The Alté pioneer Teezee, also known as Teni Zaccheaus JR, has always been the type of slightly below-the-radar artist that fans connect with in a fiercely personal way. This sense of intimacy is in part fueled by his DRB collective’s role as pioneers of Nigeria’s alternative music scene which values community and handmade success over the overnight-celebrity of the mainstream.
DRB was among the first generation of self publishing artists in Nigeria as they took advantage of the internet services by sharing their music on YouTube and SoundCloud. Having lived between Lagos and London for most of his adolescent years before eventually moving back to Lagos permanently, Teezee had a global view of the music scene and picked up rap influences that informed his unapologetic commitment to representing his indigenous Nigerian culture. “It was the realization of just knowing, that at the end of the day, as comfortable as I could have been in London, I’m not from there. I’m from Lagos, Nigeria. I’m a KING where I am from”. Without needing any big label backing, DRB captured popular zeitgeist in Nigeria through viral songs like ‘Toyin’ and soon created an instantly identifiable sound with remarkable nods to the highlife groove of the 70s and contemporary pop, R&B, and hip hop. The mainstream were quick to dismiss them as online celebrities (perhaps concerned about their eyes for the international scene). However, history has shown that that’s a stretch from the truth as he contributed to laying the foundation for Afropop’s global crossover. Teezee explains that while in London he was still showing off that Nigerians are fucking cool. “.. before it was dope to play Nigerian songs or wear Nigerian attire. I always rep my culture, it’s the one thing I know. I’m a global citizen but I can’t know any other culture more than my own”.
Teezee claims the Fresh Prince of LasGidi title without any competition. He’s been in the game for over a decade and he’s still the epitome of the Nigerian youth culture which he labeled as Alté. It’s hard to define who or what is Alté in 2020 because artists and creatives are more inclined to collaborate and move between the mainstream and alternative scene; “Alté is now translating into the mainstream because youth culture always overwrites anything else. The years we were coming up, it was Alté because it was alternative. For the kids growing up today, what was seen as alternative, is just a normal style to them”. The Alté tag line is often subject to debates because people prefer not to be limited by labels but he describes an Alté artist as “Someone who goes against the grain and is pushing the boundaries to what is normally done. It could be anyone in art, fashion, music, tech, culture or photography.” He continues by saying that a young artist like Rema might not consider himself as Alté, but because he does what he wants and has a unique look and sound “...the older generation may consider him as Alté but he is just a regular teenager today”. Times do change, also for the Alté subculture.
Teezee hasn’t done many interviews in the past; he explains that Nigerian media is focused on mainstream artists and music; “The Altè scene was too alternative”. The lack of media attention is one of the reasons why he and Seni Saraki started The NATIVE. “We made Native because we wanted to tell the stories about the cool creatives pushing boundaries that everybody outside Nigeria was noticing but weren’t getting covered at home.”
The NATIVE is the reliable pulse of the African millennial Native is an online media platform with print magazine ‘from the depths of the underground, to the corridors of the mainstream that covers the music, art and style of tomorrow: today’. “We managed to build it from the ground up. It all started very organically, catering to youth culture that was fast growing. No one is doing it for clout or for respect, we are doing it for love and for the interest of the community we are building globally”. It wasn’t something they planned from A to Z; the growth was transitional and somehow natural. “We started a community-based thing around the scene. There was already alternative fashion and music going on, but nobody invested in the community”. That’s what Native did, and still does. It wasn’t an easy ride. Because their sounds were too alternative for traditional media, which is still very powerful and influential in Lagos. All the promotion that Native does for their platform and their artists is therefore guerrilla - through the internet “We do it for the kids so we don’t need to promote on the radio or TV, we mainly use the internet”. Only since last year’s edition of their yearly music festival Nativeland, they feel recognised by Nigerian media: “6000 people showed up. For a festival in Europe this might not be the biggest number, but for us here in Lagos this is a lot”. This years’ edition was even more anticipated than they could have wished for; the space couldn’t deal with the number of people that showed up.
“Me I’m awake sha, I won’t lie. We should approach this thing the best way possible”
As for the role he plays at The NATIVE, Teezee explains that he’s a creative entrepreneur that is still figuring himself out. “I’m an artist who creates music, creates vibes, does business. I can dj, I rap...”. He talks about Diddy , Pharell and Jay Z: “It may seem super corny and straight forward, but what I saw them do is being in the music and creative side, but also push culture forward by being in the boardroom. It’s important to have our voices heard properly”. Teezee is a young man who has done his homework and is ready to bring the change he wants to see “When I first entered the game I realised we didn’t have enough representation. I couldn’t see myself doing one thing. I have a talent in being an artist but also a business creative, I cannot neglect that side. That’s how I made sure that through that I can channel into different venues to create opportunities for me and my community“.
Whether it’s through his music, Native or as a former brand ambassador “When Jameson came into the market, no one in Nigeria was drinking Jameson”. Today, Jameson is one of the biggest alcohol brands in Nigeria, present at almost every music or fashion related event. “The only way I could make the brand grow was by bringing as much of my personality to the brand as possible. That is being authentic and being myself, because that is what I know, I can’t fake it , people can see through fake shit. So I built the brand by connecting it to the Alté community“.
All eyes on Lagos “Times are quickly changing and being at the forefront of that is super exciting” Teezee replies when I ask him about the brands’ and foreign interest in Lagos. “We have to cement it and make sure that none of the internationals or the big brands with money just come and consume what we have built over this long time. We are telling our stories to the people that know what’s up”. Last year one of his childhood dreams turned into reality; Native designed their own jersey with Nike. “I can name every Nike silhouette, for football and basketball”, Teezee has been obsessed with their jerseys since his youth. “We have to study brands and know our worth. If Nike pays a kid in Rotterdam or Tokyo a certain amount you have to make sure you are getting the same, at least”.
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