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Veeze is just like us — except he's one of the best rappers alive

Rapping in a deceptively versatile mutter-croak, Veeze ekes out dense, snake-like verses that are as captionable and clever as they are transparent about his vices.
Jimmy Whisperz
Rapping in a deceptively versatile mutter-croak, Veeze ekes out dense, snake-like verses that are as captionable and clever as they are transparent about his vices.

When I enter the Manhattan studio where I'm scheduled to meet Veeze, he's working, looking over his producer Tye Beats' shoulder as he chops up a sample of "EARFQUAKE" by Tyler, The Creator. Tye deftly stitches the neck-breaking drums that have become the trademark of Michigan rap to the pattern. Swiveling in an office chair, Veeze seems exhausted, maybe slightly annoyed by the presence of another journalist deep in a rare press run. (He hates doing interviews.) Right here, facing a rack of screens and speakers, is the mode in which the Detroit rapper seems most comfortable — a studio rat through-and-through; studious, skilled and focused.

But when Veeze refocuses his attention toward me, his ridiculous personality immediately jumps out. He cracks jokes constantly — about his idol-turned-mentor Future, about struggling to censor himself in a Pistons halftime performance, about his vision for his own Jimmy Fallon-esque late-night show, about rappers in the Far East biting the Michigan sound. He practically fanboys talking about a random studio session with one of his favorite artists, Playboi Carti, who praised his music and played him the scrapped deluxe edition of Whole Lotta Red.

Somehow Veeze is one of the best rappers and one of us, a frank, relatable and often hilarious presence online, whether or not it's intentional. Even with his music, he'llscream along to a snippet he's premiering on IG Live as though he can't believe he came up with it. This balance between the cool and the personable, effortless bars and Twitter memes, has vaulted Veeze into the vanguard of Michigan's rap scene. Like every great before him, he's developed a style that is utterly his own. Rapping in a deceptively versatile mutter-croak, Veeze ekes out dense, snake-like verses that are as captionable and clever as they are transparent about his vices: "The drank be calling me the most when I feel like quitting." (I've seen some first-listeners struggle to get into Veeze; I'll just say that when you get it, you get it.)

Sometimes he'll bring his voice a hair's breadth from your ears like he's doing ASMR. On the sinister 2022 single, "Close Friends," his murmurs froth as they're sent through sludgy Auto-Tune. You can do the dot-connecting — the stoicism of Detroit peer Babyface Ray, the slurred stylings of Future and Gucci and Young Nudy, the baby voice of Carti, the whimsy of Chief Keef — but it's almost a disservice to the expansive world that Veeze has constructed with his voice.

As one of a few artists in the insular Michigan scene that has entered the wider rap ecosystem, Veeze seemed poised to take the proverbial next step. Speaking to him, it's obvious he's ready. He's studied rappers past and present on a technical level, as well as how they've navigated the shifting tides of culture and cool. He brings up his collaborator, Chicago rapper LUCKI, as a example of someone who he noticed recently became the "cool" thing to rep, despite putting in work for over a decade.

For years, Veeze's lore was missing a crucial component: an album. Since his urgent 2020 hit, "Law N Order," (which, of course, samples the theme from the long-running cop procedural) the rapper has teased his debut, GANGER (a word he coined to describe himself and his partners), with a string of increasingly knotty and thrilling singles, features and leaks. Between Veeze's rising star and constant revisions and pushbacks, the album took on a mythic quality. Veeze says the reception to "Close Friends" (particularly from his friend Lil Baby, who "just listened to the s*** every day") motivated him to go full album mode.

GANGER somehow lives up to the hype — a mean, muggy sampler that pulls off the rare feat of being an Intro To Veeze and appealing to long-term fans. But when I spoke to him on that chilly March evening, he was still working on the project, shifty about its tracklist, details and release date, probably because he didn't have all the answers himself yet. We talked about leak culture, the far-reaching sound of Michigan, his idea of taste and whether or not Future actually means his tweets.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Mano Sundaresan: When you first started rapping, who were you trying to channel?

Veeze: Really just underground s*** and mixtape s***, like Gucci [Mane] and Sosa [Chief Keef]. Kodak Black, too. Still to this day, he's one of my favorite n****s. Sometimes when I get writer's block, I say, "What would Kodak say?" And I wouldn't do that to anybody [else].

Was there anybody in Detroit that you were looking up to?

Everybody in Detroit used to be doing their thing, with, like, the Doughboyz and Team Eastside, Peezy and Babyface and Vezzo. It was a thing that, like, if you don't listen to them, it's just like ... what you doing? They was just so hot. All of them. The whole little culture of the rise of Detroit.

Can you talk about how you started actually rapping?

Just meeting Ray through mutual friends and knowing each other through the streets and s***. And then he heard a few of my songs and told me to take it a little more serious. Started going to the studio way more, being around the songs getting made. When I made "Rusty" and "Wilt," he was just like, "Man this s*** gotta go out, bro. It need to get put out."

Do you feel like there's a certain type of intangible that people can never really replicate about your sound? 'Cause I feel like a lot of people are doing the sound, but they just don't sound like you or Ray.

You ain't s*** till you get copied, bro. You ain't shit till you get — what they call — sampled.

