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Get Grip Good

After being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, the Atlanta underground music legend has the city's support in the fight for his life


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? ? Joeff Davis? ? ? THE FIGHTER: Grip Plyaz shows his strength in front of Grady’s Edward C. Loughlin Jr. Radiation Oncology center, where he goes every weekday for his radiation treatment.? ? ?
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? ? Joeff Davis? ? ? LOOK INTO MY EYES: Grip Plyaz has undergone six weeks of radiation treatment.? ? ??
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He calls it his lucky outfit. The getup consists of a pair of fleece camo shorts, a matching backpack, a green T-shirt, and a Slumerican hoodie with the phrase, "Dude you we're killin it" scrawled across the left chest. He's worn it almost every Monday through Friday during the past six weeks of radiation treatment. It takes Quentin "Grip Plyaz" Hood longer than he'd like to slip his six-foot-six, 190-pound frame into the clothes. Tying the laces of his Adidas running sneakers is another task he'd rather skip. In his older brother's Dunwoody apartment, surrounded by his niece's toys, Grip describes the moment he first noticed something wrong with his body in May.

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"It felt uncomfortable, like a little knot. I went to one of those urgent care centers, and they couldn't tell me what it was, so they just wrote it off as a boil," he says. "I told the lady, 'This ain't no boil.'"

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The knot has since grown to about the size of a Nerf football. It protrudes from the back left side of his lucky shorts. Grip's slim, towering body sort of slouches, as his left leg now tends to move inward. On a scale of one to 10, he says his daily comfort level hovers somewhere between five and six. He sleeps a lot. When he's not resting, he takes his niece on tricycle rides around the apartment complex parking lot or watches college football with his brother.

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On June 5, the Old Fourth Ward rapper, father, and Atlanta independent music fixture was diagnosed with stage three pleomorphic sarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer. The American Cancer Society puts the five-year survival rate at 56 percent. Sarcomas are known to be aggressive. After a surgery that removed 80 percent of Grip's cancerous tissue, the disease returned even stronger, forcing radiation sooner than expected.

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Every weekday Grip catches a bus from his brother's place to the Chamblee MARTA station where he heads into the city for a noon-ish appointment at Grady's Edward C. Loughlin Jr. Radiation Oncology Center. For today's ride to the station, Grip folds his lanky frame into the small confines of my P.T. Cruiser's front passenger seat. His knees meet the dashboard and his hair just barely misses the ceiling. He brings a pillow to sit on. Grip constantly adjusts the small cushion, trying to find the sweet spot.

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As we make our way to the platform at the MARTA station, a man stops Grip. The two trade pleasantries and it seems as though the stranger wants to say something along the lines of, "You're in my thoughts and prayers," but he doesn't, and Grip likes it that way. He hates pity parties. The man leaves and Grip's and my conversation shifts to all the different reactions to the news of his cancer and how his 12-year-old son Zaid is taking everything. The book-smart kid who loves computers was going to doctor's appointments with his dad, but after doing some research on his own, Zaid became terrified by the prospect of losing his father.

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"He just started crying. I was like, 'Nah man, it ain't my time yet,'" he says. "That's not even an option right now. I ain't even thought about going."

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Grip's phone rings off the hook with messages of support, encouragement, and requests to get into the studio. The artist is respected among his peers and has mentored everyone from Two-9 and Key! to Trinidad Jame$ and Hollyweerd. But for a guy who's been active in the Atlanta music scene since 1995 and is beloved by a tight circle of friends, it's taken a cancer diagnosis for him to garner widespread attention, praise, and love from the city and culture he's dedicated his life to.

