When I meet GrandeMarshall on the streets of Midtown Manhattan after the release of his debut mixtape, 800, he’s noticeably lost—a Philly kid in the big city, pumping himself up for his first big day of press. The smiley, wiry 19-year-old is eager to talk about his music, but his first priority is to procure some Swisher Sweets. Making our way to a rooftop to partake in said Sweets, he seems equally interested in snapping cell phone pics of the skyline as he is chatting about his shockingly mature, 14-track body of work.
Between puffs, Marshall is quick to acknowledge how important Meek Mill has been to the reemergence of Philadelphia rap. But from 800 opener “Dearly Beloved,” which slows from an upbeat head-nodder to a syrupy lullaby, it becomes clear that he’s cut from a different cloth. The high-energy, Philly yell, popularized by Freeway and perfected by Meek using volume and pitch to stand out above their deeper-voiced counterparts, is nowhere to be found on the tape. Marshall is mastering a slower, calmer delivery, better-suited to 808-heavy Houston screw production than Tri-State street anthems. While his music sounds different from that of A$AP Rocky’s New York crew, he shares their love for blunted beats. As Marshall would tell you, he’s part of a new movement of artists—like his friends Asaad, The Great Outdoors and Walt Fraze—who take pride in flipping the city’s aggressive reputation on its head. “We don’t make the same kind of music,” he says, “but we make it with the intention of it taking us, and the whole scene, in that direction.”
Marshall shares this information with pride in his do-it-yourself ethos. “The day 800 was supposed to be done and released, my homie was still mastering it on the Megabus to Pittsburgh, and then sending it to my other homie who was in Toronto, and it was taking forever to Dropbox,” he remembers, describing a process that more closely resembles a last-minute school project than a production for the masses. “I wanted to have this out at 4PM, but once it was like, six, I was like, I don’t care anymore—just put it on the internet. I’m going out. It’s my brother’s birthday. Whatever happens happens.” When Marshall got home that night, it did happen, but the “it” completely exceeded his expectations. Seeing his texts and email and Twitter feed flooded with congratulatory messages from friends and strangers alike, he knew he had something amazing on his hands.
Of course, Marshall wasn’t exactly surprised. Borrowing lyrics from Andre 3000’s “I Can’t Wait” isn’t something just anyone can pull off, but he does it with aplomb on 800 track “Ellie Fox.” And his discomfort with being compared to other artists in the press, on the grounds that it’s “limiting,” shows that Marshall believes in his talent. “I didn’t know anybody from these blogs and these sites until it was time to release 800,” he says. “Just me and my people, in the studio all day, making music with some cheap-ass Black & Milds and one-dollar Brisks.” He didn’t have to leave home to get noticed; he did it from Philly, with his friends, and it worked.