Back in October 2016, Terry Wallace was presented with a choice. After serving a three-year stint behind bars on home invasion charges, the 23-year-old better known by his moniker Tee Grizzley, was reunited with his freedom and his future — something that becomes very real once the parole papers are processed. It really can go either way in regards to taking a step forward or another one backward. With the luxury of choice and the looming possibilities of what to do next, there's an accompanying pressure that the Detroit rapper admits: if it weren't for his music, he'd likely find himself locked up again.
On his first day out of jail, Grizzley laid a foundation, perhaps out of urgent necessity, for what would eventually develop into a budding career in rap. Not even bothering to change out of the clothes he left the prison in, he stepped into the studio to record the aptly-named single "First Day Out" — a track he first penned behind bars back in April 2015. By a twist of fate and a wink from the man upstairs, his first-ever track began taking off, accumulating views at a viral rate and landing him on the radar of 300 Ent. and Atlantic, where he ended up inking his first official deal before 2016 came to a close.
As he weaves his gripping story into “First Day Out,” he gives fans a proper introduction of who Tee Grizzley is for the first time, with lines such as "You ever been inside a federal courtroom? / N***a you ever went to trial and fought for your life?" helping make it known that the rapper is fully aware he's on borrowed time. With that comes a great responsibility to one's self and is an opportunity that the God-fearing, street-smart rapper embraces as a blessing, knowing that his passion to aspire to something greater is also his saving grace.
Growing up, his parents were in and out of jail, with his mother now serving time for a drug trafficking and his father getting murdered in 2012 after a life spent on the streets. Grizzley's hardened past is littered with heartache that his grandmother helped heal by exposing him to decades worth of R&B early on while she raised him on her own. Although his childhood was far from a fairytale, the musically inclined teenager found himself drawn to making music from an early age, first hearing his uncles make records at the age of eight and inspiring him to create his own tracks in middle school with the help of his friends. Grizzley later became the first family member in generations to go on to attend college but, during his freshman year at Michigan State University, was faced with a new variety of temptations, snowballing into what would soon become his developing criminal record.
Throughout his debut project, My Moment, Grizzley doesn't hold back from letting us in on exactly where he came from, reflecting on certain aspects of his troubled past while eagerly embracing the moment he's now found himself thriving in. However, his unique approach, balancing raw aggression with inviting, melodic moments, is his strongest suit. We're not alienated or overwhelmed by the at-times strikingly blunt lyrical content, further proving that Grizzley already has impressively come into his own as a maturing recording artist with a knack for storytelling.
With production handled mostly by Helluva and two blessings from Sonny Digital and another from DJ Mustard, the varied soundscape suits Grizzley in a way that some rappers spend years trying to perfect, somehow allowing him a brilliant versatility that makes sense in a feel-good club setting without losing sight of its hard street influence either.
As the project's smooth production contrasts significantly with Grizzley's extremely distinctive vocals, he's able to stand out amongst the tracks he's paired with on Spotify's rap-curated playlists — something that helped aid with his hit single taking off in the viral manner it did, since accumulating 18 million streams. While "First Day Out" is the undeniable standout track from the featureless project, several other singles also have the necessary recipe to take off in a similar fashion, with "Real N****s," "No Effort" and "How Many" emerging as the strongest offerings throughout the 13-song tracklist, full of boastful bars, polished delivery and hard-hitting production alike.
Sometimes he spits as fast and ruthlessly as possible, almost as if he's ranting and sweating at the same time ("My Moment – Intro" and "Country"). Other times, he's softly singing dirty sweet nothings ("Side N***a"). Either way, that IDGAF zeal is a real vibe and something that not every rapper can pull off without arrogance hindering their appeal. While My Moment may not be a flawless, five-star project, he's winning a lot of points for putting so much of his personality and individuality into each and every bar.
As Grizzley interchanges between singing and rapping, his life story is not only alluring, but also told in an intriguing way. While one could argue that the entire genre of hip-hop was built off of tactfully capturing street wisdom, the gems that Grizzley shares are a little hard to find and off-the-beaten path, in turn adding to his intrigue as an artist.
His story in and of itself may build a different argument, but Grizzley will be the first to tell you he doesn't have all the answers, the best advice or everything figured out. That humble honesty is a breath of fresh air, reminding us that while this may be his first moment in the spotlight, Tee Grizzley is destined to have many more.
(Photo: 300 Entertainment)