or builds on what the artist is already doing.”

GRIP will make his Shady Records debut with the release of his album I Died For This!? on Friday, August 27. From the shady label dealings to the Shady Records deal that followed, the details of GRIP’s story are all laid out on the project. They are especially vivid on track eight, “A Soldier’s Story?” 

“Is this really what I want? Am I still in love with this game? / Tigg called like, “N***a Eminem just said your shit was flames / Then me and Em hopped on call and it all seemed fittin’ / Just a couple days from quittin’ / And the rest is unwritten.”

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