In 2016, Tee Grizzley immediately captured the hip-hop world with “First Day Out,” his surreal noir detailing events that led to his prison bid. The head-knocking single, produced by HelluvaBeats, was actually penned while Tee sat in a cell at Michigan’s Jackson State Prison.
Since his release in October 2016 on charges of unlawful taking or disposition, and two counts of second degree home invasion, Tee’s rookie season in the music business has been nothing less than stellar; “First Day Out” cracked Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 47. Thanks to Tee’s deeply personal raps, he’s earned the respect of Pusha T, LeBron James, JAY-Z, as well as the streets.
But there’s another side to Grizzley fans don’t get to see: the 24-year-old Detroit rapper, real name Terry Wallace, loves books. Prior to the release of his latest offering, Activated, the “2 Vaults” rapper lectured VIBE about some of his favorite reads.
VIBE: What kind of books did you read while in prison?
Tee Grizzley: There’s a book called Trust no Bi**h. One thing I learned in this book, no matter how much you love somebody or how much you trust them, the human being is capable of any amount of betrayal. In the book, there was one guy and these women that built a crew. As time passed, everybody did something disloyal. The punishment that the guy was putting out was severe. He sat everybody down, made them a plate of food, and they’re eating it like: “This meat tastes funny.” They ask, “Where’s Dawg at?” That ni**a in that spaghetti. “I killed him, chopped him up and put him in that.” That was the penalty for disloyalty.
The man and the woman never turned their back on each other. They were always loyal to each other. When he wasn’t around, she was loyal to him. She wasn’t around, he was loyal to her. In the end, they were alone in a room with all of this money around them. They were about to go their separate ways; “I’m going to start my family, you go start your life. This sh*t is over with. I appreciate you for being loyal.” He asked her: “You got your gun on you?” She said “Yes.” He said, “Let me see it for a minute.” He looked at it and gave it back to her. He said, “I’m going to grab this money.” He looked up and she had the gun pointed at him. She said, “All of this sh*t going on, you really think that you can trust somebody?” He showed her the clip (he previously took the clip out of the gun). “I know I can’t trust no bi**h.” He killed her. Sh*t was crazy.
What other genres did you read?
I read a lot of books on the Five Percenters. I was rocking with some of the Five Percenter guys in there. One thing that I picked up from them is the knowledge of self.
Five Percenters are important to the hood. They gave out valuable tools to poor kids in desperate situations. They gave out hope. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
They teach you to learn yourself. Discipline yourself. Be conscious of what you think, and what you like. What gets you mad? What gets you in your feelings? Figure that stuff out and take control of it so nobody else can control you.
Exactly. Are those questions that you ask yourself?
Everyday. But there’s never any easy answers. I mean, the regular sh*t like “I know if someone hits me, I’ll get mad.” But it’s deeper than that.
I believe that we ask ourselves questions for months or years at a time before we start receiving answers.
I figured that out when I was selling dope, trying to figure out ways to get out of the game. It took nearly a year before I figured it out.
You’re right, because the entire time I was in the streets, I was thinking of ways to get out. I thought about all types of sh*t.
You’ve read Five Percent literature. What’s your relationship with God?
I have a relationship with God. I do believe in God, The Son, and Holy Ghost. But I respect everybody, and as far as the Muslims go, I like how they live because they have discipline. They have real structure and I like.
Five Percenters, I like how they take their wisdom seriously, and Christianity, it’s a spiritual thing. It’s really like mind, body and spirit. Have you ever read the Dictator’s Handbook [by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith]?
No, I haven’t. Tell me about it.
They say why Hitler was great and wise. Some of his tactics are tactics that we could use today and won’t have snakes within our circle. One thing he did was, he didn’t [recruit] people who had the same goals and potential as him. He didn’t recruit people who were as smart as him. They were potential rivals. He recruited people who were only good in one area, as an example, someone who only wanted to steer the ship and be the best captain.
Coming from our environments, it’s important to have people like us in the circle. Whether the homies are going through our books at the crib or listening to us explain what we read, they’re learning.
For real. You feel like you’re bettering the people around you, it gives you purpose. I know exactly what you mean.
What went through your mind on the bus ride to prison?
I was wondering who I was going to see and what my people were outside of prison were there thinking. ‘Damn, I wish someone send me some money. What if I get stabbed in here? Will I have to fight?” As soon as somebody tried something, I was going to make the best example out of them. I was going to do something crazy. What did you think about?
I was praying that I didn’t have to act out of character or seriously hurt someone. I also understood that it would’ve taken all of my negative energy to survive in there. Beanie Sigel’s third verse on “What Ya Life Like 2,” I rapped that whole sh*t the entire bus ride.
What made you want to study accounting at Michigan State?
I didn’t want to do that until the 12th grade. This stock guy came up there. He said, “Do you want to make some money? My wife doesn’t even have to work. A couple of people in my family don’t even have to work—that’s how much money I make. I can buy whatever I want.” I said, “I want to live like that. What do I have to do?” He said, “Stockbroker, investment banker or accountant. That’s what you go to college for.”
I didn’t think about college until I was trafficking heroin.
Man, I’m not even going to lie. I only know one n***a who went to college and that’s because he played basketball. Other than that, you see a ni**a go to school every day, then you see them going in high, then you see them going in late, and then not at all.
You’re smarter than I was. How did you know you could go to college?
N***as knew about college. It was always a thought in all of our heads. Some n***as said, “Hell no.” Others said, “I’m at least going to try.” Some n***as said, “I’m not even finishing high school, that sh*t boring. I’m trying to get some money.”