One afternoon back in April 2019, in a very different world, I headed to interview Digga D prior to the release of his debut mixtape, Double Tap Diaries. The then-teenage MC had just shot from underground UK drill notoriety to pop cultural prominence following the crisp virality of his “No Diet” music video, and its masterfully branded, emoji-led marketing campaign.
On arrival at the address I’d been given, I became confused. Google Maps had taken me to a Desi pub. Entering through the door, I headed past televisions displaying IPL cricket and a bar stacked with whiskey bottles to find Digga posing in the kitchen among pots of spices, metal cooking hobs and freezers full of samosas. He was being filmed by the celebrated music video director Teeeezy C, who had sourced the location last minute to shoot an as yet unreleased video for the “No Diet”’ remix (he was behind the original, too).
As the founding director of the Mad About Bars freestyle video series in partnership with music platform Mixtape Madness and BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Kenny Allstar, Teeeezy C has been a behind-the-scenes architect for UK rap and drill for over half a decade. He has made visuals for artists including Potter Payper, M Huncho & Nafe Smallz, SL, WSTRN and M1llionz, travelling abroad to create eye-catching visuals that transcend the grey monotony of English cities often depicted in a saturated music video scene, and was recently featured by MASSIVE CINEMA in the promo for Riz Ahmed’s film, Mogul Mowgli, as a noteworthy British Asian creator.
I caught up with Teeeezy to talk about Mad About Bars, shooting videos abroad, “Lagga”, his Punjabi identity, the future, and how, despite COVID-19, he has helped to elevate the way that a whole generation of British music fans experience their music online.
VICE: How did your journey in the UK music scene start off?
Teeeezy C: In 2013-2014 I was designing artwork. I did some stuff for J Hus, Yxng Bane, C Biz – I’ve got quite a good portfolio from that period of time. Whatever Mixtape Madness had, they’d send me the song, I’d listen to it, and then I’d put something together.
So when did the videography start?
I bought a camera and started shooting videos for free. At that time I was just learning and trying to understand cameras. My early videos were terrible! The camera was shaky and out of focus, the grading was all off… it was learning from scratch, basically, and hitting and hoping.
How did Mad About Bars come about?
I met up with Mixtape Madness, and Kenny [Allstar] was involved, and we had a conversation about how we can start building things. That happened at Reprezent Radio, which is where the first few episodes were shot, with AJ Tracey, Ms Banks, Big Tobz. I said: this radio station is cool, but visually there’s not a lot going on. So I invited [Mixtape Madness co-founder] Kwabz to another studio in south London and said, “Let’s turn this into a proper platform.”
The Mad About Bars aesthetic has become iconic. How would you describe it?
Originally, it was just about providing some kind of visual that was interesting for the music. But as time went on, I felt like what Mad About Bars represents is a real urban sound that is unrefined; people are just expressing themselves. The grit and authenticity that people are bringing to it, I wanted to represent that on camera.
And from there you went to shooting more traditional music videos?
It was a simultaneous process. As Mad About Bars was building up, that was giving me the experience and the clientele, and the understanding and confidence to start pushing boundaries. It was hand in hand.
You’ve gone abroad to shoot quite a few times, right? What trips stand out?
“Sharna” was my first time in Africa, but going to Europe and America, that was a regular thing for me. I met some really cool people in Sweden in 2018. Kenya was crazy, because we were with the president’s niece. We went to the slums, I saw people who had nothing. Then I went back to my hotel and I was with the most powerful people in the country, so I saw both sides of the coin. Things like that have shown me the world, and for that I’m super grateful because it gives you a proper perspective on life.
I think you’ve diversified what consumers back home in the UK are seeing when we watch music videos.
A million percent. I think I found that with M1llionz. When we got into Nairobi [to shoot “Lagga”], we connected with local people and fans. We did a meet and greet at the mall... Then we went to the slums, and we were meeting normal people and they’re bringing us into their homes. After we left, looking at the [YouTube] comments, a lot of people were saying “big up M1llionz” because he’d come and put a light on Nairobi. I love the way you can expand your fan base by going places and interacting with people.
Which has been your favourite shoot abroad?
From the 2020 shoots, “Lagga” was the best. It was the most intense, it was the hardest, there was no producer, it was basically me and F.K. [M1llionz’s manager] doing it together. It was crazy. But being out of my comfort zone is where I like to be, I always find myself there and I love a challenge...I heard the song and I was like: I need to embody the song because I know what this means and I know what this needs to look like. Then the militia idea came into formation.
How did you coordinate so many people in the “Lagga” video?
We had local producers on the ground, we had guys from the slums, Kibera, who had the access for us to go in. We went on a little tour with them a couple of days before the shoot. They showed us around, showed us the shops. There was a butcher, a pharmacist... they gave us a tour of the city. Then we came back a couple of days later with our camera and said, “Okay guys, let’s make this happen.”
What’s your relationship with music been throughout your life?
When I was seven or eight I got an MP3 player and started listening to a lot of 50 Cent, Eminem, G-Unit... American stuff. I got into rock for a little phase. And then it was Giggs’ “Don’t Go There”, I listened to that and thought: this shit is crazy! These guys are from my city! And this is when I was like 11 or 12, and off the back of that I’ve been a rap fanatic.
Why do you call yourself Teeeezy C?
Teeeezy is a nickname people used to give me at school. The “Tarantino” [in my videos] is a play on my first name, but it’s relevant because I’m a director, and that’s someone that I look up to, because [Quentin] Tarantino has changed the game in his own right in terms of film.
How do your Sikh Punjabi roots fit into your career?
When I was growing up, on the way to school my mum would always be listening to prayer in the car. My mum’s always been very into the religious side of things. One thing I’ve taken away from that is that, within the Sikh community, everyone is welcome. If you go into a gurdwara, you’ll see white people, Black people, Asian people. Anyone can come, anyone can get food, it doesn’t cost a thing… It’s taught me to be an open person. At school, I was always cool with everyone, but there was a bunch of people who only dealt with people of their race. A lot of Asians stuck together. But where I’ve been introduced to so many different cultures listening to the music, to me it’s all just one.
You were recently featured by MASSIVE CINEMA in the promotion for Riz Ahmed’s new film, Mogul Mowgli, as a noteworthy British Asian creator. What was that like?
The narrative of the film carries a guy who is based in the UK and he’s got Asian heritage. The conflict between West and East is something that a lot of Asians that are creatives will go through, because we’re from two different worlds, and you associate with one where you live and one where your parents are from. Based on that film, the way they took our culture and twisted the narrative was sick... To say, look, I’m a small part of what this whole represents – it’s something I’m privileged to have been involved in.
What does the future look like for Teeeezy C?
In the short term, I want to focus on more production-based stuff. I’d love to work with some pop artists like Jorja Smith, Dua Lipa, carry the torch and change pop as well, because that’s where you have so much more room to express yourself. The budgets in UK rap are capped at a certain amount, but those guys have the freedom to do what they want to do. In the long run I’d like to start a charity; I’d love to give back to kids who have so much talent but no means to execute or develop that. There are a few guys I’m working with right now who are so sick, they have such amazing creative potential. I’m gonna help nurture that, because I’ve been so lucky. There have been many people in my career who, if it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be here. It’s only right that I support people back, and that’s how the cycle continues.