If you’re looking for TeeFLii, the prince of ratchets, you might be too late. His debut album Starr sets loftier goals than reprising the trademark DJ Mustard sex anthems that took over L.A. radio in 2013. Call it ratchet fatigue, the 27-year-old who got famous off a song called “This Dick” showed the propriety of a father of four (three girls, one boy) when I spoke to him over the phone. When I asked for the secret to stealing someone’s girlfriend, he talked about deference to God. “Everything that God has for you, He has for you,” he said, much to my chagrin.
However, Tee remains acutely aware of his appeal: “My edge that I bring to the table is, I say things that dudes really really want to say to girls.” He continues, ” ‘This is the way I was feeling when I first looked at you.’ Boom. That’ll lead to something.” Starr features the same unabashed voice–West Coast elders Snoop, Quik, and E-40 appear on the album and offer their blessings–albeit over grown-up production afforded by an Epic Records contract. Nowhere is TeeFLii hesitant or ashamed. After our interview, I paced around my room for a few minutes and then looked through a girl’s Instagram pictures. — Evan Nabavian
How do you define ratchet & blues? And also do you like that label?
Tee: That’s a style that everybody is quote-unquote saying that me and Ty [Dolla $ign] came up and established, but I really don’t say that I came up with it because Ty was singing before me. I feel like what I came to the table with was just ‘fly & b,’ you know being fly and smooth when you sing, you feel me? Not really caring about how people care about you, what they think about you, how do you talk.
Did you anticipate that this would grow into a subgenre? This thing that you and Ty Dolla $ign and DJ Mustard started–you turn on the radio and there’s eight-to-ten different guys doing this kind of sound. Did you anticipate that?
Tee: We did it to the point where it’s like, it’s elevated but it’s also getting to the point where you’re starting to have too many other artists that been on that’s jocking the style now. So, I’m pretty much ready to move on with the whole ratchet and just lean towards the next and new and that’s what I be moreso worried about. But I feel like it’s elevating and it’s coming out good, man. All that hard work that we put in to get the sound out there and get everybody used to the sound and familiar with the sound. I feel like it’s doing great, but I also feel like it’s still a competition and people shouldn’t jock as much [laughs].
I was going to say that on your new album, you have a song like “24 hours” that sounds more like your old stuff, but “Change Your World” and other tracks like “Addicted” and “Blue Lipstick,” there’s a lot more live instrumentation and a sound that people don’t expect from you as much. Was that a conscious decision, to branch into newer sounds?
Tee: I mean, of course! I mean I put out four mixtapes of nothing but ratchet music. On my first album, I want them to hear something new from TeeFLii, get a different side of TeeFLii. And I knew coming into that style, I knew that people were going to judgemental, I knew that it was going to be certain people that loved it, but it’s just me. It’s just me and my growth of where I’m at right now as an artist and as a writer and as a singer. I feel like, I’ve grown so much to the point where I don’t have to do a ratchet song. I can still talk that way on a slow beat, on a fast beat, on a pop beat. I mean, this is how I talk. So, my way of talking is not gonna slip.
Was that a challenge creatively?
Tee: I mean, creatively, of course it was a challenge. This is your first album so I wanted it to be big. I wanted people to look at it like he put a lot of work into this album and I just wanted them to take it for what it is. Everybody that love the album, big up to them and everybody that don’t, shame on you.
When I was 15, I didn’t listen to R&B unless it had a rapper on it, or unless it was some Neptunes club-pop song or something like that. R&B was only something I got into when I got older. What’s the composition of your audience? What does your audience look like at a show?
Tee: My audience is basically grown and we’re expanding the unit right now and trying to get on these tours and knock these dates out and get the fans something that they need.
In another interview you did with The Fader, you said you don’t make music for dudes. Is it weird when dudes are into your music?
Tee: Of course. I mean, me giving out my number on my mixtape and then hearing nothing but dudes call my phone for like three weeks straight, it was embarrassing. But you gotta look at those guys too as fans. Coming into the game, I’ve never made a song for a dude. I don’t make songs for dudes, I make songs for girls. It goes a long way. I feel like if girls latched on and the dudes latched on too, so that gave me an even better fanbase. You’ll go to certain places and certain artists can only bring in girls or certain artists can only bring in boys. But I feel great that my unit is expanding and it’s everybody.
What song on the album are you the most proud of?
Tee: I talk about all of them. I love every song on the album, man.
Is there a song on the album that’s very personal to you?
Tee: One song that’s very personal to me is “Love Over Money” [laughs].
Why is that?
