Ever since Tee Grizzley attended Dixon Middle School, as a 12-year-old who wrote his first rap about his neighborhood in Detroit, his dream was to make music. It wasn't until he was a freshman at Frank Cody High School that he took his craft seriously. You wouldn't see him participating in lunchroom cyphers or freestyling off the top. Instead, he chose to write his rhymes in his notebook or phone, mediating on what he came up with each time. "I was inspired by other Detroit artists ‘cause they were doing real good so I was trying to do that same thing," Grizzley, real name Terry Wallace, says of his early approach.
But Grizzley, now 22, wasn't always surrounded by positive influences that could point him in the right direction. In July 2014, Grizzley was incarcerated for home invasion charges in Michigan and his involvement in a jewelry store heist in Kentucky that sent him away for three years. Reflecting on what he learned while serving time at Detroit Reentry Center in the Michigan Department of Corrections, he says, "I learned that I was way smarter than my action showed. I learned that I didn't give myself a chance to be at my full potential."
He used the time in the inside to write a lot music, which he says will end up on his debut mixtape called My Moment. Formerly known as King Tee, he earned the nickname "Grizzley" behind the wall from other inmates, eventually running with Tee Grizzley as his stage name. "A grizzly, it's aggressive when it's provoked," he says. "It's a really independent animal. But when provoked, it goes crazy. I related to that. That's how I did my time."
After he was released in October 2016, Grizzley vowed to never go back to jail and promised himself that every hustle would be legal. Picking up where he left off, he recorded his comeback single "First Day Out," a deeply personal track about standing trial and his real-life crimes over a booming beat by Detroit's own Helluva. His steely rhymes are eye-opening accounts of what he went through: "I'm on parole in two states I can't move wrong/The feds trying to build a case, I can't move wrong/I went to trial back-to- back, bitch I'm 2-0/State of Kentucky banned me from every jewelry store/See, I can't even be in public with my hood on/Michigan state don't want none over here, they don't know what he on."
What surprised Grizzley is how big of a reception the video got when he shared it on YouTube last November. In the clip, directed by Nick Margetic and Everett Stewart, it shows Grizzley with dreads in an orange jumpsuit walking away from the facility as a free man. We follow him on his first day out as he gets back to business: reconnecting with homies from the street, buying a new pair of buffys, and hitting up the studio again. He says it reached 100,000 views in three days, and then broke one million during the week of its release. It currently has 16 million views (and counting).
Grizzley is the latest viral artist in hip-hop, and his song has gotten on the radars of T.I., DeJ Loaf, Chris Brown, and Trey Songz, who have all congratulated him on his success so far. His first appearance ever as a performer was when 21 Savage brought him out during a show in Detroit last December. Though he only has one song to his name, he couldn't believe the amount of hometown love he received. "This is exactly what I've been thinking about for years," he says. "When I finally got my moment, it felt good."
As the newest addition to 300 Entertainment this past December, Grizzley is ready to take the opportunity to show and prove to the world. Musically inspired by local Detroit artists like Eastside Chedda Boyz and Doughboyz Cashout, as well as R&B acts (Mary J. Blige, Dru Hill, Case, to name a few) for their substance and soul, fans can expect My Moment to have a balance of urgency and depth to his records. He plans on having no guest appearances on My Moment, relying on his own experiences to tell his story. Roughly between 12-14 songs in length with another single titled "No Effort" on the way, it'll also feature more production by Helluva. Tee Grizzley will be joining 21 Savage, Young M.A., and Young Nudy on Issa Tour that kicks off on March 31 in Houston, Texas at the House of Blues. The 29-city trek will conclude May 7 in Miami at Rolling Loud Festival.
In the lineage of guys like Boldy James, Big Sean, and Eminem who've made it in hip-hop as D-Town's elite, Grizzley is next up as a street motivator for the city's youth.
"I represent the young streets. I represent the young people that still can be saved. They still got a chance, you feel me?" Grizzley says. "They look at me and realize that there's a way for us. And we still got our youth. It's nothing that we did that we can't make right."