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? ? Joeff Davis/CL file? ? ? TUNNEL VISION: Rapper Grip Plyaz at a photoshoot for the 2009 Creative Loafing Music Issue.? ? ?
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? ? Eric Cash/CL file? ? ? LAY IT DOWN: Grip Plyaz planks during his set at the Nest in July 2011.? ? ?
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? ? Ian Flannery? ? ? GOOD OL’ DAYS: Grip on stage at the Cotton Club with Ben Hameen and Collective Efforts in 2005.? ? ??
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Grip was sure he was destined for glory on the pitch. After picking up on soccer from a childhood friend, Grip kept with the sport through his days at Morningside Elementary, Inman Middle, and Grady High schools. He was one of the best offensive players in the state, and was recruited by some of the top college programs in the country.

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"Soccer, that's where it seemed like he really stood out," says Ben Hameen, a longtime friend and collaborator. "His long legs made him one of the most dangerous forwards. He could make it across the field in half the time as his peers and opponents, and was really fun to watch."

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Grip, his mother, father, and older brother started out in Old Fourth Ward in an apartment at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Parkway Drive long before the rent in the area got too damn high. His parents divorced. By 10th grade, his family had relocated to Decatur without his father. Grip stayed at Grady and also played for local club soccer powerhouse Concord Silver. After graduation in 1993, he attended Spartanburg Methodist College on a soccer scholarship. He blew out his knee freshman year and had to take a medical redshirt. He then transferred to DeKalb College (now Georgia Perimeter). Shortly after his return to the pitch, he blew out his other knee. His playing days were over.

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Around the same time, Grip found his first real musical inspiration in the group Y'all So Stupid. The alt-rap trio signed to Dallas Austin's Rowdy Records imprint also happened to be Grip's neighbors. They let Grip sit in on the songwriting and producing processes. He admired their creativity and the fact that the artists were quirky but kept it hood.

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"They were the first Pharrell-type motherfuckers, at least to me, and they were in the heart of the hood," he says. "They're the ones who opened my eyes to be like, 'Man there's more to it.'"

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In 1995, Grip linked up with Adrian "Zoo Atlanta" Maynard to form the duo the Knobodies. The group was conscious, with elements of Southern rap funk, and guided by Atlanta music guru and artist management czar Kevin "Coach K" Lee.

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"They were making OutKast Playalistic-era sounding tracks, and they also had some more gutter-sounding tracks," Ben Hameen says.

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Ben Hameen's group Live On Arrival recruited the Knobodies for LOA's last full-length, Information from the Underground. The collaboration sparked a musical bond between Ben Hameen and Grip. Grip frequently lent his talents to Ben Hameen's new group, Collective Efforts. After the Knobodies broke up, Grip grew even more motivated to find success in music.

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"He was very driven, and would come over and just sit on the couch and come up with verses while I learned how to beat out tracks on the MPC," Ben Hameen says. "When we got something he liked, he would go home and come back the next day with another song."

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Over the years, these trades turned into sessions with Ben Hameen and producer Poncho Grady. The result was Grip's first solo release, CUMGITSLUM in 2005.

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"He took the cadence of trap but he applied it to that hipster, black hip-hop shit," says Fadia Kader, director of brand partnerships at Def Jam. From 2006-2011, Kader's Broke and Boujee parties were where Grip, and other Atlanta hip-hop artists performed, connected, and partied. It was a collection of kids that grew up on OutKast and wanted to show that the city's musical prowess went beyond the snap and trap that dominated mainstream Southern rap radio.

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Proton was the deep, more lyrical act; Hollyweerd more pop. Muffy "was pretty much who Nicki Minaj took her whole style from, just aesthetically," Kader says.

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Grip was a welcome outlier in a group full of musical misfits dubbed the "Otherground" by local journalist and CL contributor Maurice Garland. "He really was the epitome of being that rapper that could dabble in the hood and then come through MJQ and still be cool with everyone," Kader says.

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The artist became famous for turnt-up anthems such as "Fuck That Hipster Shit," "Died (In Yo Pussy)," and "Ray Lewis." In "Fuck That Hipster Shit," Grip took the quip often directed at him and his group of friends and threw it back in the face of the zeitgeist with the hook: "I know I'm hip and shit/ But ain't no hipster bitch/ Miss me with that shit/ Fuck that hipster shit."

