Teezo Touchdown craned his neck to the sky, watching a plane noisily descend into the Hollywood Burbank airport. It’s a ritual the singer and rapper had grown accustomed to while living at his manager’s studio apartment, a few miles from the airport, when he first moved from Texas to Los Angeles in 2019.

“On my low points, when my mind would eat me up, I’d always hear that plane and say there’s another Teezo Touchdown coming, and another Teezo Touchdown leaving,” he said.

Returning as a visitor to that apartment complex in late August, Teezo is dressed, today and most every day, like a cross between an NFL cornerback and Hellraiser. He’s wearing shoulder pads and game-ready eyeblack beneath his pupils, and if he speaks with too much animation, construction nails fall from his braids and onto the table in front of him, although the clacking sound fails to draw even a flinch from him.

“This style right here is probably the cheapest, since I just need one box of nails,” he said. “But the heavier styles, I’m getting like seven boxes, and they’re going up [in price]. I should probably look into how much I’m spending on nails.”

Teezo Touchdown is not a character for the man born Aaron Thomas, it’s his identity, and that commitment to craft has helped the 30-year-old become a go-to collaborator anytime hip-hop wants to get weird. Tyler, the Creator featured Teezo on 2021’s “Runitup” and brought him as an opener on his arena tour. This year, he’s appeared on Lil Yachty’s experimental “Let’s Start Here” album and Don Toliver’s “Luckily I’m Having,” while most recently, Travis Scott pulled him onto his best-selling “Utopia” album to deliver a scintillating bridge on “Modern Jam.”

Meanwhile, he’d been recording and refining his debut LP, “How Do You Sleep at Night?,” out Friday. It’s in contention for the year’s most theatrical album, featuring an overload of color — a smoke alarm on “Neighborhood,” an off-key piano note on intro track “OK,” a trembling vibrato on “You Thought,” which features Janelle Monae — all used to accentuate the lyric or feeling of the moment.

“I used to be the last person to listen to my own music,” Teezo said. “But I pulled up on Don Toliver when the album was like 60% or 70% done, literally playing him music I’d made the night before. And he told me I had to stand on this body of work. So now when people ask what I’m listening to, I’m proud to say my own album.”

A scrapbook of Teezo’s experiences over the past several years, the album dips into whatever genre best suits the moment. When he wants to serenade a love interest he can hardly believe wants him back on “Sweet,” he brings a drowsy drum loop and lollygagging chords to soundtrack his lyrics. When he chooses to bulldoze over a naysayer on “OK,” it’s power chords and rock drums behind his war-cry that he’s “gonna do it anyway.”

It’s something like R&B, but nothing like it at the same time.

“I have a new take on it,” he said. “I call it rock & boom. It’s R&B with the intensity of rock, and R&B toplines. The boom symbolizes Beaumont — it’s an oil town, so a boomtown — but also boom bap,” referring to the ‘90s hip-hop subgenre. “And then boom, because it’s an explosion. It have a ring to it?”

When Teezo first tried to make an album in 2018, his biggest pitfall was attempting to tell a rags-to-riches story before he’d left that cramped apartment. These days, the manifestation is finally coming true; now in his corner is none other than Drake, who recently called Teezo’s album “some of the best music ever” and brought Teezo with him to his Forum tour dates in Los Angeles.

“It was one of the highest nights of my life, but also one of the lowest,” he said of the experience. “There was an influx of negative comments. Someone was like, get this Disney Channel, pop dude, whatever whatever — and for a few minutes, I heard it in their voice. I was like, ‘Am I tripping?’

“My relationship with rejection is still sensitive, since it’s new,” he continued. “When you’re starting off, you get ignored. And then, the people who like you are in your comments, saying great things. But once you cross over into discovery, people hate on you blatantly. But I’m not trying to put weight on it.”

A man with nails in his hair sits against a brick wall

Drake called Teezo Touchdown’s debut album “some of the best music ever.”

(Kenan Draughorne / Los Angeles Times)

Music came into Teezo’s life early while he lived in Beaumont. His father, a carpenter by trade, was also a DJ, and Teezo followed in his footsteps by spinning records at elementary school parties on the weekends, learning how to control a crowd in the process.

His life hit a crossroads in 2016, when his then-girlfriend died from gun violence. She’d long been one of his biggest supporters, hyping up his DJ skills to prospective promoters every time she’d go to a party or the mall.

“It became, I could either go crazy, or use this numbness I felt to really go after the music,” he said. “I’d been treating music as this thing that was a part of my life, not something I could actually pursue. But after that, I said, ‘I’m gonna do this Teezo Touchdown thing.’ ”

That same year, Teezo cycled between colored bandanas, hair clips and rubber bands as he tried to craft his own, distinct image. In 2019, his “100 Drums” video made its way to rapper Trippie Redd, who invited him to Los Angeles.

Soon after he met his now co-manager Amal Noor, who let him crash in her apartment while Teezo worked on music. After six months, Noor needed a break and sent him back to Beaumont.

“I feel it was necessary for him to go back to Beaumont and feel those emotions, to tap back into why he wanted to be an artist in the first place,” Noor said. “That’s what [Teezo’s song] ‘Bad Enough’ is about, me sending him back.”

“I thought it was the end, they’re gonna think I fell off and it didn’t work out for me,” Teezo added. “But when I got back to Texas, I looked at it with a different lens.“

While poking around his childhood home, Teezo stumbled on his dad’s toolbox. He put nails in his shoes, then his hats, and finally his hair.

“His creativity came from a real place of need, and from being resourceful,” Noor said. “That was the most refreshing thing about him.”

A man sits on top of a washing machine

Teezo Touchdown.

(Kenan Draughorne / Los Angeles Times)

After that creative breakthrough, Teezo popped onto the map in 2020 by creating an entire world in the alley of a Beaumont garage, which hosted eight different music videos, culminating with a full-on campaign to become the mayor of the fictitious town of Midville. His lone campaign promise? A pledge to rid the streets of everything “Mid.”

“I kind of regret that one,” he admitted. “Mid is definitely necessary. I made a lot of bad songs, and it’s a journey to get to my good songs. But if you only do it at 99%, that’s when it’s mid.”

Nowadays, with his debut album and an ever-present headful of nails, no one is accusing Teezo of being “mid.”

“My mentors always tell me I need to stop little bro-ing myself,” he said. “But it’s not a little bro thing. All the stars I’m around now, they have humility in common.”

After all those years of struggle, can he take pride in what he’s managed to accomplish?

“I spent a lot of years just being an everyday person, so this is all new to me,” he said after a pause. “But I’m glad I had all those experiences. I don’t know what I’m proud of right now. I’d just say I’m grateful.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *