Berkeley rapper Marty Grimes has toured the country as an opener for his childhood friend, platinum-selling recording artist G-Eazy. And if you check Grimes' Instagram — where he has over 48 thousand followers — you'll see pictures of him rubbing shoulders with Waka Flocka Flame at Lollapalooza in Chicago and rocking crowds at huge stadiums.
But even though Grimes has built a national fan base from touring, he hasn't played many Bay Area shows and has only begun to cultivate a local following. At home in Berkeley, he's a regular dude whose day-to-day life is far humbler than the glamorous one he shares online.
Grimes is determined to step out of the role of show opener and prove that he's more than G-Eazy's best friend. Over the past several months, he's released a steady stream of singles, including collaborations with prominent locals such as Nef the Pharaoh and Rexx Life Raj. And on August 15, he'll perform at The New Parish in Downtown Oakland for his first headlining show, One Hell of a Night, the first stop of a West Coast tour he's currently putting together.
Grimes has evolved since his debut release, Through the Smoke, a project that emulated the bass-heavy knock of Bay Area rap staples but felt somewhat derivative as a result. Hyphy-influenced tracks, such as "Bang Bang" featuring G-Eazy, fell short of the passion and energy of Grimes' live shows. But on his latest album, 2015's Nobody Said It Was Easy, Grimes expanded his range both lyrically and musically, while staying true to his Bay roots. He revealed more of himself on tracks such as "The Famm," a nostalgic song with candid lyrics about his mother's teen pregnancy and reuniting with best-friend, G-Eazy. This more vulnerable approach seems to have resonated with fans. The track has over ten million listens on SoundCloud.
Grimes' latest single, "Animal," a Drew Banga-produced track featuring YMTK and Rexx Life Raj, is a pulsating anthem with twerk-worthy bass and enough energy to get the litty committee (a term Grimes coined with his DJ, Daghe Digital) to rage all summer. "I just started being me more," said Grimes in a recent FaceTime interview from his hotel room in New York. He was there on a day-long break from tour to support G-Eazy's performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. "I stopped listening to everyone's opinion of who I should be and what I should do, and started creating what I wanted to make and not giving a fuck."
Though Grimes and G-Eazy have a close relationship, he said it can be "annoying as shit" when people call him the next G-Eazy — though he understands that they mean it as a compliment. "Fans that find me through G as his best friend often compare me to him immediately, instead of seeing me as my own artist," he said. "[The] majority don't know we been rapping the same amount of time."
However, Grimes is not remiss to acknowledge that his friendship has offered him a platform. Through touring with G-Eazy, he's absorbed knowledge about the business side of music and has played many roles on tour, including manager and driver.
While on the road, Grimes lives the quintessential rapper lifestyle, networking with celebs backstage and at parties. Yet, when he's home, he prefers a quieter life and spends much of his time with loved ones. As a teenager, he worked to help his grandmother pay bills, and he takes pride in his role as a mentor to his five younger brothers. "Family is everything to me," he said. "Everything I do is for them, especially my brothers. I'm like a father to them. I do my best to set the right example."
When he's not on the road, he still picks up shifts at Gioia Pizzeria in North Berkeley, a neighborhood eatery he's been working at since he was a teen. "I just love pizza. I feel like that place is my family," he said. In fact, Grimes is so candid about his pizzeria profession that the pizza slice has become a sort of logo for him.
Grimes' show at The New Parish, his first big local gig, sees him bridging the gap between the two somewhat contrasting sides of his life: The regular Berkeley kid and the jet-setting rapper. And without a major label backing his upcoming tour, he's striving to show fans that he has the drive to stand on his own as an artist.
"It takes hard work, dedication, and creative, honest ways of showcasing my style and love for my art," he said.