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The song put Grip on the music media's radar. The single, along with Grip's theatrical, no-holds-barred live shows got him gigs at SXSW, the A3C Hip-Hop Festival, and venues from Little Five Points to Brooklyn.

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? ? Eric Cash/CL file? ? ? BIG BROTHER: Grip Plyaz (left) and Curtis Williams of Two-9 on stage at the Nest in July 2011.? ? ?
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? ? Dustin Chambers/CL file? ? ? STAGE VET: Grip Plyaz was a frequent performer for SMKA’s local showcases.? ? ?
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? ? Dustin Chambers/CL file? ? ? ONE MIC: Grip Plyaz, flanked by Go Dreamer, performs at an SMKA show at Star Bar in 2010.? ? ??
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? ? Courtesy Fiona Bloom? ? ? BASEMENT PARTY: Grip (center) with members of Proton in 2008 at the 205 Club in New York City.? ? ??
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As the train winds through Midtown and makes its way Downtown to the Five Points Station, Grip recounts the day he was given his diagnosis. He awkwardly positions himself so as not to sit directly on his tumor, his long legs stretched out into the aisle.

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"I didn't know what pleomorphic sarcoma was but I knew that shit was serious," he says. "I told them, 'Keep this shit real. Am I going to fucking die?' They're like, 'You could. It is a dangerous situation but you've got to really be careful.' I told them, 'Don't sugarcoat shit with me. I'd rather know that I'm dying.' I'm going to die anyway. I might die a little sooner but fuck that — I ain't claiming that shit."

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Since the diagnosis, Grip's undergone six weeks of radiation therapy. He's had multiple body and brain scans and his strength and energy have decreased significantly. Outside of his family, Larry Baker was the first to know about Grip's cancer. The two have been friends since their mutual friend, producer Poncho Grady, connected the MC with Baker's group Proton. Baker encouraged Grip to visit a doctor and started the GoFundMe campaign Get Grip Good.

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The GoFundMe launched Aug. 16 with the modest goal of $2,500 for Grip's medical and travel expenses for treatment. Grip has no job or health insurance and can't perform on stage due to his health condition. By mid-September, the campaign had raised more than $16,000.

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"I didn't want to fucking tell anybody," Grip says. "I didn't even fucking know how to tell them. And then two days later the GoFundMe page goes up." There was also a fundraiser at Grip's former place of employment, Edgewood Pizza, as well as a fundraiser showcase at the Basement on Aug. 29, featuring Aleon Craft, Two-9, Speakerfoxxx, Backbone, and Sean Falyon, among others. At Ria's Bluebird, Grip now has an open tab as long as he's eating healthy.

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Baker manages Grip's accounts and helps him organize the medical expenses. Initially, he was met with resistance from Grip.

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"He was like, 'Man, I really don't want to seem vulnerable or susceptible to human shit because I'm the 'King of Ratchet,'" Baker says. "He said, 'The King of Ratchet' can't get diagnosed with some shit. You're supposed to ratchet it out."

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Baker strongly disagreed.

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"I'm like, 'Yeah, but the reality of it is people love you,'" he says. "If people knew, they would be willing to help you."

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After the release of CUMGITSLUM Grip became a regular at Lenny's Bar's thriving indie rap scene, as well as Broke and Boujee, Sloppy Seconds, and events at the now defunct Downtown club The Royal. He was a part of Dixie Mafia collective and Yelawolf's Slumerican crew.

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It was at Lenny's where his underground legend started to form.

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"Grip had a really good stage presence. It felt like watching an icon but he was also real down to earth, real humble," says Bean Worley, the southeastern marketing director for PBR, who booked shows at Lenny's during its mid-2000s heyday when Killer Mike, Pill, and Yelawolf were regulars. "He could perform as well as any great rapper out there. He's real Atlanta, there's no fake with him."

