A talented, concrete surfing emcee from Ewing is taking the area’s hip hop scene by storm.
On one recent Tuesday night — the official night for open jams at bars in this area — Grizzie Ray is at Championship Bar on Chambers Street in Trenton, and the stage is set.
The funky stage lights beam down, casting a purple shadow on the rotating band. There are no cover songs allowed, so the jam night drummer is improvising a beat. The bassist and guitarist sync up their rhythm, and someone else is tapping electric piano keys.
They’ve just settled into a spontaneously composed hard edge funk tune when Grizzie, a young man from Ewing, grabs the microphone.
Grizzie Ray, born Gregory Peterson, first began rapping at age 15 while living in Atlanta. He still calls it, “down South.”
This was between 2005 and 2010 during the Outkast days. His freestyle skills are impressive, and he works the stage like a seasoned pro.
He’s sure of himself, and for his first time on this stage seems to embrace the Champs jam night concept: “let’s get weird.” In an interview after the performance, Peterson talks about the times when, although he was young, hip hop was still real.
“Then, hip hop culture was turning into rap. Hip hop stands for ‘Higher Infinite Power Healing Our People’ according to Professor Griff (of Public Enemy). Now its about degradation and money rather than having goals and morals,” he says. “Rappers sagging their pants and murdering people, that’s not healing us. It’s turning us against each other. Nowadays, everything is about the same thing,” he says.
Peterson, who recently turned 23, grew up here for 11 years before moving to Atlanta for five. He’s been back for several years now. He attended Ewing High School and lives across the railroad tracks on the Ewing side of Stuyvesant Avenue.
It’s just behind the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and close to the newly repaved Lower Ferry Road. Getting around the area has to be more fun now. He goes everywhere on his super sleek new skateboard.
“Its one of the very fastest skateboards of all time,” he says. “It’s called a Penny board. It’s a board with wings. I call myself a concrete surfer. Actually, it’s ‘retro-suburban anti-gravity concrete surfer,’” he says.
Peterson was a volunteer for the Trenton Downtown Association during the Levitt AMP Music Series this past summer. He says that it takes eight minutes tops to ride from his neighborhood to Mill Hill Park where the concert series was held.
“It feels that fast. I’ve had it for just a couple of months. I cement surf. Its a means of transportation. I don’t do it just to do it. People are like, ‘do a trick!’ They don’t know it’s not that serious. I’m just a Penny boarder,” he says.
When he’s not freestyling at Trenton area open mic nights, like at Champs or the regular Saturday afternoon open mic at Starbucks on Front Street, he’s a game tech at Colonial Lanes on Route 1 in Lawrence.
‘I picture myself sitting at a table at Comic Con telling my story.’
He speaks about being well-rounded and how difficult it can be to remain a “good guy” when faced with conflict. That’s when the subject of his rap name and his alter ego, Peter Darkerr (a play on Peter Parker of Spiderman fame), comes up.
“Grizzie Ray came from down South when I got into rapping,” he says. “My favorite rapper back then was Drizzie (Drake). My favorite Atlanta rapper was B.O.B. whose full name is Bobby Ray, so I put mine together as a tribute to both of them.
“Peter Darkerr is Grizzie Ray’s alter ego. A supervisor named Priscilla that I worked with at a restaurant at Mercer Mall named me that,” he says.
As he describes the way he came up with the name, he shares how his passion for comic books and other forces in his life that spark his imagination help him deal with hardships and slide as easily past negativity as he does with his penny board on the road.
“Part of the discipline for Peter Darkerr is the same as Peter Parker. This guy is heroic, amazing, awkward, humble, very talented, a really good guy. But if everyone knew that about him, imagine how many enemies he’d have,” he says.
“This alter ego is something not too many people know about. My stage name is Grizzie Ray. Peter Darkerr is the extreme side of Grizzie. The ultimate creator. To know Peter Darkerr, you’ve got to know Grizzie Ray first. I never liked the name Greg. It’s such a ‘Greg-ular’ name,” he says.
He doesn’t want for confidence. He’s got a vision and a plan and doesn’t hesitate to lay it out when asked.
His planned album, when it’s released, will be titled, The Awkward Adventures of a Kid Called Grizzie Ray. He’s created an animated character based on himself that accompanies the music.
Mewanhile, he may not have a favorite skateboarder, yet he certainly has favorite emcees. “My top five are Eminem, Tupac, Logic, J. Cole and…Grizzie Ray,” he says.
In October, Peterson performed at a book fair at The Orchid House, the arts collective on East Hanover Street in Trenton this month. He worked along side Daniel Babij, 41, an emcee, beat producer and DJ from Hamilton who also frequents the Tuesday night open jam at Champs and goes by the name DJ Alien.
“Dan has the same personality as me, we see things the same way. It’s always best whenever you’re doing business with someone that its someone who understands you and that you feel comfortable with, he says.”
Babij says he can imagine a career for Peterson based not on money and status, but on great lyrics and creativity. Those latter qualities seem to prevail here in this area, as the big money “Hollywood” mentality is frowned upon. It’s a close knit creative community here and artists tend to lean on each other and lift each other up.
“I like Grizzie. He’s creative. He writes. Lyrically, he has substance,” Babij says. “He’s talking about the things happening in the world. He’s got good energy. He’s outrageous at times and funny. New school gets with that old school style with him.”
Babij goes on to talk about the nature of party music in hip hop. “Back in the day we also had party songs, but we had socially conscious music too,” he says. “Now it seems that’s all there is. We can party, but part of being an artist is also talking about what’s going on in the world.”
Babij wants Paterson to push some productive ideas forward, and to continue to market his brand, with his help.
They’ll plan to create a Band Camp site for Grizzie Ray, and get a few EPs recorded.
“I see the evolution of Grizzie Ray,” Babij says. “I see how he can put things in motion and how he works that out, being involved in the hip hop community with its DIY nature. I see more shows at Champs and at Mill Hill Basement, and learning how to monetize his work and booking him for more events and even touring out of state to build his experience. I especially like artists like Grizzie Ray because there’s more there than just party music. He talks about real life.”
When Peterson speaks about the future, he’s both collaborative and resolute. He wears a somber silver dog tag with his name, Grizzie Ray, on it and Converse all-stars with playful checkered laces, the perfect combination of his humility and his sense of fun.
“I picture myself sitting at a table at Comic Con telling my story,” he says. “If anything, I want Dan to be my manager and producer and partner in crime. And when they find my body somewhere — if I get kidnapped by the illuminati,” he says with a chuckle, “they’ll know I didn’t sell my soul. They’ll know I was a soldier ’til the end.”