Not to be confused with Rhode Island’s Gripp (or the Bay Area’s Grip Grand), GRIP is a young emcee from Atlanta who recently rose to prominence after nabbing Eminem for a guest feature on the song “Walkthrough!”. Em doesn’t spread his services about that freely, so if he co-signs an unknown entity such as GRIP, there must be a reason for it. I hadn’t realized GRIP was actually signed to Shady Records, which shows how out of touch I am with Eminem’s label. After the Griselda fiasco and previous artists having their buzz killed (Bobby Creekwater and Cashis spring to mind), I assumed Eminem had learned from Dre that to run a successful record label you need to sign talent and frustrate them.
Obviously, that’s not true, but it’s becoming synonymous with Shady. Alas, GRIP remains a strange signing for Em. I’ve always found it odd how distant the Detroit emcee is from his own city’s hip-hop scene given Detroit has continued to produce excellent rap music for the past decade. Clear Soul Forces, Apollo Brown, Guilty Simpson, Elzhi, Nolan the Ninja – the list goes on. Yet, Eminem, the world’s most successful rapper in history, doesn’t really acknowledge or support this hive of activity. Instead, he’s shown, or at least Shady Records has shown, an obsession with signing the next big thing in hip-hop, specifically from Atlanta. In 2003, it was Stat Quo. In 2005, it was Bobby Creekwater. Neither artist lived up to their potential and ultimately left the label to end up a curio in recent rap history. Signing Slaughterhouse and Griselda only to drop the ball was another dent in Shady Records’ legacy. Is it third time’s the charm for Atlanta’s GRIP?
Despite the co-sign from Marshall, GRIP’s album strikes little resemblance to previous Shady releases. You’ve got Eminem on the track “Walkthrough!” and Royce Da 5’9” on “Placebo”, yet the videos (which in 2022 count as singles?) opt to showcase GRIP and not his high-profile connections. It’s an admirable move yet it’s not surprising GRIP seems to be flying under the radar.
Following his 2019 project “Snubnose” which was a concept based around guns (specifically revolvers), this record uses death as its theme. It’s not as depressing as that sounds, but it’s certainly unconventional and the production has a morbid, overbearing gloominess. Frequent collaborator TU! is involved with assistance from more noteworthy names such as DJ Khalil and Beat Butcha.
Stylistically, it’s all over the place. DJ Khalil contributes to the thick bass of “Hands Up!”, itself throwing in some nods to Eminem’s own “I Just Don’t Give a Fuck”. “Momma Told Me!” fares better as it injects some life into the claustrophobic instrumental that just piles on the bass like spoonfuls of custard. The title track is drowning in trunk-rattling vibrations that’s more divisive, and dare I say it, more derivative for it.
“A Soldier’s Story?” shows glimpses of GRIP’s character and his feelings but these moments are few and far between. Similarly, “At What Cost?” is digestible and a refreshing break from the previous tracks. The common thread here is that the tracks with GRIP on his own capture him in a better light – he comes across as more honest, and willing to showcase his vocal range by interspersing singing (such as on “Patterns?”).
GRIP calls out other emcees for their poor beat selection on “Placebo” despite operating over largely forgettable beats himself. It even switches up for Royce’s verse, dispersing more organic drums for the Detroit wordsmith to navigate around. It’s a busy song that changes beats numerous times but none of them feel finished – or perhaps that’s why it’s called a placebo. The final track has a shouted hook that’s channeling Russel Crowe’s Gladiator character crying “Are you not entertained?” and it only adds to the questions raised throughout this album. Nearly all the song titles are questions. The album title is a question. A lot of these tracks feel questionable and I still ask myself why Eminem signed GRIP. The frustrating thing for the listener is that “I Died For This!?” doesn’t provide answers to any of this, so it just washes over you as you move on to the next album.
So what of the Eminem track? It’s one of Em’s better tracks in recent years, but it does suffer from his continued obsession with trying too hard to impress. A good Eminem track in 2021 is also a much lower standard than a good Eminem track from 2001 so make of that what you will. The listening experience has changed too, as you almost have to take a deep breath, squint intently and ask for silence as you concentrate, awaiting the next breathless flow or clever piece of wordplay. This is ultimately where Eminem’s recent material has faltered – it’s hard work.
GRIP doesn’t really put a foot wrong on “I Died For This!?” as far as his performance – it’s just a messy album that rarely showcases him correctly. The best tracks see him operating alone but the listener is not really any wiser on who or what GRIP is, with this theme of death failing to cut through the noise – literally on some songs. I often argue this generation of emcees suffers from undergoing personality bypasses, with no characters or memorable personalities operating in the mainstream. The twelve-year reign of J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake only highlights this. GRIP’s shown enough here (along with his “Snub Nose” record) that he has something, but time will tell if he hangs around on Shady. History tells us he won’t.