Being 17 means being on the cusp between adulthood and adolescence. We tread around that chapter of our lives with trepidation, unsure of what we want and how to get it. In December 2019, however, then 17-year-old rapper TeeZandos turned heads on her breakout debut “Need Focus”, declaring: “Fuck being normal, I want to be the oddest one.”
Since her breakout single, TeeZandos has carved a rare path in the emerging UK drill scene with ferocious vignettes that send listeners to dust-covered graveyard shifts in the Traphouse and trips in OT. This is delivered with Satanic bars (see: the first 20 seconds of her single, "Slender") and bookended with a demoniacal rage.
When VICE spoke to the Hackney-based rapper over the phone, she was grounded and funny with plenty to say. It only helps that she has the credentials to match. Under the alias, Tyler, she was 14 when she signed to GB Records London – home to young rappers and artists such as Dis, Isong and Deefundo, and founded by South London rap veteran and entrepreneur, Coreleone.
In April 2020, she dropped an incinerating Link Up TV’s "HB Freestyle" and ProdByWalkz’s "Who’s Got Bars?" freestyle and secured a coveted Artists To Watch in 2020 co-sign from DJ and respected tastemaker Kenny Allstar. She's yet to drop a tape but at the tender age of 17, TeeZandos has established the foundation for a blossoming music career.
VICE: We’re still in government-mandated lockdown, is there anything you’ve been doing in your free time?
TeeZandos: I’ve been writing bars.
Are you working on any projects right now?
I’m thinking of doing a mixtape with GB Records. I was talking to my manager about that today this morning, but for now I’m just dropping singles.
Your manager is the rap legend Corleone. How did that happen?
I dropped out of school to do music because school wasn’t working for me. And basically it was me and my friend from secondary school who really wanted to do music and we posted a freestyle video on Instagram. And on Corleone’s, I discovered Dis, one of the artists signed to GB, and she was rapping and I was saying “Yeah, I like this girl, like if she can do it then I can do it.” I found out Corleone is the main guy. So I dug deep, I did my research and I commented under one of his pictures and said “If God is good like you’ll check out my video.” And the next day, he rang me and on the same day, I was in the studio.
Yeah, I saw Corleone and Snap Capone cameo in one of your music videos.
Yeah that was my return, my rebranding video.
I remember you had a viral freestyle from you when you was 14 that went viral but I couldn’t find it.
Yeah that’s not about, I’ll have to go through my fans to find that video.
There’s a bar in one of your songs where you say “I don’t like fans because I think they’re fake / And we’re not the same so we can’t relate.” Do you feel as if drill fans can have a weird relationship with drill artists?
Nobody’s asked me that question before uno… You see, I said that bar because… When you’re popping for a quick second, everyone’s on you init and when you fall on your face, all of a sudden, everyone disappears. So when I came back as TeeZandos, I had to let it be known like I love support but I do not like people who like me, you get what I mean? I’m a weirdo, I don’t like fans. I could be popping today and someone else will come through and they’ll be on them. TeeZandos would not exist because that’s just how people are. I don’t like it.
I feel like you wouldn’t sizzle out though. You have bars and themes that wouldn’t be expected in a typical drill track.
Exactly and on top of that, people forgot [Satanism] is an actual religion.
Do you follow Satanism?
No, I don’t but I am a Satanist and in due time, I found my calling innit? I just let myself accept it…. I grew up in a God-fearing house and I always thought “why am I following Christianity?”
Is there a stereotype you’d like to dismiss about Satanism?
Everyone thinks it’s about sacrificing animals and all of that weird shit. Most Satanists would tell you Satan doesn’t even exist and that we’re our own Gods. And people don’t understand that to be a Satanist, it’s not like [we] sit down and speak in backslang. In Satanism, we put ourselves first… because that’s how he is init? But it has more depth to it than what it looks like.
Name a song you wish you made?
Flo Milli “Beef [FloMix]”. I wish I made that song.
What was the first drill song you heard?
I started digging drill when I found out about Digga [D] and ’s Next Up freestyle, when he did his [“Next Up?”].
What was your reaction?
First I thought he was good-looking. I was living a foolish life from young, I could always do drill. The more I listen to drill, the more I think, it’s not just boys [who] are doing this. I got to show people what’s going on. I wasn’t even allowed to rap drill when I signed to GB [Records] because I was young. [Corleone] said it would be so out of pocket, my age and even just the way I looked, like “Nah it won’t be taken seriously.” When I was younger, it was train trips and getting into madness[es] in the little places I was going. But now I’ve lived it, like this is my calling and [Corleone] said if you’re old enough and you can hold yourself then…
Do you feel that women in the drill scene are treated differently from their male counterparts?
I feel like the guys, the real recognise real. No rapper or anyone valuable to me has tried questioning me about what I’m doing because real recognise real. You kinda smell a faker, so if you see a female artist getting slandered online and that, it’s because people can see that something’s not there. I’ve got enough people to vouch for me, like my brother’s name holds a lot of weight, for people to know that I’m my brother’s sister. I never get questioned about what I’m on.
