Ebro Darden, the famed co-host of hip-hop radio show Ebro in the Morning, posted the following caption on his Instagram last week:
“Best album you never heard of right here… I don’t even know who this is. Shit.”
The album Darden endorsed is Snubnose, the Human Re Sources-released, sophomore album by Grip, a newcomer in hip-hop by way of Atlanta, Georgia.
Jacob Moore, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pigeons and Planes, had a similar reaction to Grip’s music after coming across his 2017 debut album, Porch. Moore interviewed the nameless rapper in May 2018, dubbing him, “Atlanta’s Next Great Storyteller.” That’s not a title given out casually, but Moore, much like Ebro, heard an artist worth championing; someone who had a story they couldn’t help but share.
“Grip is just like you, figuring it out a day at a time,” he tells me from inside his East Atlanta home, trying to hone in on his identity. “Someone who feels that his experiences and point of view, when put on wax, can help others who go through, or will go through some of the same shit. For those who never have and never will experience those things I speak on, I give them the most vivid depiction they could ever imagine through music. Grip is an artist; Grip is a narrator.”
Both Porch and Snubnose showcase Grip as a narrator who turns slices-of-reality into fictional, detailed raps. “We grew up on stories,” the twenty-something lyricist says of his approach to songwriting. Grip goes on to cite OutKast’s “Da Art of Storytellin'” and Nas’ “I Gave You Power” as early influences. While classics provided a blueprint, life on the Eastside of Atlanta gave the imaginative rapper all the material he needed to tell the stories true to his and other’s experiences.
One experience Grip never forgot: finding his uncle’s gun. He was six years old. A fictional version of that discovery is reenacted to begin Snubnose. We hear a male voice, no older than a pre-teen, asking at the end of the intro, “Aye, yall niggas wanna see where my uncle keeps his gun?”
“That’s my little nephew,” Grip reveals. “But, I wanted the character to be a little bit older than I was. Old enough to be hanging out with his friends so it can end the way it ends.”
Not until “Open Arms,” the album’s outro, are listeners given the children’s inevitable ending. There’s ample foreshadowing on track two, “Snub Speaks,” when Grip, rapping from the perspective of Lil Snub, says, “Been labeled dangerous, better tell kids don’t play with us.” Still, it’s jarring to hear that final bang followed by the sound of a young man’s body collapsing. The noise isn’t novel; gunshots are a familiar texture in rap music, but rarely do they sound this visceral.
The stories of Snubnose aren’t linear. Each of the 13 tracks is cinematic, the kind of stand-alone vignettes that play out like mini-movies. On the introductory “He is…. I am,” Grip raps, “Randomly landed in the hands of a few loose cannons / Back when I was watching goof troops and eating fruit loops / You sprayed, at your target, but the strays ricocheted and struck a kid that used to shoot hoops / And as a kid myself, that was hard to digest, like, will I die next?” showing how, from a young age, gun violence existed outside his window and how that relationship evolved.
When the gospel-looped sample suddenly becomes a disturbing world of chaos, the perspective shifts with the production:
“Me, myself, I go by Trey Eight, keep me on your waist you gonna stay straight, if you pull me out in a crowded place, I bet all the fuck niggas make way, where I come from, well, I can’t say, my serial number filed down, it’s been like that for a while now, wear and tear show you I got high miles, Grip shoot him right between his eyebrows.”
“That was the first gun I saw,” Grip says in reference to the snub-nose as the album’s weapon of choice. “It’s also a revolver, and that cyclical mechanism is the cyclical nature of the album. I wanted to make a direct correlation between the gun and the cycles [of violence] that go on in the hood.” New problems don't inspire the songs on Snubnose, but circumstances that continue to revolve around men and women in America like a merry-go-round.
“How many niggas been to the club, some nigga get his ass beat, now they bustin’ in the parking lot?” Grip adds, discussing fights escalating into parking-lot shootings over scuffed tennis shoes. It’s a scenario he details conceptually on the first half of “Tek,” a tension-filled minute in the mind of a troubled young man who violently reacts to a minor incident because of pride and hostility, not knowing of the bullet-riddled aftermath his actions will produce.
By vocalizing the gun and the gun wielder’s viewpoint, Grip displays the duality and power dynamics at play when guns are involved. It’s the multiple perspectives that allow the album to expand and explore a variety of situations, all while leaving a cohesive message about gun violence.
The self-aware writing carefully covers tricky themes with nuance, and the production helps to paint pictures with sound. Imagine if the thoughtful, armed, and dangerous world of Nas’ “I Gave You Power” and the pulsing paranoia of Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.D city” became a full-length, 40-minute experience inside East Atlanta.
Atlanta’s cultural influence is inseparable from the album’s music and lyrics. “Snub Speaks” begins with Grip borrowing the famous, “Who’s that peeking in my window?” from Goodie Mob’s timeless single, “Cell Therapy.” On the Mick Jenkins-featured “Finessin’,” Grip makes a callback to T.I.’s notable feature on Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” with the line, “I’m an Eastside nigga, I’ll take yo cookies.” On the Trayvon Martin-inspired “226,” Dungeon Family legend Big Rube, a legacy voice in Atlanta’s history of hip-hop poets, delivers an unforgettable and poignant interlude. All these small touches and textures represent Grip’s concise vision for this project—a project that he shaped to feel as Atlanta as Donald Glover’s acclaimed FX series.
In a calculated move, Grip purposely avoids adding third verses on Snubnose. “Anything I put three verses on will be the least played song,” he says. “With this album, I don’t want anything to fall on deaf ears.” It’s impossible to predict how many ears will hear the album, but for those who do, Grip considered your listening experience. “I can rap, we can all rap, but for the greater good of the album, I have to do what’s best for a full project.”
Grip knows that, in the streaming era, playlists and viral challenges impact the visibility of an artist and the number of listeners that can find their art. The traditional album isn’t obsolete, but the value of a full-length experience has been affected by the change in attention-spans. Grip also knows albums provide a service. When executed correctly, they can capture a world that reflects a specific reality.
As Grip was crafting Snubnose, he read headlines daily about police brutality and mass shootings. The state of America added to the textures of anxiety, paranoia, and power that permeate the project. Outside his window, the stories changed, but never their outcomes. Even now, with Snubnose in the world, those cycles continue. Gun violence is all around us. In response to reality, Grip points the revolver in your face. Now, share it.
By Yoh, aka Yohubnose, aka @Yoh31