A young Ms. Tee navigated the streets of Harlem during the deadly crack epidemic of the ’80s and ‘90s, earning the respect of some of the most hardened street OGs in New York.
Although she grew up in a two-parent household and had a father who instilled discipline and morals, Tee was intrigued by what the streets had to offer. Before long, she was dealing drugs for an uncle who was later killed. She dated some of New York’s most ruthless dealers and street criminals. A young woman in a male-dominated game, Tee was no pushover, but she was vulnerable. Being involved with some major players, Tee received threats on her life.
One day, Tee’s luck ran out; while fleeing a shootout, she caught a stray bullet to the back. She survived the shooting, but she had to recover at a demanding time — she had just given birth to her daughter, and her daughter’s father, Ace, had just been sentenced to 20 years to life.
Today Tee uses her prominence to help people get off the streets that were once her workplace: She has written two books on the life she left; her story on YouTube’s Info Minds channel has been viewed 2 million times; she’s featured in a new documentary on Netflix; and she is shopping her story as a biopic. In a sit-down with Zenger News, Ms. Tee talks about her friendship with Alpo, dispels rumors that she didn’t like Rich Porter, and opens up about the dark side of street life.
Percy Crawford interviewed Ms. Tee, aka Harlem Heroin(e), for Zenger News.
Zenger News: I am here with Ms. Tee, aka Harlem Heroin(e). This has been a long time coming. I have been trying to interview you for a long time. I know you are a busy woman. How is everything going?
Ms. Tee, aka Harlem Heroin(e): Everything is going well. Just grinding, for the most part.
Zenger: For sure. You were recently out in Atlanta doing your thing, and meeting with someone who will eventually turn your story into a movie. Tell us about it.
Ms. Tee: Yeah! The conversation was good. They reached out to me. And he just so happened to be in Atlanta, which was good because I was in Atlanta too. The conversation was good, because my thought process and the way I want things to go was the same as his. We had a really good conversation. I’m about to do my part here in New York to try to get some things started, and then we’re going to push forward.
Zenger: It seems like now is the time. Everyone seems to be interested in the street life of the ’80s and ’90s, especially some of the things that were going on in New York. Your story would be a huge hit.
Ms. Tee: Yeah. You know, it seems like a lot of women are telling their stories now from their perspective. Which, when my book came out, a lot of people were like, “Wow!” Coming from a woman’s perspective, being out there and being involved with some of the consequences, that’s involved with being in the game. The time is definitely right. A lot of folks need content, so yeah!
Zenger: I’m not sure if you’re working on a documentary or a movie, but if it’s a movie, consider Adrienne Joi Johnson. She could pass for a relative of yours, and she is a great actress.
Ms. Tee: Is she up and coming or she been out there?
Zenger: She’s been out there. You’re probably more familiar with her being called A.J. Johnson, but she was Juanita, Tyrese’s mom, in “Baby Boy,” and Sharane in “House Party.”
Ms. Tee: OK, that’s who was in my head. You’re right — I know her as A.J. I know exactly who you’re talking about. Someone else said that to me a while back [laughing].
Zenger: You have written two books. I read “Harlem Heroin(e): My Love Affair With Harlem Street Life And The Men Who Ruled It,” and will soon be reading your latest book, “Snitching: The Streets Are Fair Game But The Game Has Never Been Fair.” What made now the right time for you to write these books?
Ms. Tee: Actually, I started writing in 2000. It came out of pain. Never thought I would be writing books. I love to write. Always loved to write, but not write a book. So, when my brother got killed in 2000, it hurt. And in 2005, I felt violated and like the walls were closing in on me. I ended up leaving New York and moving to Atlanta. And I thought about him, and I thought, so much has happened to me, and it’s for him, and I said, “You know what? I got a story to tell.” So people can understand, once he died, the street life was not fun for me at all. I’m not justifying that what we did was right in the first place, but that’s when it was like, this is it. I gotta let people know and understand that it’s more behind the scenes with this street life.
People see cars and money and these lives, but behind the scenes, it’s a lot that goes on, the death — which everybody knows that there is only two things that come out of that lifestyle, death or prison. And if you’re lucky, you can get out without being involved in either or getting caught up in either. So, I just felt like, let me tell my story from a female perspective, which, it seems like people feel my story more than anything, which is good. Because I want them to feel it. I want them to understand that there is so much more to it. For us, the money was definitely worth the risk because it was plentiful, but was it really worth it in the long run? I would say not because of the people that we lost and the situations that I ended up in — and many people like myself end up in.
Zenger: You were in the center of the crack era in New York, and you were handling your business and holding your own in a male-dominated game. Looking back on it, are you, I don’t want to say surprised, but shocked that you were able to make it out of that, because a lot of men didn’t?