What’s your brother’s name?
You got any fond memories with [redacted]?
Just us living in Manchester.
You used to live in Manchester?
I used to live in Manchester and if you know what yeah, if you piss me off, you might be able to hear the accent.
How long did you live in Manchester for?
I lived in Manchester for two years.
My dad is my best friend so before my dad went to jail, I was living with him, I thought I was going to be able to stay there but my mum lives in London.
Sounds like you prefer Manchester to London.
I prefer Manchester to London. I prefer anywhere to London! In London, I keep myself to myself, in any other area I’m tapped. I hate London. When I’m rich, you will not see my face in London.
Name some places you prefer to London.
Yeah, in Essex… Grays, Kent, I like Liverpool, I’ve been to Leeds a few times… Northerners annoy me though.
Have you ever cheated on your hairstylist?
Hell yeah, I’ve cheated on my hairdresser. I had one stylist up the road that used to do my hair bare then once I started to do my videos, Colly started sending me to a hairstylist in Greenwich and now I go to her all the time. I don’t give a dash, I do what I want. I have no loyalty to nothing, I only have loyalty to my dog.
What’s your dog called?
Ruger and he’s an XL Bully, he’s my son. Then I had a pitbull called Uzi and he passed away in February.
You seem more of a dog person than a cat person.
It’s funny because my sister has a cat downstairs and I get along with the cat because she grew up around the dogs, so I don’t think she knows she’s a cat. I rock with her, I vibe with her a lot.
Tell me how your first studio session went?
One take in my first studio session. I literally flew through the whole beat fam. Colly [Corelone] was very impressed. I went into the studio and Karma put on the beat, asked me if I had bars and I didn’t stop rapping until the beat was finished.
That’s talent right there.
I was hungry.
Yeah I can imagine artists going into the studio for the first time can be an overwhelming experience.
What song did you record?
Oh fuck sake, the song’s so embarrassing. It’s called “Bring It Back” when I was Tyler.
It’s still on the internet right?
Yeah but I try to clear it from my existence. Tyler doesn’t exist to me – it gets me angry when people mention it. In Westfield a couple of months ago someone called me Tyler and I said “No that’s not my name.” and they said “Nah, you used to be Tyler, I don’t know who TeeZandos is.” And I just bugged out. It's a big disrespect when people bring up that name.
People do it in a cocky way, people say like “how can you be a singer back then” and then you're coming back talking all of this. People turn stupid because they don’t understand more things in your life and that’s why [it] grinds my gears. Because I’m a girl, shit that I’m saying, it ain’t popping. Like bitch, I became a Trap God at 17.
It goes back to my point about fans having a weird relationship with drill artists, like there’s a need to define who is real or not.
They point it out – just to let them feel like we’re the same, but we will never be the same. You see all these drill rappers getting talked about if this [rapper]’s capping but you never know what’s going on in somebody’s life. So even if I know my man to be the most polite person in the world, you don’t know if he’s punching up man in the ends.
It’s become a trend for drill rappers to rap about going OT, chopping bricks etc. Did you ever have a legal job, if so, what was it?
I used to work in JD [Sports]. Not gonna lie, I used to love it until I started working there. The only good thing about that job was that the KFC was opposite the road and I was bucking the mandem, they’d come into the shop.
Was you bussing out discounts for the mandem?
Nah but I was so liked that mandem would link me and ask me “when’s your break, we’ll wait for you outside.” Then we’ll all just go KFC and smoke up.
What do you think about the Clap4NHS trend that’s going on?
I think that it’s so neeky, I fall asleep whenever it happens because I’m thinking it doesn’t help them, people are still dying from the virus but you’re out here on your balcony blowing horns and clapping.
At first, it showed appreciation for the NHS but when hospital staff are working on the frontlines with inadequate PPE and risking their lives on the frontlines, then the gesture starts to feel empty.
What’s your star sign?
Pisces. March 9th.
What was school like for you growing up?
Primary school was probably the best school experience of my life even though I got excluded in year 4 until year 6. I didn’t even get to go to my leaver’s assembly, I was fuming.
After year six, I was a victim in school. I just moved to Hackney and I wasn’t a Hackney kid. Hackney wasn’t my forte and it still isn’t. So when I joined secondary school, I was the new kid in the area and as well as the school. I didn’t know nobody and everybody knew each other. I was a timid kid who wanted to be liked and then it all went to shit. I ended up getting bullied. I dropped out in year 7, moved to another school, got tapped. I was bringing knives and [weed] into school but then I got sent to a unit, dropped out and I started jugging, started to make money. I was very suicidal.
That’s the thing about you, there’s strength in being vulnerable and I sense that in your lyrics. You’re a necessary voice in UK drill and that weirdness is your superpower.
That’s what makes people like me.