From the magazine: ISSUE 88, October/November 2013
On the August morning after TeeFLii’s deal with Epic Records is committed to ink, R&B’s most compulsively raunchy singer is running late. After a long night out in New York hosted by label CEO L.A. Reid, he and a group of friends are still packing for their return home to Los Angeles. When TeeFLii (pronounced “tee-fly”) finally arrives to our interview, in sweats and sunglasses big enough to cover his sharp cheekbones, he is friendly but quiet, tightly coiled like a featherweight boxer storing up his energy for a scrappy defense, should the need arise.
Epic has signed TeeFLii to re-release and promote “This Dick,” a 2012 mixtape cut that’s become a regional hit with the support of DJ Carisma, LA station Power 106’s only female host. Shortened to “This D” for radio, its lyrics are bluntly filthy, delivered in a punchy style that verges on rapping; TeeFLii sings like he’s not concerned with proving the strength of his own voice, an inclination that complements producer DJ Mustard’s gleefully simple cowbell clinks.
Born Christian Jones and now 26, TeeFLii first learned music as a kid in church, drawn to keyboards after seeing how much his grandfather, a pastor, paid his organ players. TeeFLii remembers his childhood as both “spoiled” (he claims to have played drums for Barbra Streisand at a Democratic Party event) and wild. “I was bad—fighting, stealing,” he says. “I’d go take your bike, bring it to my backyard, spray-paint it, try to ride it around.” As a teenager, he got into dance, performing under the name Baby Tight Eyez and starring in a few Chris Brown videos as well as Rize, David LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary about LA’s krump scene. After the movie’s promotional blitz ended, when TeeFLii was 19, he crashed at friends’ houses. “I was going through things with my baby’s mother,” he recalls. “My daughter was took from me.” He started writing songs for other people to “get the vent off.” Eventually, seeing a better chance at stability, he pushed himself out front.
Over the past year, TeeFLii has released three tapes, a pair named AnnieRUO’TAY and AnnieRUO’TAY 2 (a baby-talk play on Michael Jackson’s Annie are you okay?, from “Smooth Criminal”) and Fireworks, a collaboration with DJ Mustard. Some songs, like “Have a Drink,” a breezy club spiritual where TeeFLii harmonizes with himself over climbing organs, evidence his love for old-fashioned musicality. But most are memorable for their extravagant nastiness. “Fuck’N in the Function” celebrates sneaking off at a party; “Fuckin on the Floor” is about just that. “I don’t wanna be the cute singer that sings high and sounds like the girls,” he says. “I wanna be that dude that wasn’t afraid to be himself.”
TeeFLii is an R&B stud for the relationship-weary, promising good sex on the couch, not candlelit romance. His songs aren’t in good taste but they’re not intentionally degrading, since ultimately, he says, his goal is to impress women: “I don’t make music for dudes. Girls are gonna be the ones that buy my albums.” Meanwhile, he’s repaired his relationship with his daughter and her mother along with his own mother, a recovering addict who’s still active in the church. He says his mom is okay with all the “pussy pussy” singing her son does because it’s helped him make “a connection with the people.” Those people are TeeFLii’s peers—young, with wide-open futures. “Tomorrow’s not promised for nobody,” he says, raising his voice like he’s on the pulpit. “So if I can just go the club and get my party on for a minute? Hell yeah, I’m gonna do it. Come on.”