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Grip gave Yelawolf a place to stay when the rapper/singer moved to Atlanta from Gadsden, Ala., in hopes of sparking his music career.

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"He's always been the Atlanta mascot," Yelawolf says. "We've been calling him that for years."

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At the 2009 A3C Hip-Hop Festival, Grip was booked to perform at the Five Spot (now Aisle 5) for a mixed showcase of local and national talent. According to Grip, he was late for his set because he had to drop off Zaid with his mother. He says that when he arrived at the venue, his name had been crossed off the list in favor of some non-local acts.

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"I'm like, 'This is our city, and our show, why can't you put my shit back? How you going to just let these out-of-town motherfuckers come in here and set up shop in our city?" he says.

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Grip rushed the stage and ripped into "Fuck That Hipster Shit." The crowd, security, and everyone in attendance went nuts.

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"All hell broke loose," he says, laughing.

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Fast forward six years and Grip says he feels like a weight has been lifted now that friends, family, and fans have been getting glimpses of his more human side thanks to the GoFundMe campaign. The guy known for drinking a six-pack a day and guzzling Colt 45 is now more of a fan of alkaline water. He's traded flaming hot Cheetos for salmon, rice, and broccoli. His secret obsession with Morningstar veggie burgers is now out in the open. His parents have reconnected, as have he and Zaid's mother. He says he's experienced an awakening in the face of his uncertain future. The overwhelming support from his community has helped. His health might be down, but mentally he's says he's never been more focused.

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"My patience has gotten better. My temper has gotten a lot better," he says. "Believe it or not, a lot of these diseases are caused by stress. I do not need bad energy around me."

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We've been in the waiting room for 30 minutes. It's another day of "getting into the microwave where I get nuked," he says. I ask him what the radiation feels like and he says, deadpan, "Like you're getting zapped." His eyes shift toward a female tech walking down the hall toward the radiation room. "She's bad as hell," Grip says. I ask if he knows her or what she does. "Yeah, zap niggas," he says and we both start laughing hysterically.

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Grip appears to be channeling that old adage about humor and medicine, at least in part. He says so much tissue was taken out during surgery that doctors almost reached his bone, and didn't want to cause nerve damage. He's says he and the doctors will be able to get rid of all of the cancer without amputating his leg. He manages a joke about it.

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"They're going to get it. I'm just not going to have a left side of the ass no more," he says. "I'd rather have no left side of my ass than something else."

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? ? Joeff Davis? ? ? ROAD TO RECOVERY: Grip Plyaz enters the Edward C. Loughlin Jr. Radiation and Oncology center, where he goes every weekday for his radiation treatment.? ? ?
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? ? Joeff Davis? ? ? DOG DAYS: Grip Plyaz wipes his brow after walking from the Five Points Marta station to the radiation center.? ? ??
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Kei Henderson used to run into Grip at The Royal, back when she was producing events with Lavish Life Social Club collective around 2007. Grip asked her to be his manager. She hesitated, but only because she'd never managed an artist before.

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"He just had a really good spirit," Henderson says. "I never heard any bad stuff about him. The thing about Grip is that everybody knows him."

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The two spent eight months crafting Grip's CUMGITSLUM follow-up, Grip Hop. Charged with singles such as "Project Ho" featuring Muffy, "Black Matado," and "GETYOASSONTHAFLO," the 2008 release marked Grip's move from solo obscurity to an emerging rapper ready to break out from Atlanta's underground.

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Grip befriended Two-9 co-founders Key! and Curtis Williams before they were legally allowed to drink. He played the role of mentor, big brother, and peer to anyone willing to share a Newport and PBR tallboy. Or maybe it was the other way around. "The one thing that stood out was everybody bought him drinks all night long," Kader says.

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His penchant for making connections landed Grip Plyaz on SMKA's The 808 Experiment Vol. 1, where he was joined by Aleon Craft and Trimm for the single, "Caddys." The Motion Family-directed video featured Zaid mean-mugging and classic verses from all three MCs.

