“I be robbin, I be lootin, I be stealin.” At first glance you might think Terry Wallace Jr. is projecting a hard persona on the song “Sweet Thangs” to build up his Tee Grizzley persona, but Grizz has actually done time for armed robbery in Kentucky and Michigan. “Anybody that’s not with us a potential victim” is how Grizz feels on the track, and before his rap career took off it’s clearly how he was living. If you’re prepared to judge him for that you should at least know his circumstances first. Before the age of 19 his mom was sent to do a 15 year bid for drug trafficking and his father was murdered in cold blood. It really is a hard knock life for Grizz. It’s far easier to say you can rise above the circumstances of your birth when you’re not the one actually having to DO it.
After getting early release from a bid of up to 15 years in October 2016, Wallace built off his rap career as a member of ASBH (All Stars Ball Hard) in his youth and turned a new leaf. Changing his name from ASBH Tee to the aforementioned Mr. Grizzley, Grizz quickly released the mixtape he had been working on while incarcerated and almost immediately found a mainstream audience. In a country of 300 million people were there are thousands of aspiring rappers looking for that break every day, it’s hard to cite a specific reason Tee blew up. Was it the charisma? Was it the amount of time he had to write lyrics in jail with nothing else to do? Or was it the fact he’s frank about his criminal activity in songs like “Heroes” where he says “I don’t glorify that life, I didn’t enjoy that” and refutes his past?
It may just be timing and coincidence. It may be that he had a certain amount of notoriety from his early rap days that was only magnified by his time in jail giving the “street cred” so many artists desire but can’t achieve. Hell if you’re the type of person who believes in divine providence, maybe God just smiled on young Terry and said “After all you’ve been through, here’s your second chance, make the most of it.” By the fact he called his latest album “Scriptures” he may be a believer himself. It’s hard to think it’s a coincidence that his first single and video is called “God’s Warrior.”
“They like ‘Grizzley bro, you rich, why is you thuggin?’
Big Meech was rich, ain’t nobody ask him why was he hustlin
What y’all need to ask is deez niggaz why they be bluffin
Took my FN off my hip like ‘You’ve been summoned'”
Okay, hold up. You’re not going to confuse Tee Grizzley for KB or TobyMac any time soon. Grizz states that he’s not glorifying his past or encouraging others to follow his example, but he’s also not standing on the block with a Bible in his hand quoting Ecclesiastes 1:9 to people passing by. I’m not saying he needs to either. These are STREET scriptures, not hymns or sermons. Grizz is using his newly acquired clout to work with Timbaland (who executive produced the album and co-produced some of the tracks) to deliver cinematic portrayals of his life in the past along with warnings to the future. To put it another way, listening to Grizz is like someone saying “I came from these streets, so don’t make me come back to where I come from.”
“My momma locked up, my pops got popped up
Lil’ bro still locked up, and they got me f***ed up
And when they see you without no cheese, they ain’t gon’ count ya
But they gon’ hate and call you fake soon as you count up”
To get back to that elusive “it factor” of how Grizz went viral, one thing that’s clear on “Scriptures” is that Grizzley fits into today’s rap scene without being a direct clone of it. He’ll do a little bit of singing here and there, but the Detroit rapper in him still comes through (complete with the references to prior artists who blew up before him). He’s spit rapid fire staccato bursts of words like a member of Migos, but he doesn’t rely on style in place of substance. A lot of success in hip-hop is built off portraying yourself as sexy, cool and unf**kwittable, but in between the flash and the cash Grizzley gives glimpses of his inner conflict on songs like “Had To.”
“Only had 250 in the bank, but ice and them jewelers steady callin my name
They want 90 for the charm, 80 for the Cuban
I’m just knowin it’s gon’ kill me but I gotta do it
Tryin to make myself feel better like it’s gon’ motivate me
Maybe when they see me with it, they gon’ know I made it
I went and got it, that shit ain’t do nothin for me jack
And it’s a custom piece, so I can’t get no money back
I just thought I had to, f**k that s**t I thought I had to do”
Tee Grizzley is not a revolutionary, nor a prophet, nor a role model. He’s just a rapper who’s trying to do better today than he did yesterday or the day before. Intentionally or not though he’s become someone that people from around his way in the D can look up to and say “Look what he overcame to get where he is now, and he’s not being fake about it neither so I can respect that.” If he didn’t have a certain swag to his flow and some good production to back him up the message would get lost in the music, but thanks to both providence and producers like Chopsquad DJ, Angel Lopez and Keanu Beats, Grizz has a story to tell you might want to hear.