Tee: Just being in a relationship and starting to understand the relationship and you can’t always get your way and you’re going to have to bend at certain times. You have to learn how to compromise and get along and if you two trying really to work it out, you have to come to an agreement and then that’s why I said on a song like “Don’t Need You,”
“Me and my annie got an understand that’s so good that a misunderstanding is understood.”
Because, when it’s down season, you’re supposed to understand that and when it’s downtime for you, I understand that. When we up, we up. When we’re down, we’re down. But I feel like, the sticking togetherness, the glue-ness, that’s what matters the most. Especially in a relationship. That’s why I say “Love Over Money” is basically one of those songs.
Are you in a relationship right now?
Tee: Of course not! I should be. I’m working on it.
Has calling women ‘annie’ caught on anywhere else?
Tee: Of course, man. I’ve been around places and seen a lot of people call girls annie. I’ve seen people see me and call girls annie just because they see me in the premises. I feel it’s doing its job. I don’t expect for everybody to say annie. I did it for L.A. as far as, you know, Atlanta got they talk; Chi-Town, they call girls [in a Chicago accent] shorties; the South, they call girls [Southern accent] shawty; East Coast, they call [New York accent] shorty–out here in L.A., we say annie. So we got a name too now. We put on the map too. So you gotta hear from the West.
You were signed to Epic Records by L.A. Reid and Sha Money XL. What were your considerations in signing to Epic?
Tee: Just trying to contribute to the whole label, man. Get in there, work harder. I know the reason why they signed me and I know the reasons why I went to them. It starts with the front office. I give them guys a round of applause. It’s not easy to put an album out and market it. It’s not easy. So TeeFLii should never ever be bitter, or angry, or have any negative thoughts. My whole obligation is to get this company back on track and were it belongs and that’s at the Grammys and at the top.
L.A. Reid and Sha Money–those are names that everyone recognizes. What did they bring to the relationship and what did they contribute to this project?
Tee: L.A. Reid is like the overseer. He sort of had the say-so and “this is what we’re gonna do, this is where I feel like we’re gonna go and this is the best move that I feel.” And Sha is the one that’s in there daily with me coming up with styles and putting me in that mode and production-wise, we make production together. We nmight start vibing out on a song together. I give it up to those dudes. How about Sha on the album. His production is killing. “Addicted” is one of the outstanding-est songs on the album and I give it up to Sha and the theme that he built it with. I feel like it was a West Coast track and we did it. We got in there, worked hard, and they got us on the album, man. We appreciate that. Like I can only say, how about Sha on that album.
How do you measure success?
Tee: I’m not comfortable, so I don’t really look at it like it’s success. I feel like I’m taking babysteps. I’m happy with the motion that it’s going and what God is doing in my life. I feel like it’s taking care of my kids, taking care of my family, taking care of me and making me more of a better person and really understanding music more.
How did becoming a father change you?
Tee: My first daughter is what really really woke me up. Just recognizing I didn’t have a dollar, I couldn’t do anything for her. It was pissing me off. I wanted to be able to take care of her, I wanted to do great things for her, and not only that, be in her life. I wanted to have my own place where I can bring her to, be able to get her her own room and show her better things than what I had as a child growing up. I feel like I just had to get out there and run with the cards that was dealt to me. Once I played those cards, I can’t say that I played them all right, but it’s got me into some better places. I feel like God–He’s moving, He did the best. Now I’m able to take care of all my kids. My family’s straight. We still go through problems, it’s regular, but we’re good for the most part. We’re making it happen.
Who are the West Coast R&B greats?
Tee: [laughs] Oh you already know, I gotta give it up to Nate Dogg, baby! You know, man! This wouldn’t even be happening if it weren’t for Nate Dogg! You already know! R.I.P. to Nate Dogg. That’s the big homie. I take so much influence from him and I feel like that’s one of the biggest influences in the R&B lane. I feel like he was one of the R&B singers that could go out there and grab his dick, like be a man, like still be a nigga. Everybody wanted to be singing like high and in-key. He just kept it smooth and when you heard his voice, it just lit you up. Oh my God, just hearing his songs right now, it turns you up. Rest in peace to Nate Dogg, the Dogg Pound gangsta.
Do you have any favorite Nate Dogg songs?
Tee: Of course. [singing] “Hoes, I’ve got hoes in different area cods.” “Area Codes,” that song with Ludacris. That’s one, but [singing] “Never leave me alone, leave me alone / Never leave me alone” –yeah, that’s one of my jams too right there. I got a lot from Nate Dogg!
Growing up in L.A., what was your proximity to gangs? Is that something that you grew up around?
Tee: Of course. At times, it could be your biggest influence. At times, it could make you think different. Some people have a vision to get out of Los Angeles, South Central, some people don’t.
Buy the album: iTunes