Marr Grey and I finally connect over Facetime five days into his first tour. For someone that comes from humble beginnings—driving city to city to wait outside venues to meet his favourite artists, for the chance to rap to them—he has certainly come a long way. “Where I'm from its like, there's not a lot of artists that make it out or are considered ‘on’ where I’m from. So I was like we have to go to Philly or DC,” The Baltimore, Maryland native says. “So I started just building a good rapport with Meek Mill because I would just see him and stand outside his shows and when he would come out I would rap to him. I maybe rapped to him 15 times.”
This ritual continued and forged his eventual breakthrough in the music scene. However, his musical roots run deep, growing up in a home that loved Gospel music. “My dad is really into music… he does quartet gospel back home. K-Ci and Jojo are also from Baltimore as well and he would play guitar for them and I would be around them sometimes at their rehearsal,” the 22-year-old explains. “I was always influenced in music by my family.” Born into a deeply religious home, as a hip-hop artist, his music arises as the antithesis to traditional gospel worship. “I couldn’t listen to like, ‘worldly music’. That’s what they called it at the time. I couldn’t listen to hip-hop and R&B it only had to be gospel,” He says. However, it was his older brother, who eventually introduced him to rap music.
In his new single “Truth,” a melancholic Marr Grey confronts religion as well as he inner demons, spilling out the truths of his career and revealing the privateness of his personality. “Being raised in the city that I’m from you’re taught to always be on the defense because depending on the situation if you get caught slipping that could cost you your life and in Baltimore,” he says. “A lot of the times [people] will target [those] who are on top and on their way out so they can drop back down to where they are.” In “Truth” Marr Grey sings, “There’s beauty in keeping things private, telling everybody it’s going to happen if it don’t, I ain’t trying to look like a liar, you ain’t about to get my words tied up.” When I ask what those words mean to him, he replies, “As a man in this world all you have is your word, so if you’re always telling people something is about to happen for you and it never happens your word won’t hold any more weight. I’m just cautious about who I keep in my circle and who I tell my business to.”
NOISEY: In “Truth,” you really delve into references that have shaped your rap career thus far—sleeping in cars waiting to see artists, and getting the chance to rap to Drake. How did those moments impact you?
Yeah, I must've rapped to Drake like six different times when I was younger because he would be in Philly all the time. He and Meek Mill did a song called “Amen” and they were shooting a video for it on the “Rocky Steps.” So I get out of the car and Meek and Drake are like all the way at the top of the steps. So I gave him my CD and he asked if I wanted to rap for him which is so crazy because I’m used to everybody asking whether I could rap for them. So we're like walking up the steps and I’m rapping and like a crowd circled around, he was hyping me up. He [said], “Yo you wanna know what I was doing at 15?” And I was like, “What?” And he was like, “Not that.” I’ll never forget that.
I definitely wasn’t doing that at 15 either. Weren’t you nervous?
I was kind of nervous but I wanted to be heard so bad that it wasn’t even about me being nervous it was just like bro I wanna be heard. It wasn’t even on my mind. I did that with a lot of artists, like Big Sean, Meek Mill and then as I said, Drake.
That wasn’t your last run-in with Drake, was it? At one point people were trying to figure out what this new Drake track was, and they later discovered it was yours. Talk about how that happened.
I saw him walking out of the Ritz Carlton in Philly, randomly. I gave him my CD again and he went in his Suburban and he’s sitting in the back playing it. It was nothing like what I’m making now but he showed love back then. Some time passed and [a friend and I] went to Houston for Drake appreciation weekend and we linked up with him, played basketball. Then they wanted to go for a drive to some school and I got into the car and they told me to play [Safe House]. Drake was like “Who’s this? Who’s this? What song is this?”
I woke up the next morning and the song is all over all these blogs. And everybody is saying its Drake’s song. And I didn’t really care I was just hyped that my song was being played. That got a lot of attention for me with everybody wondering what the song was. Then after [producer] 40 flew me out to Toronto and we had a meeting. The song “Truth” is kind of like where the story continues after the “Safe House” situation.
In “Truth” you rap a verse about “Safe House” and people always asking you when it’s going to come out. Do you plan on ever releasing it and, if not, why?
When I was making that song there was so much on my mind and I wanted to just let it all out. After I released the song “Safe House” I would see comments in my DM of people being like, “Bro don’t miss your opportunity, don’t miss your wave. Put the song out, capitalize on this moment.” And I always wanted to let myself know that I’m not going to chase any moment, I’m not gonna chase any opportunity. I’m gonna make myself the opportunity, I’m gonna make myself the moment. So [I decided] to put every song out but that one. And I still haven't put it out yet.
What are you waiting for?
I just wanted to see for myself if I can still make my career happen, still get to where I want to get to without putting that song out until I'm ready. So that’s why I haven't released it yet.
That’s totally fair. It seems like you’re most concerned with staying true to yourself. What inspires you the most as an artist?
My inspiration comes from not only trying to be the best but whatever is going on around me. I'm anxious to get to the studio and talk about it. I remember growing up my mom would get off work at 11 PM. And I didn’t have a car at the time, but I could use hers when she’d get back home. And it was usually night time and I was probably going to a girls house and I’d listen to other people’s music to fit the mood and the feeling of me driving at night. So I’m like, “Why don’t I make my own music for this period of time?” So that’s when I came up with the 'nightrider' sound. My music is to get in the car at night time and drive to a girls house.
It’s funny you say that because the first song I ever heard from you was “Say Something” and it came out when I had just gotten to LA. I remember replaying that song over and over.[Laughs] No way! That makes me so happy you don’t even know.
Andrea Gambardella is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.