Ms. Tee: Yes and no. Well… yes, I am. Looking back at the situations that I was in and knowing I could have lost my life on numerous occasions, I am shocked. I’m more thankful than anything. Waking up is everything to me now. Everything else that comes along with it is a bonus. Waking up is a blessing to me every day. I’m shocked.
Zenger: How does it make you feel when real OGs, like Ears Da Christ, give you so much respect when discussing you because you were able to maneuver and survive a very dangerous atmosphere?
Ms. Tee: I definitely appreciate them appreciating me as a person and understanding what I went through. And appreciating as a woman what I went through and that I was able to come out of it still standing tall. I appreciate them recognizing me being the real person that I am.
Zenger: You are a part of the new documentary on Netflix, “Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy.” You described Harlem as a war zone back then. What was Harlem street life like in the mid- to late ’80s and early ’90s?
Ms. Tee: You know, when I wrote my book… Harlem to me, like I explain it from my perspective, a young girl’s eyes, Harlem was the stage, and we all wanted to be on it. Everybody wanted to hustle. You have those of us who wanted to be fly and get money. It was a stage, and we wanted to be on it. Yes, it was an unfortunate opportunity that came our way, drugs being pushed in our communities, but for some people, that was their only way out. I got in because I was greedy. I didn’t need a way out. I had both parents; we never went hungry; I don’t have that rags-to-riches story. I try to tell people my perspective and my story. I was greedy when I went out there. I didn’t need anything. It goes to show you that there are consequences for the choices that we make. The streets back then… like I said, yes, it was fun, but it was also a war zone. People were getting killed left and right.
You know, sometimes I go back and forth with people ’bout [President Joseph R.] Biden and [Vice President Kamala] Harris, and all this mass incarceration, and then it’s like, “Oh, I’m voting for Trump.” Number one, you had to have been here to understand. And although I was out there, I’m here… some of us… people needed to be locked up. Now, I don’t agree with the sentencing aspect of that bill. But the point is, people were getting killed. People were living in fear, and I understand that. I’m a realist. I’m not one of those that piggyback off of what everybody else saying or how they feel. I’m a realist. And people don’t get it, the bill was called — I can’t remember the exact name of the bill, but the word that sticks out to me is violent. That word, violent, stands out to me, and that’s what it was all about. There were killings going on left and right. Like I said, I don’t agree with the harsh sentencing against black men, but something needed to be done because of all of the shootings that were going on. It was getting out of hand. The drugs — and again, those drugs that were being pushed in our community at that time. It was a setup for everybody — the dealers and the users — and we fell for the bait. It was just an unfortunate situation.
Zenger: I watch all of your YouTube videos, and I wanted to let you clear the air on a narrative that I see often in the comments. That narrative is that you didn’t like Rich Porter, that you could tell in your commentary that you weren’t a Rich Porter fan. Could you bring some clarification to that notion?
Ms. Tee: That is so crazy. That is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Number one, I’m not going to hate on no dead man. I have no reason to. I’m here and I’m blessed. They seem to think that just because Alpo is a friend of mine that I hate Rich Porter. No! Number one, I’ve never been an Alpo, Rich Porter or Azie [Faison] cheerleader, point blank period. I’m, rest in peace, Donnell [Porter], all day every day. Rich was in the game, not the baby, and that’s what I try to get people to understand. Rich getting killed was a part of the game. My uncle getting killed, that was part of the game. My brother got killed; that was part of that street life. You want me to mourn for somebody, I got my own people to mourn for. My uncle got killed; I’m not running all around on the internet talking about, “Rest in peace, Wild Al.” It was part of the street game, so I don’t understand that. I was introduced to Rich by an ex of mine. He seemed to be a cool dude. Never did anything wrong to me, of course. But they want me to d-ride, and I don’t do that. And I’m gonna stand by everything I say and do. I am unapologetic in how I move. The streets don’t dictate how I move, what I do and who I talk to. You got people talking who never even knew Rich. And from how I understood Rich moved, he wouldn’t have messed with a whole lot of people out here. So, that’s just me. Tee does what she wanna do, whether people agree with it or not.
Zenger: I like that you stand on what you stand on. Even with the Alpo situation. We know who he is, what he did, and the way he is perceived, but you never let that interfere with how you treated him. Did it ever become difficult to remain friends with Alpo?
Ms. Tee: It hasn’t been difficult for me at all. It seems to be difficult for everybody else. I’m like, don’t stress yourself about what I’m doing. At the end of the day, whatever he did, he got to live with that. I ain’t gotta live with it just because I’m cool with him. Again, I’m not going to let nobody’s opinion move me. Don’t get me wrong — if you have been snitched or told on, I understand why you would never deal with him. And I get it. You’re not going to get any argument from me. I’m not going to try and convince anybody to be cool with him. To know him is to understand why he still got a lot of his friends from back in the day. People love him and like him. His personality is huge. He has never changed with how he was before, and I didn’t even know him before, but from what I hear. He is just a very cool person that did something that people don’t agree with, and that’s just the bottom line. Whether he killed Rich or snitched on somebody, you got people that don’t agree with the things that he did. I choose to deal with him because he treats me fine, you know what I’m saying? If anything goes wrong, he’s like, “Tee, I got you.” I respect how people feel, but don’t try to bring that on me. I know what he did. Me and him have spoken about it on numerous occasions, and that’s something he has to live with.