The way you rap on "Law N Order" and just the way you rap in general, it feels so dense yet laid-back at once.

I just be punching in, thinking of the bars. It's just, like, free. It ain't really nothing deep about it.

Do you ever come up with a punch line and you save it for later, or is it all on the spot?

Nah, I don't write down anything.

With the hype around GANGER, you're like Carti before the mixtape. Everybody's waiting for this.

I don't think I ever told nobody this, but one of my producer homies named D. Hill — he passed away — he was working with Carti. This was a couple months before he passed away and s***. He a diamond producer though, rest in peace my n****, man, he produced, "working on the weekend like usual" ["Life is Good" by Future and Drake], he made that beat so I just want to say rest in peace my n****. He took me to meet Carti and s***. It was just crazy because I'm a huge Carti fan. And [Carti] like, "You wanna listen to the Red deluxe?" I'm like, "Hell yeah!" [laughs] I'm just in my own world, I'm just smoking, like damn! [Carti] never dropped it. But he played like six songs.

Then he was like, "Play me some of your s***!" I had just got done shooting the video to "A and W" and s***, so I played him a few songs, and I played him "A and W." And he like, "Man that s*** hard as f*** right there!" He made me wanna put out "A and W" faster, like, damn Carti just said that b**** sweet! I played a couple songs, but he was like, "That one hard as f***." But my partner D. Hill made the beat to "A and W" too.

I feel like out of probably any rapper besides Carti right now, I've never seen fans more rabid for unreleased music than they are with yours.

It's more so songs that I've listened to on [Instagram] Live, but it is crazy though, 'cause I don't know nobody other than Carti like that either. And it's like, all songs that's leaked, we know they leaked. It ain't no song on YouTube that I don't know that's leaked. I know if I played it on Live. I know if I sent it to a friend who played it on Live. Any song that's leaked, I know. Every leak is accounted for. And I know which ones shouldn't be out. There's nothing on YouTube that I can say, "This shouldn't be out."

There's one song on this early version of the album I heard called ["Weekend"] — the beat almost reminds me of some old Wiz.

I did that song recently. It was from a thing I got tagged in, look. [Plays a beat off Instagram]. I did that b**** the same night he sent it.

Veeze in studio.
/ Mano Sundaresan
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Mano Sundaresan
Veeze in studio.

Do you envision stepping back from rapping and doing other stuff?

I wanna be an actor. I want to be like Jamie Foxx or muf***in' Adam Sandler. I want to get so famous I could work on Jimmy Fallon. Like, it'd be Late Night with Veeze, and I'm in the suit when I get older.

Who would you be booking for guests?

I'd put muf***in' Jeff Bezos on there. People that I would want to sit down and talk to.

What would you wanna talk to Jeff Bezos about?

I would love to say sarcastic s*** to some of the richest people in the world. I feel like somebody like Kendrick Lamar who may seem kind of serious, I would wanna sit him down and see him joke.

Michigan rap is some of the funniest music, I feel. Some of the dudes in your scene could be comedians if they wanted to. I mean, you could. Rio [Da Yung OG] definitely could.

I believe it. Rio really funny. He really have you laughin' like a muf***er. Swear to God. All my n****s, though. Ray have a n**** crying, for real. Even my famous partners, who people don't get to see how funny they is all the time, that s*** be crazy, bruh. It's just so much that people can't say and they gotta get stuff off their mind ... it become the funniest s***. [Laughs]

Wait, are you talking about Future?

He in the Top 3. Swear to God. Like I'd put Future on Jimmy Fallon. Future funny as hell. My times I've been with him, he dumb as me! Like, how you see him with the memes or something, he really do that s***! He do that s*** every three seconds, I swear to God. I see why they just make a meme out of all his s***, dog. He's really funny like that.

There's so many things that he tweet [where] he just don't add the laugh emoji but he really trying to be funny. People take it crazy, no cap. I want people to know that, he don't be putting "lol" or nothing but he be laughing. He be joking y'all.

Well now I'm just gonna laugh at all Future tweets.

You got to. It's all LOL, gang. Just put it in yourself and you gon' know.

What has Future taught you?

One day we was in the studio — me and Ray was doing songs and s***. Future was just in there with us and s***. And we were just making songs, change the beat, making songs, change the beat. And Future was like, "Y'all don't go to the studio every day, do y'all?" And me and Ray look up like, "Damn, we don't." And he like, "I know y'all don't 'cause I do." Future probably make 10 to 20 songs a day, and he rich as hell. He gon' rap sun-up to sundown, he rich as hell. So [if] we want to be on his level, we got to step it up.

What do you think it takes to grow a fanbase like yours?

It gotta become a cool thing. Some of the homage just come from [listening to you] being a cool thing to do. For instance, if my famous partners post me, it could be somebody who a fan of them who really didn't used to listen to me. But they see bro post me, they're like, "Oh, hold on, listening to Veeze is the cool thing to do," and hop on the train of that.

Do you think there's something about this type of scene that you guys have cultivated that other regions can learn from?

There's some rappers who [are] just not that talented but they just know how to be famous. But if the fans and the people feel like it's undeniable, that's just what it is. When listening to you become the cool thing to do, ain't nothing else nobody could do.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Mano Sundaresan is a producer at NPR.