And as he tells me this, a stray nail falls from his hair, bouncing off his football pads and onto the floor.
His life, like anyone’s, has not been without its share of clouds. He plays a (still) unreleased song for me themed around the year 2016, riffing on the year’s pop culture milestones (like say, Leo winning the Oscar) while juxtaposing them against events in his own life. Time spent with Teezo reveals him to be obscenely fixated on dates, times, and mementos to anchor those memories. He still has the pen he signed his record deal with; he writes down the names of everyone he meets on yellow sticky pads.
As he plays me the track, I ask him what significance the year 2016 holds.
“We all”—people our age, he meant—“romanticize that year,” he says, citing seminal albums like Blonde. “But it was probably one of the darkest summers for me, because I lost my girlfriend to gun violence that year.”
He continues: “That was when I said I’m going to really go for the Teezo Touchdown thing, fearlessly. I was like, You can either go crazy and just dive into the grief or use this numbness to go out and be fearless. It felt like I was walking in the street with my eyes closed with traffic coming. I didn’t care, I was just numb.”
“Whatever is motivating you, it has to be something solid, because grief…it’s dark and scary, but time heals that. And then you find yourself saying, Wait, what am I doing this for again? So, I’m finding what’s going to be my reason to keep going because I can’t just keep going back to that.”
New artists are inevitably beset with comparisons to veterans who are even a little similar, a gift and curse situation that ends up stacking them against impossibly high standards. For all his flamboyant outfits and penchant to sing or thrash just as much as he raps, Teezo often found himself getting compared to Andre 3000 and Tyler. “[When] I was in the studio with Tyler, he was [on the phone] with Andre and I joked, Could you tell him to tell people to stop comparing me to him?” Teezo recalls. “It’s the ego to want to be like, Nah, I’m doing my own thing.”
Then, according to Teezo, Tyler offered some sage advice: “If people didn’t know what a bear was when they see it in the woods for the first time, they would freak out. So you have to understand that it’s going to be kind of abrasive for people when they first see you. Don’t trip on that. People compare and associate things to calm their senses down, so don’t take it personal.”
It’s why the visit to the museum and all the biographies he’s been consuming are so important to him: He’s learning to embrace rap’s history. Learning to understand that whatever he’s going through is nothing new.