Zenger: During your time in the game, you were shot, you were robbed at gunpoint while pregnant. Looking back at it, do you have any regrets?
Ms. Tee: The only thing I regret is not staying in school. I would’ve been a nurse about 30 years in the game right now. I don’t regret it all because again, I chose it. I just thank God I’m still here. And if my purpose today is to tell my story and to have people understand what was going on back then, and why it’s not worth it to do it now, and some people get it, then it was worth it, to be honest with you. I can’t honestly say that I regret anything, except for probably not staying in school. Which I do plan on going back. I just want to accomplish some of the things that I started, and just get that under my belt. Whether TV comes my way or not. I’m going to stay focused on accomplishing that.
You know what makes me feel good, Percy? I have men that reach out and say, “Damn, Tee, I’m glad I didn’t hit the streets like you did. I’m a square.” And I hate that word. Because I tell people, “You’re not a square. You’re somebody doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” A productive citizen in society is not a square. We were the squares. We were the ones out of place and doing something wrong. You understand what I’m saying? I hate when people call themselves a square for doing what’s right. I had a guy tell me, “Ms. Tee, I just bought a house in Maryland. It gets kind of hard, but when I watch your story it humbles me.” It was all well worth it then, Percy. If I can stop somebody and deter them from hittin’ them streets and realize it’s not worth it today, job well done.
Zenger: There are still going to be hoods everywhere in America. I’m sure Harlem looks a lot different than you remember it. Did you ever think you would see this version of Harlem?
Ms. Tee: Not at all. And you know what? I do regret something, now that you say that. I regret… but I was young, but I wish I had someone in my ear when it came to educating me on real estate back then. I regret not purchasing those brownstones or some of those buildings back then. Because looking at them back then, we would have never imagined how they look today. We would’ve been like, “Ain’t nobody buying that.” I wish I would’ve had someone that could have educated me on that. And before [Richard] “Fritz” [Simmons] died and Ace went to jail, ’91 was their year to stop and concentrate on buying property. But of course, ’91 was a rough year for me, in many ways. But our life changed. Gentrification does not bother me. The only thing that does bother me is, you have people with fixed incomes, whether young or elderly; you just can’t push people out like that. Everybody is not going to be able to leave. That’s my only problem. But other than that, to me change is good. I’m going to adapt no matter what.
Zenger: Anytime I speak with anyone who was living that street life, I’m always amazed at how great their memories are, and how they remember so much detail. Is that because when you’re in the drug game, you have to be on point at all times, in terms of being punctual and attentive?
Ms. Tee: I think that’s exactly it, because I’m going to be honest with you: If you ask me what I did yesterday, I probably won’t remember [laughing]. I’m so for real about that. But yeah, when you in the streets, you have to be alert, you have to be aware, you have to remember certain things. Even if I was messing with a dude, I need to learn his license plate number. If me and a dude was riding somewhere — this was when I was 17 and 18 — I need to pay attention to the signs so I can know where I’m going and so I can remember where I went. Especially being in the game and dealing with certain people in the game, you have to constantly be aware and be on point. So, I am so used to that, even today, I’m always aware and always looking around. If I’m talking to someone, they looking around too because they’re wondering what the hell I’m looking at. But they don’t know it’s just a habit of mine that I have because of the things I went through and how I was raised.
Zenger: Thank you so much for your time. I know this won’t be the last interview because you have so much going on. Everyone, get both books, “Harlem Heroin(e)” and “Snitching.” You won’t be disappointed. Also, check out Ms. Tee on the Netflix documentary “Crack.” Is there anything else you would like to add?
Ms. Tee: Well, right now, I’m working on my proof of concept so it can be shopped around. Hopefully, you will be seeing me on TV [laughing]. But check out the “Crack” documentary. It’s real good. And you know what? A lot of that information I already knew about, but it’s good to be reminded. I had a lot of people on YouTube that were like, “Ms. Tee, I was born in ’91. I did not even know all this stuff had went down.” So, it’s good for the younger people to know how what happened back then are still affecting people today in 2021. That crack thing was something else. It was totally different than cocaine, totally different from heroin. That crack was a whole different animal. Hopefully, they understand that they don’t want to get involved in it and yeah, just do something else positive. I’m here. I appreciate your time. And if anyone want to pick up these books, www.shesmstee.com. They are also on Amazon and Kindle. Thank you so much for the opportunity, Percy.
(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)
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