In Graphic Detail: Teezo Touchdown Interviewed

“We see the common denominators of what it takes to get to greatness. I’m doing that as well, but I’m also figuring out what makes me different than that."

Teezo Touchdown is known for his passion for fashion and bold looks. He was featured in the last global campaign for HUGO: the German brand linked music and self-expression through the #HUGOYourWay campaign. In our cover feature, the musical mountaineer takes a moment to chronicle the latest step on his courageous climb toward stardom.

Teezo Touchdown uses interviews like voice memos. Each one timestamps his ascent to stardom. It’s a hot-and-stuffy Good Friday morning in London and tonight he will play his first headline show in the UK capital, which sold out within minutes of being announced. We meet him in a gloomy villain’s lair of a studio, speakers blasting Atlanta rapper Bktherula’s moody ‘LVL5 P2’ mixtape as Teezo’s personality shines in front of the camera, showcasing his range from angelic to demonic. 

“Sometimes the details are very graphic, but that’s what I want,” he tells me of his candidness as an interviewee. Shooting has wrapped and we’re enjoying the air-conditioning in the spacious chauffeured Mercedes that’s been rented to get him around town. “No one really gives enough detail. That’s what’s going to make my story very different, being very transparent. Oversharing for the sake of the next person. So when you drop your first album and you do 6,000 [units] – well Teezo did 7,000 – I want to make this unbelievable climb I’m making [feel] very realistic.”

It hasn’t been easy. It’s taken the Beaumont, Texas artist, born Aaron Lashane Thomas, over a decade of trial-and-error before reaching this point. He’s been through numerous iterations and has expanded his skill set to include rapping, DJing, singing, writing, producing, video-directing and more. He’s arrived as Teezo Touchdown, the eclectic musician known for wearing nails in his hair, with a flamboyant sense of style influenced by Rick James, Bootsy Collins and Phil Lynott. The tipping point could be traced back to 2019 when he attracted attention online (including co-signs from Trippie Redd and Chance The Rapper)  with ‘100 Drums’, a track about gun violence (to which he has suffered personal loss) over a sample of Panic! At the Disco’s ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’. This led to a deal with RCA Records the following year, with a string of singles released during lockdown – ‘SUCKA!’, ‘Social Cues’, ‘Technically’ – that established a core fanbase and garnered notoriety. 

He’s since become a sought-after collaborator, with high-profile guest features and tour support slots with Tyler, The Creator and Travis Scott. Last September he released his debut album ‘How Do You Sleep at Night?’. The ambitious record further established his versatile sound, a concoction of genres he branded Rock and Boom; R&B with the intensity of rock, the penmanship of boom bap, and 808’s to “shake the world!” A fortnight ahead of its release, Drake posted that he’d “just heard some of the best music ever,” after previewing the album. The following month Drake’s eighth album, ‘For All The Dogs’, was released, with Teezo credited for contributions to three songs, including his own interlude ‘Stray’ for which Snoop Dogg provides an outro.

Teezo has developed a significant relationship with London. He was first invited here to shoot a fashion campaign, and during that trip he met Hoskins, a versatile producer who has worked with a broad spectrum of artists – including PartyNextDoor, Clavish, Liam Payne and Dominic Fike – that uniquely position him as a collaborator who taps into all facets of Teezo’s sound. “I remember the first two days we didn’t come up with anything, but on the third day we ordered McDonalds and we finally came out with something,” he recalls. The impact of those sessions was so profound, that when it came to planning ‘How Do You Sleep At Night?’ Teezo knew he wanted to return to work with Hoskins. This resulted in the funk-fuelled juxtaposition of ‘Mood Swings’, and self-aware exploration of his parental relationships, ‘Daddy Mama Drama’. “That was that lightbulb moment, where I thought ‘I’m really good at songwriting,’’ he remembers. “We were just able to put in long hours. It’s a different type of workflow. I can’t really explain it, but we just had that connection and the songs that came out are very near to me.”

During that trip he first made contact with Travis Scott, which led to their collaboration ‘Modern Jam’ from Scott’s 2023 album ‘UTOPIA’, as well as a support slot on its accompanying tour. His unhinged faux-British New Wave vocals on the ‘Yeezus’-like track reveal an off-the-wall creative bravery that most rising artists would not risk when faced with an opportunity to impress one of the biggest artists in the world. It’s understandable that he has become somewhat of a favourite in the artist community. Having also toured with Tyler, The Creator, after featuring on ‘Call Me When You Get Lost’ track ‘RUNITUP’ in 2021, Teezo acknowledges that starting his live career on arena stages is a privilege not afforded to many. Tonight he will play Electric Brixton, and he sees this tour as an opportunity to be able to go back and experience the intimate venues that most artists play from the beginning. “The reason Tyler and Travis are such great performers is because they started in these clubs,” he says. “So for me to go down that same path, I really look forward to it because I’m able to practice. The show doesn’t take a hit because the venues are small, I’m still giving you a stadium show. But I’m just glad that I’m able to rehearse and practice now and get this repetition in for when I am on a bigger stage.”

Tour support and festival sets offer a proving ground, but Teezo has a different appreciation for fans who are attending his own live shows, which becomes even more surreal so far from home. “To see these people walk to the venue, spending gas money, tube money to see me, it really does mean a lot,” he says. “And for it to be in another country… I used to be afraid to go to Paris because of the language barrier, and now I’m doing shows there selling them out! It’s something that has taken a minute to fathom, but I immediately appreciate it.”

It’s been an eye-opening experience for Teezo. Seeing fans singing his lyrics back to him, sharing stories about the impact of his music on their lives has reminded him of his purpose. “Sometimes I feel like I’m good at making these songs, but what am I making it for?” he asks. “This tour is showing me what I’m making it for: the stories and people telling me how they connect with it. Because it’s true, the pen is truthful. This tour has been a confidence boost for me.”

