It’s a few weeks before Travis Scott’s Utopia Tour, and the thought of rehearsal begins lingering in the mind of Teezo Touchdown. Opening up for one of music’s biggest daredevils should be a tall order, but not for Teezo.
“I seen Doja Cat’s VMAs performance [this year] and how she did a medley of three songs in five minutes. With my given set time, [I thought] how can I set this 40-minute experience in the time that I’m given?” Teezo began explaining his game plan. “We reached out to the crew that did the VMA performance and made a medley of the album, so the production of the live arrangement — if you love the album, this live show is gonna make you love it even more.”
Love might be an understatement, as Teezo’s climb up the mainstream ranks this year has been one of hip-hop’s best storylines. His debut album, How Do You Sleep at Night, shuns conventionalism and serves as a boundless leap of creativity as he fuses his love for rap, rock, and R&B. Whether he’s giving deep dives into his family issues on “Daddy Mama Drama” or thrashing naysayers on “Impossible,” nobody can stymie Teezo’s dreams of being a needle-moving artist. With cosigns from Travis Scott, Madonna, Janelle Monae, Tyler, The Creator, and Drake (who he worked with twice on For All the Dogs), Teezo’s eccentric flair and thrill for theatrics is quickly becoming a sight for sore eyes in the ultra-competitive music industry.
“I used to say self-sabotage doesn’t always look like hitting your hand with a hammer. It can be not being organized, or not being on time,” says Teezo. “I think all of that organization is gonna fall on every aspect of my life.”
Billboard spoke to November’s R&B / Hip-Hop Rookie of the Month about making his debut album How Do You Sleep at Night?, overcoming low first-week sales, and dealing with trauma.
You’re one of five kids and your pops was a DJ. Was that where your love for music emanated?
I think so. That and I just said recently I always miss the DJ aspect of it, but I think another part he showed me was just how to be a fan. He used to have this drawer full of tour merch that was Frankie Beverly & Maze shirts. I used to always wear them to school and he would always get on me talking about, “Don’t touch my tour shirts” and how he would take care of his record collection. Even now you go to the house he has these panels of artists and their albums. He’s a true music fan and cinema fan. Just as expensive as the music collection is, the movie collection is as well.
When I FaceTime fans and I see they have a wall full of albums and stuff, it always kinda makes me think about my dad, especially when seeing a true music fan who don’t do music. Like one kid was going to school to be a nurse. I thought he’d be in music because he has so much music on his wall, but no, he just loves music. I think my dad definitely taught me just how to love the arts.
You mentioned your dad being a movie buff. With your videos being innovative and inventive, did he somewhat kind of plant that seed?
No, because before I started shooting music videos, I had somebody teach me the three important things of a camera ,and I just took it and ran with it. We used to watch movies every Sunday like a family and stuff. I was just watching movies as a fan, but once I started shooting music videos, it just kind of changed it like, “Oh, that’s three-point lighting” or “they have the sound design for stuff like that.” So at first, I was just a novice watching movies.
You’ve often use the phrase “nobody phase,” when describing yourself. How have you balanced transitioning from that mindset and not being a product of self-sabotage?
The self-sabotage thing is an everyday battle. If I was doing music or not, that’s an everyday battle. As far as the nobody stage, it’s weird for me because I’ve been looking at the same person in the mirror every day for my whole life. I kinda still move like that nobody phase to the point my team has to remind me like, “Yo, you gotta stop little-broing yourself.” I kinda like that. I don’t like to walk in a room and expect people to know who I am. I still continue to move like nobody knows who I am. It’s some peace there because I still get to have human interactions and it’s just little icebreakers and stuff.
When you were penning a song like “Impossible” was that the origin of how the song came about?
That story will go into the same universe. It’s basically me just projecting and asking myself pondering what they look like. Maybe they want to be a painter, maybe they want to be a boxer, but who was the first person to say like, “You can’t do that”? That started a chain reaction to get us to where we are now. You post online, “You can’t do that,” all the way to where we are now. Someone post, “That’s impossible,” or you tell your friends and they try to make you aim for something more realistic. It’s actually my question, “Who was the first person to say you can’t do this?”
I always joke I only know 10 songs. Because somebody would be like, “Do you know this song by such and such?” I’ll be like, “Nah.” I probably know who the artist is, but don’t know the songs. When I get in the studio and I’ll sit down, especially now, they’ll give me a prompt if I’m writing for something. I’ll be with the producer, “Let’s play Too Short, ‘Freaky Tales.’ Let’s play Sir-Mix-A-Lot, ‘Posse on Broadway.’” I think being a DJ for most of my life kinda helps my music library and database to be able to reference and research, but also understanding not to be an imitation or cover band. I can go play a Prince record if I want a Prince record. It’s how can I study them and pour it into me what I have going right now.
