TeeZee: visionary leading west Africa’s alté movement onto the world stage

TeeZee: visionary leading west Africa’s alté movement onto the world stage

If you haven’t heard the news yet, there’s a new government in charge. Leading this regime is Nigerian artist TeeZee, who’s playing a key role in strengthening the position of west Africa’s pioneering alté movement. This alternative scene is home to a host of rule-breaking musicians and creatives, including recent Radar stars Tems and Amaarae, who are determined to break the mould with their work and their identity – on the world stage.

“Yes sir, new government in charge!” TeeZee proudly tells NME about his mission, which is outlined on the triumphant closing track of his debut EP ‘Arrested By Love’ (due early 2022). “It’s definitely a mission statement, so people know that there’s a new wave of young African artists who are sitting on the global space. We don’t want to be boxed, we don’t want to be limited and we don’t want to be put in the corner as just Afrobeat artists. We are artists of the world, but we are from west Africa. That’s super-important to communicate.” Then, to underline his point, he sings the hook from ‘New Government’ over Zoom to NME – TeeZee’s got our vote.

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The self-styled ‘Fresh Prince of Lasgidi’, who currently splits his time between Lagos (his beloved ‘Lasgidi’) and London, is aiming to start 2022 with a bang with the vivacious ‘Arrested By Love’. Named after a Nollywood movie he stumbled upon on YouTube during lockdown, TeeZee is keen to spread Nigerian-rooted positivity through his all-encompassing Afro-fusion sound.

“The key themes that I’m addressing are self-love and the different kinds of love,” he explains about the EP. “It was heavily inspired by me watching a lot of vintage Nollywood movies during lockdown, and understanding Nigerian cinematography and how the music was used. The excessive, dramatic use of love in different ranges, too. To me, that’s very Nigerian, and that’s what I want to portray through the music.”

‘Arrested By Love’ is a vibrant, celebratory listen that’s packed full of vibes, voices and perspectives, linking together TeeZee’s alté affiliation with a strong cast list of guest collaborators. As well as Nigerian-American star Davido (who features on ‘Badi’), British-Congolese MC BackRoad Gee and cult London rapper Lancey Foux both feature on the thumping ‘DRK SKN’. 2021 NME 100 cover star Pa Salieu, meanwhile, delivers a typically bombastic verse on EP highlight ‘Ancestors’.

“I feel like our music sits in the same space,” TeeZee says of his collaborators. “BackRoad Gee and Pa Salieu are two artists from the UK in particular who can easily blend genres, from doing rap, drill or hip-hop to doing full Afrobeat records. I think that’s something that’s super-special about the new generation of the African-British community, and the diaspora at home as well. There’s synergy in the music we’re all making.”

Of his relationship with Salieu, who TeeZee counts as “one of my closest friends”, he adds: “These last two years Pa and I have really formed a friendship that’s connected both of our worlds together in terms of his Gambian/Coventry community and my Lagos/London community. We’ve built so much stuff now – we even share tour DJs! That’s probably why we made such a phenomenal song together.” TeeZee hasn’t had the pleasure of visiting Salieu up in Coventry yet, though: “I’m definitely trying to get to Cov. He’s invited me a few times, but we haven’t managed to go yet. But we’re going!”

teezee alte artist
Credit: Ibraham Adewole

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Back in London, TeeZee counts Skepta as another “inspiring” close friend, collaborator and “phenomenal producer”. The two artists first linked up in 2018 for the Boj-featuring single ‘Like To Party’ after they met at TeeZee’s NativeLand festival in Lagos, where the Boy Better Know leader was shown “a different side” to Nigeria, the country of his parents’ birth.

“Our whole alté African community was something that [Skepta] connected with, and had synergy with the grime community in London,” TeeZee explains of the “instant” connection he and Skepta forged. “The next summer we shot the ‘Bad Energy’ [Skepta’s 2018 collaboration with WizKid] video, which was heavily curated by Skepta and his team as well as myself and the alté community. So that connection was seamless.”

TeeZee and Skepta recently reunited for the latter’s ‘All In’ EP, with the two being joined by Kid Cudi on ‘Peace Of Mind’. “Those are two guys who really shaped what I was about as an artist,” he says. “So to have that experience was surreal. Kid Cudi was the alt-rapper who came out wearing skinny jeans, and that was how I saw myself in the Nigerian music space. Same with Skep: he always represented that he was from Nigeria even though he’s one of the biggest artists in the UK. It made me comfortable in myself when I was out here.”

‘Peace Of Mind’ was also the first song TeeZee recorded following the birth of his son last year. Parenthood, he says, has proven to be “the most fulfilling experience that one can ever have”.

“Even just the dopamine exchange you get with your offspring is the intense, most insane clean type of high that one can receive,” he says. “I’m just so excited for my son’s future: for him to see all the stuff that his father – and his mother – has done, just so when he grows up he can be like, ‘Yo, you guys did that! You guys are kind of cool!’ Even though he’ll grow up and everything I’ve done will be kind of corny… but everything will be there for him to see and reference back to.”

teezee alte artist
Credit: Ibraham Adewole

TeeZee is similarly animated about his own future, with ambitions to tour his EP in 2022 after whetting his appetite for live performance through debut festival appearances at Wireless and Parklife earlier this year. “A lot of people asked me if I was scared, but I think the bigger the audience, the freer I feel,” he says of the experience. “Wireless was something I used to go to as a kid! So finally being on the main stage there was mind-blowing, as a kid from Nigeria doing that.”

Further main stage experiences are surely inevitable, but for now the focus is on ‘Arrested By Love’, where, he promises, listeners will be able “to enter TeeZee’s world fully”.

“It’s been a while since I’ve really been vulnerable enough to let people enter my world and experience it sonically, stylistically and visually,” TeeZee says. “I’m super-excited to delve into that because there’s so much to offer and so much to come, and the reference points are very strong.

“I feel like it’s time for us as the alté scene to really put our foot on the map as this global sound that’s changing the face of pop culture right now. And that’s kind of happening without us saying too much, which is the beautiful part. It’s knowing that shit is real: it’s super-exciting.”

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