He approaches his career like a researcher, meticulously studying and considering how every action contributes to the overall lore of Teezo Touchdown. Obviously this includes the nails in his hair (a reference to his father’s job as a handyman), his signature Sharpie and sticky-note Instagram posts, but it also extends to the way he talks about himself and how open he chooses to be. “Oh Lord, I’ve just been self-deprecating all over myself,” he says, reflecting on recent interviews. “I’ve been reading so much negativity that I start to believe it. And it’s like, ‘please take it easy on yourself.’ I’ve been reading a lot of negative comments, and you can hear it in interviews. Now, you’re seeing this loving person, so the tone is changing in real-time.” Teezo has had to learn how to distinguish constructive criticism from hate, and respond appropriately. “[Tyler, The Creator] was like, read it, take what you want and throw everything else out,” he explains. “I can read a dig and be like, ‘Oh you’re just being mean here, but wait, there’s one thing you say right here. You’re right. I agree with you here.’ And that’s something that I need to either lean into or fix.”

With thousands of fans projecting their personal images of Teezo Touchdown onto him every night, he’s also having to develop the resilience to maintain his sense of self. A few days ago in Berlin he was frustrated that an Instagram post wasn’t getting the engagement he expected, despite having sold-out a show in a city almost 9,000 km from home, where he does not share the primary language. “I’ve only been able to let online dictate my value and worth,” he says, having initially established himself during the pandemic. “So that’s something that I’m slowly, with these shows, starting to change. I think that validation comes from within. That’s one thing that I’m learning. I don’t want to give that power to anyone, that’s dangerous to be like, ‘Here’s my happiness, I trust you with it.’ That’s dangerous to give to anyone, I don’t care how much you trust them!” 

While the relationship between memory and music keeps fans yearning for a particular era of an artist’s music, Teezo notes that it often leads to creative stagnancy. “What [the fans] really like is where they were at that point in time,” he says. Teezo started releasing music on a major label during the pandemic, and hears fan anecdotes about particular songs conjuring idealised memories of binge-watching shows and ordering in takeaway food. But that music will always be there for those people, and Teezo doesn’t intend to replicate his old work for the sake of nostalgia. “[Frank Ocean’s] ‘blonde’ album came on in the restaurant the other day, and it’s still so fresh,” he explains. “That album helped me through a really dark time, so I’m gonna be a little more biased. But I wouldn’t dare tell Frank, ‘Yeah, we need another ‘blonde.’”

‘How Do You Sleep At Night?’ was accompanied by recommended listening conditions, designed by Teezo to help fans develop an attachment to the music. “I made a point to say wear pyjamas, connect this music to a memory, because that’s what makes it a classic,” he says. Since beginning to find success, Teezo has developed his own habit of myth-making through the intentional glamourising of the mundane moments in his life. “That first day at the gas station, when the guy was telling me like, ‘This is how you clean the toilet’. I told him, ‘I’m only going to be here for a little bit because the music’s gonna take off,’” Teezo recalls. “That was the first time I really romanticised the situation I was in.” Not wanting to lose a moment, he daydreams about small green rooms, to cavernous arena locker rooms and pushing sofas together to make a bed. “Even when I know I’m spending my last [dollar] on this art thing, I do it because I’m romanticising it. I’m taking this risk that could possibly put me in debt forever. Even for this tour I’ll be in the red because I believe in it that much. I believe it’s gonna work out at the end of the day, no matter what.” Having spent years of his life watching the clock at work, wishing away his hours, he’s come to realise that presence is not just for the good times: “Every single second of it, I’m so present and thankful.”

Few get to the point in a musical career where stardom begins to require definition. For most it remains an abstract idea to be dreamed about, but for Teezo stardom is within reach and the concept needs fleshing out. His definition remains a work-in-progress but he’s confident that it comes from within. “Everyone’s story is different. The first class seats all look the same for a ‘star’, but we’re in a different time now,” he considers. “I don’t want to live in nostalgia. I don’t want to be the next, whatever they’re saying. I want to be whatever Aaron is supposed to be at their star level. So I’m trying to figure out every day, what this new star looks like. We see the common denominators of what it takes to get to greatness. I’m doing that as well, but I’m also figuring out what makes me different than that.”

On album track ‘Impossible’, Teezo introduces us to characters – possibly parts of his own persona – who’ve been discouraged by naysayers. He then asks, “Who said it’s impossible?” This question is a prescient one in most creative journeys, and can often be a tipping point that leads to progression. 

Before anybody knew his name, Teezo found his validation through art. That was knocked off course a little when he made it to a professional level. He started to internalise things he was reading and hearing about himself: that he hasn’t produced a Billboard hit yet, or that his first week album sales weren’t impressive enough. “I was taking that to heart,” he admits. “[I believed that] this is who I am, I have failed, but this is all part of the journey.”

This is why stories of artistic struggle are so important to him. From looking to others, and speaking to his peers, he can see that these moments of doubt are par for the course. “People counted them out and they ended up doing the impossible,” he reflects. “This is where I’m at right now in my career.” As a result, Teezo sees it as part of his duty to document the reality of his own story to encourage others to push forward with their own paths. “That’s why I love being very transparent in interviews,” he admits. “I want to giggle in the future when I look back and remember the back of this Mercedes, and how much money I had in my pocket at the time.”

Teezo Touchdown wears HUGO throughout. As seen in CLASH Issue 128. Order your copy here.

Words: Grant Brydon

Photographer: Joseph Delaney

Stylist: Matt King

Fashion Assistant: Fraser Kenneth

Photographer’s Assistant: Richie Barker

Makeup: Martina Derosa

Creative Director: Rob Meyers

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