One of the things I’ve seen with your album and stardom growing is this “rock & boom” genre you created. When you bring in somebody like a Janelle Monáe or any outside artist, were they a little intimidated by that kind of sound or did they embrace it wholeheartedly?
They loved it. They loved it initially because [hip-hop A&R veteran] Dante Ross said something in passing that stuck with me, “On that first album, you don’t want to go too weird on ’em, ’cause you don’t want to push them away. You want to get there with them — and the people you do get there, you slowly give them more and more of what you really want to give them.”
I think with this first album, the musicianship is through the roof. The writing is through the roof but it’s also very palatable. More palatable than showing someone “Mid” or “SUCKA!” or “Handyman,” I think this is the more concentrated combination of everything. All of those songs had to happen for me to get to my debut album. I think I wanted to make this one very palatable. If you show someone a picture of me, it probably doesn’t look like you’re supposed to like an artist like this. A lot of the push-and-pull comes from my imagery, but you close your eyes and you hear what’s there.
I know when you made this album, a lot of the music was geared for your sophomore project. What does that next album look like?
I’m enjoying my first one, first press run and performing this album. Just really enjoying this first album, because I’m never gonna get it again. If I start working on the next thing, I’d be so off this album and not wanting to promote it… but we’re going almost on a month and I still can’t stop listening to this album. So right now, for the foreseeable future, I almost want to personally deliver it to you and ask you, “Have you heard it?” Talk to you about your thoughts. Right now it’s [about] How Do You Sleep at Night?
When the numbers initially came out, they weren’t as high as some people envisioned them to be, yet it’s an acclaimed album. Have you sat with that balance?
We talk about the “nobody phase” and how I look at myself, I think people probably look at me with the co-signs and “he been on this album and this album,” but this is still my journey and my pace. However it was gonna happen, is however it’s gonna happen. I think that was more of a shock to them. I’m even flattered that it got a post like that.
I feel like that’s reserved for bigger artists when they tell you how much they sold. I’m fortunate enough to fall in that category. I’m concerned with going through another pack of these and talking one-by-one to each person. That’s my focus every day. There’s 8,000 units, but I’m pretty sure more than 8,000 people heard the album. I’m happy with that. I know that I’m touching the people one-by-one every day. Only number I care about is one and I’m cool with that, because I’m trying to reach [fans] one-by-one.
One of my favorite songs from the album was “Daddy Mama Drama.” How were you able to develop that bond with your parents knowing you pretty much carry out their flaws today?
We laugh about it. That’s a great medicine, and a great doorway to have that conversation, because it is a hard conversation. I will say to someone out there who wants to have that conversation: Just find how you could get your foot in the door. For us, it was joking about what would be a traumatic experience, and how I’m laughing about it — but after that laugh, really just expressing how that made me feel. With “Daddy Mama Drama,” I’m glad people are gravitating to that one because I hope that it promotes that conversation to have with family.
A few people have come up to me with the second of “Daddy Mama Drama” and asking why it takes, like, this sexual R&B turn. I feel like I connected it to the sins of a father are passed down. It’s like my poor excuse of why my relationships are maybe the way that they are. Maybe the link of why I’m not so loving or only show my affection through gifts. It’s because of how I grew up. I haven’t talked to anyone about this on the journalist side of why “Daddy Mama Drama” makes that turn, but here it is from the horse’s mouth, why part one and part two happens. It’s a full conversation of showing a generation what happens to this person after what I lived.
I read that your artistry really began after your girlfriend passed away from gun violence. Knowing where you’re at in your career, how have you dealt with that trauma knowing she’s not here to see the success you’ve been able to have?
I was just talking to a friend, but I haven’t talked to her in two years. I’ve missed my best friends’ birthdays in our 20s working on this or whatever. Not being able to talk to my family as much because of this grind and putting my head down and not even processing that loss that I had. I poured it into the work.
Recently, I really been working on being present in the moment and processing everything. Most of the time, I don’t really talk about it because most of the people I’m around don’t know her or my family. All they know is Teezo Touchdown. I use that to push forward. When I’m in these hotel rooms by myself, I process these things because it’s just me and the mirror. I’m working on being a better friend, son, and brother.
If you could title this chapter in your life, what word would that be and why?
“Organized.” Because I said in another interview they wanted me to manifest something and I said, “Teezo Touchdown will be the most organized artist in the world.”
Before I sing a note or go onstage, I think it starts with, “Where are my keys? Where’s my laptop?” It starts from there and if I start from as small as that all the way up to my professional, I’d be unstoppable and untouchable. That’s the thing that I’m attacking right now. I think that kinda goes with the self-sabotage thing. I used to say, “self-sabotage doesn’t always look like hitting your hand with a hammer. It can be not being organized, or not being on time.” I think all of that organization is gonna fall on every aspect of my life.