Nigerian Alté Pioneer Teezee is Living in the Moment
In music, nine years between projects is basically an eternity. Nigerian rap-fusion artist Teezee made his solo debut back in 2013 with his mixtape, The Fresh Prince of Las-Gidi, a glossy showcase to prove his artistic bonafides after initially entering the local music scene as one-third of the pop-rap group, DRB Lasgidi. For the rest of that decade, Teezee was pretty much AWOL in terms of new music, hopping on the stray feature and spare DRB releases, while focusing on a myriad of other creative ventures.
“I’ve just had a lot going on,” Teezee explains to OkayAfrica over a Zoom call with the cameras off. “I’ve been working with other artists, the DRB stuff, we started NATIVE, and I had my headspace in a place of doing stuff for my community—that’s bigger than me.” Shuffling between Lagos and London these days, the artist and entrepreneur has committed to playing a role to connect the music and creative scenes between his two cities of residence, “whether it’s through our Nativeland festival and bringing in artists to perform, or it’s working with Skepta and them on “Bad Energy” and other records.”
Focusing on solo music was a secondary assignment for Teezee until Covid-19 stunned, froze and held the entire world hostage. Cordoned off to the walls of his apartment by the pandemic, Teezee’s creative attention, which had been divided amongst several interests, shifted and concentrated on making music, leading to a recording burst that would form the basis of his new EP, Arrested by Love. Inspired by a 2005 Nollywood film of the same title, the 9-song set is a timely return for an artist that helped lay the foundation to the alté movement.
Image courtesy of Teezee.
Championing liberal expression that wasn’t defined by a single style of music and gleefully rebelled against Nigeria’s conservative societal values, alté, along with the inventive mutations of street-pop and the slowed-down pop led by artists like Mr Eazi and Runtown, played a profound role in the current, expansive musical and cultural scope of afrobeats. As a member of DRB and through his own early solo work, Teezee was part of the set of indie artists embodying the alté ethos long before it would be nominally defined. Nine years later, he’s still expressing himself with the same autonomous vim, albeit with a different, wizened perspective.
Arrested by Love is a vibrant body of work with range as its gambit. The EP is a musical rollercoaster, containing groovy afrobeats, blaring and serrated trap, dancehall dalliances, and more. It’s also graced by ten featured artists, a cast as diverse as afrobeats superstar Davido, experimental trap artist Lancey Foux, and rap-fusionist Prettyboy D-O. It’s a highly collaborative effort, sticking close to Teezee’s lean towards community, but the project still revolves around the headliner’s artistic purposes, and is defined by his malleable vocal delivery that can switch from gruff flows to tuneful melodies.
“I think, for me, it’s always about putting things together to bring about the best possible outcome,” he explains of his creative approach. “Think about artists like Kanye who will have features and three producers work on one song, because the more great minds you put in the room, the better the product is. It’s essential for me that everything is in synergy, but everything is in Teezee’s world. A song can have two features and two producers, I just want to make sure that the message that comes across fits into my own vision.”
TEEZEE & DAVIDO – BADI
On Arrested by Love, Teezee hones in on the invigorating edge of self-acceptance, unfolding a portrait of a man possessed by a confidence that he’s walking the very path meant for him. Over bubbly, Juju-inspired percussions, he delivers self-reverent quips on opener “FREE ME,” while he trades auto-tune-soaked bars with DETO BLACK on the irreverent “NOK’D.” Beneath the posturing, there’s a spiritual undercurrent that’s evident in multiple references to divine backing and blackness, whether it’s centering women with melanin on the Davido-assisted “BADI,” extolling his roots alongside British-Gambian rap artist Pa Salieu on “ANCESTORS,” or rapping the line, “Never said I’m the best, thank God I’m blessed,” on the rage-ready “Zac Chaos.”
“I feel people have a preconception because I don’t talk too much, I never really tell people all the things I do and all the work I’m up to,” Teezee says of that quoted lyric line. “It’s not like I need validation from nobody, I’m doing this because I’m the best in the world, and nobody can tell me differently. I was also just stating that it’s because of what God has done for me that I’m able to have the freedom to not make noise about it.” It’s an indicator that he’s more secure in his work and general cultural value than he’s ever been, which means he can be in the present and enjoy each process and milestone, whether it’s raising his first child or being proud of his impressive return to music.
“I used to dwell on legacy back in the day, but I live in the moment now,” Teezee says as our conversation winds down. “I’m in the now, and also people pass away unexpectedly so the future is not certain. Like, Virgil just passed away, that’s one of the most iconic black men in the history of fashion and entertainment. Jamal Edwards is one of the most inspirational people in Black UK music over the last 20 years, he just passed away too. These people are not that much older than me, so everything I want in mind, I have to bring it to life now.”