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"That's really the song that got me into the underground Atlanta hip-hop market," says Trinidad Jame$, who met Grip working at the Downtown boutique, Ginza, before he ever recorded music. "Grip really opened my eyes to this underground circuit of music."

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In 2011, Trinidad Jame$ came to Grip with his first singles, "All Gold Everything," and "Females Welcomed." He wanted his mentor to jump on the latter, but Grip's mother's home had recently burned down and he was still reeling from the loss. He was left homeless for a brief period. A couple years later, his job at Edgewood Pizza was put on hold because the property caught fire. The business sat dormant while the owner settled up with insurers. Grip slowed down on making music.

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"The music has never been a problem. You put the guy in the studio, he's going to make records," says Grip's current manager J Dirrt aka DJ Dirrty, co-founder of East Village Radio's Southern rap podcast Ballers Eve. "The issue has been Grip's life. He's been dealt a tough set of cards, and he's always played them. It's been a lot of start-stops for Grip."

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Next to Baker, J Dirrt has been Grip's closest confidant. He took over management of Grip's career around 2010-2011, after Henderson moved to New York City.

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"He's been a big part of Atlanta but has never gotten his proper shine. I feel like the music industry has just been scared of Grip," J Dirrt says. "I feel like everybody's been scared to pull the trigger. Hopefully through this hardship that he's going through right now it will shed some light on his talent and person."

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Yelawolf, who got word of Grip's cancer via J Dirrt, says Grip deserves the city's gratitude. He says today's current crop of hip-hop artists wouldn't be here if it weren't for his lanky partner-in-rhyme.

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"There is no Atlanta hip-hop scene without that dude. Are you fucking kidding me?" Yelawolf says. "He set seed for so many motherfuckers and I know how he feels, but he just sits back and watches, don't say shit. Start paying attention to the jewels that are right in front of you and stop looking so far out and being so trendy. Now he's a legend?! He's been a legend."

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? ? Joeff Davis? ? ? DAB DADDY: Grip Plyaz demonstrates the “Dabbin Dance.”? ? ?
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? ? Joeff Davis? ? ? BACKYARD BOOGIE: Grip Plyaz is all smiles in front of his mural dedication behind Edgewood Pizza.? ? ??
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After radiation, we stand outside Sweet Auburn Curb Market, washing down Grindhouse Killer Burgers with alkaline water. Grip considers the idea that he's an Atlanta underground legend that never got his proper shine. Like his approach to music, he's brutally honest.

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"I can't catch a break for shit," he says. "I feel personally like I should have had a deal, should've been on, but can't knock the powers that be. At the end of the day don't nobody owe you shit."

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Grip believes in God and trusts in his plan. Ever since the GoFundMe lauched, he's been hit for calls about everything from music and cancer advice to folks inquiring about his newfound wealth, including those who indirectly ask to tap into that cash. Cancer patients near and far have reached out, and he hopes he can be a spokesperson for the disease. He hopes black men especially will read about his story and make their own trips to the doctor before it's too late.

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"It was just kind of crazy," Henderson says of first hearing about Grip's diagnosis. "To think of somebody that really is the reason I'm in this whole music shit not being on earth. It was a lot to hear that."

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J Dirrt and Grip have plans of dropping a greatest hits compilation and have been recording new songs at Justin Padron's Castle Hill Studios in Castleberry Hill. Though he admits his approach to the studio is completely different now ("You can drink PBR, you can get fucked up. But I can't," he says), he still loves making music.

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With a few weeks left in radiation treatment and before a new evaluation with his doctor, Grip's focus is on getting better.

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"I know some real niggas. It's like why couldn't this shit happen to them? I'm out here trying to make ends meet and pay child support every month," he says. "These niggas knocking people over the head, stealing vans, and going to the strip club blowing money fast, but they still live another day healthy as fuck. Maybe God got they karma coming to them. I question that shit like, 'Damn, what the fuck? Why me?' But then again, why not me?"



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