The real-life Shy Glizzy is calmer than you’d expect from his videos. The 20-year-old rapper from southeast DC is a restless ball of aggression on YouTube, his scrappy sideburns spilling out of crudely fashioned headwraps as he croaks threats about shooting his foes’ grandmothers in their “titties”— If that bitch ain’t dead already, that is. In person, he’s a slight frame under a knit beanie cap, eyes buried in the smartphone glow of his Twitter feed as he waits for his food at Next Door, the upscale annex to greasy spoon DC institution Ben’s Chili Bowl. He’s soft spoken, but strike the right nerve conversationally, and his excitement spikes—not to the heights of the rasping madman in his videos, but to a more thoughtful end. “I love learning, I love education period,” he says, rattling off his favorite subjects: religion, the mafia and recent readings, like Jay-Z’s Decoded. This isn’t exactly the line of conversation you’d expect from a self-proclaimed grandma shooter, but it shares a point of origin with his rap career. After getting busted for what he describes as “a robbery” at age 16, Glizzy was sentenced to 14 months in a juvenile detention center. It was there that he picked up books and pens. “I was just bored one day and I started writing,” he says. “I was trying to write a book, but it ended up being a song.”
Though long eclipsed by native Go-Go music, DC’s rap scene is still embryonic enough that even someone Glizzy’s age could miss it. Growing up in the Go-Go world didn’t just leave him with a steep learning curve in rapping, but also without much in the way of professional infrastructure. “Southside,” which features DC’s only national star, Wale, has garnered some local radio burn, but Glizzy’s rise has otherwise been disconnected from traditional media outlets. Instead, his earliest audience boost came from one of the oldest grassroots publicity moves in the game: the diss track. He’s fallen or jumped into a series of feuds over the past year, most notably with Chief Keef. Spawned from a Twitter feud, the brash “3 Milli” finds Glizzy airing out the Chicago icon over some aggressive-sounding Keef instrumentals. The song includes the aforementioned grandma threat, and has racked up roughly a million and a half plays since its release in May.
But time moves fast for a YouTube star, and today, “3 Milli” seems like ancient history on the Glizzy timeline. He’s already two tapes past the diss, and rapidly maturing. On Law and Fxck Rap, his voice is still nasal enough to sound like a thinned-out Lil Boosie, but the flows have tightened to a sing-song scatter. The writing has improved too; he’s refined his sense of humor and can echo the bluntness of 2 Chainz at times, but he’s also embraced a more introspective side of himself, mining the depths of poverty and the murder of his father, who he never knew. In the span of four bars on Law’s “I Come From Nothing,” he blindly declares a death wish, rescinds it in the name of one day becoming a father, then berates the imaginary baby’s hypothetical mother for wanting to burden their son with the name Devante. It’s this balancing act between smirk and seriousness, aggression and thoughtfulness, that have made him a hometown star. He’s something of a 50 Cent-like figure to the District’s latest lost youth, a heel and a hero. “It’s authentic, genuine, people respect it,” he explains of his music. “Even if I don’t ever blow, Imma always be remembered here.”