Genre-exploding vocalist Teezo Touchdown: ‘You’re going to spend the rest of your life with me!’ | Music

‘Is Teezo going to be this hard metal sex artist or this positive pop artist?” Teezo Touchdown wondered to himself in a 2021 interview after a varied run of singles that included an anxious indie anthem (Social Cues), a community-focused trap ballad (Strong Friend) and a goth-rap track, Mid, about removing mediocrity from one’s life.

Judging by his impish and utterly brilliant debut album How Do You Sleep at Night? the Texas singer-rapper-producer didn’t alight on either option, pulling as it does from power pop, glam rock, R&B, hip-hop, hard dance and more, on songs that are tender, but also Prince-ishly funky and horny. Drake has called the album “some of the best music ever” but Teezo’s had his fair share of critics who accuse him of style – with metal nails in his hair, he looks like a post-apocalytic street punk – over substance. “Teezo Touchdown is the Insufferable Fashion Rapper of the Moment,” went the headline of one particularly scathing Pitchfork article.

But instead of being hurt, Teezo listened, and focused on nothing but the music for a year. “It’s always been my foundation, but this album really proves that,” he explains. Taking inspiration from Destiny Child’s self-titled debut, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and records by Future and Frank Ocean, “I realised I kept coming back to albums because of what they were talking about,” he says now. “Yes, the music is cool but it’s all about substance. I can’t just get on a track, flex, and expect people to care.”

How Do You Sleep At Night? opens with a watercooler conversation about the latest Spider-Man movie but quickly spirals out to explore parental relationships, masculinity and growing up in Beaumont, Texas, one of North America’s most disenfranchised cities, with over 20% of the population living below the poverty line. The title pokes fun at questions Teezo is asked about his hairstyle, but it also speaks to his intimate storytelling: the dreamy Familiarity wrestles with a hustler’s lifestyle; the Quentin Tarantino-inspired Neighborhood takes in fatherhood, class and social mobility. Love songs are written in such detail they feel voyeuristic. “I just want you to get to know the person who you’re going to be spending the rest of your life with,” he says, eying a long career of his own. “These aren’t someone else’s words – this is my story.”

Initially the album was even more diverse and titled Ended Up Being Me, but after a couple of singles were met with a shrug from his usually hyper-engaged fanbase, Teezo went back to the drawing board. “If an album drops in the woods and no-one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” he asks today. “That first version of the album was a showcase of all the things I could do. This one is more concentrated. It’s like a good suit – the whole thing has been tailored to me.”

Art on his sleeve … Teezo Touchdown.
Art on his sleeve … Teezo Touchdown. Photograph: Publicity image

Aaron Lashane Thomas first started making music in middle school, inspired by his father’s job as a DJ and the eclectic mix of crowdpleasers that were regularly played around the house. His first breakout moment as Teezo Touchdown came in 2019 when he rapped about gun violence over Panic! at the Disco’s histrionic emo anthem I Write Sins, Not Tragedies before trying out that string of different styles: “I just wanted to see how the world would react.”

As the Pitchfork article suggests, the world wasn’t always positive – but rather than going into the studio and aiming for a specific genre mashup, he kept chasing what felt exciting. “It should never be that serious,” Teezo says, not wanting the songs to feel like cosplay. “Whenever things feel too corporate, I remind myself that I started doing this because it’s fun.”

2020’s Sucka! caught the attention of Tyler, the Creator – he featured on his track Runitup and supported him on an arena tour, turning his 30-minute set into a garish home-improvement show. “They’ll be people in that audience who’ll always remember Teezo Touchdown bursting through a door with a chainsaw,” he laughs.

He turned even more heads with a startling guest verse on Modern Jam from Travis Scott’s latest No 1 album Utopia, bringing a glittering flamboyance to the urgent rap track. Teezo neatly sidesteps rumours he’s set to tour with him – “that’d be really exciting though” – and explains the secret to a great feature is conversation, praising both Tyler and Travis for “the hospitality, the professionalism, and the love for what they do”.

When he was first breaking through there was mystery around Teezo, who refused to confirm his name or age in interviews – it turns out he’s 30. “That mystery came from a place of fear,” he explains. “I’m not out here trying to be this teen-spirit thing. I want to break down the wall that if it hasn’t happened for you yet [at 30], it never will. I want to be the biggest star in the world but I also want it to be tangible – I want to help show you that whatever you’re chasing, it’s possible.”

While there are plenty of moments on How Do You Sleep At Night? that lean into that positivity, Teezo is also real about how hard the journey has been. “It can sometimes be gruesome,” he explains, with a long-list of dead-end jobs used to fund his DIY early years and plenty of 18-hour days in the studio where he felt like everything he made was crap. “There are times where it will feel dark, but you don’t have to let that be your driving force,” he says, with the giddy, personality-driven debut to prove it. “You’re not Batman.”

How Do You Sleep at Night? is out now on Not Fit For Society/RCA Records

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