Teezo Touchdown’s Debut ‘How Do You Sleep At Night?’ Flashes His Future Potential

todaySeptember 13, 2023

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All the kids love Teezo Touchdown. Over the past couple of years, the Texas native has built a loyal and vocal following consisting of many of his artistic contemporaries. At festivals like Rolling Loud and on tour with Tyler The Creator, his stage show’s exuberant, contagious joy has converted thousands of skeptics of eye-popping sartorial choices. Although that infectious energy doesn’t fully translate on his long-awaited major-label debut, How Do You Sleep At Night?, the album does contain a number of interesting ideas and an unconventional approach worthy of its creator’s bombastic individuality. There’s not much like it in hip-hop these days but more of the genre should be adopting its best adventurous impulses.

The modern generation of hip-hop has had plenty of artists who are leaning into rock-inspired sounds and aesthetics; this year alone, we’ve had projects from Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and Travis Scott that borrowed pretty heavily from acts as disparate as Tame Impala, System Of A Down, and Nine Inch Nails. Teezo’s goes even broader, from the indie alt vibes of “Impossible” to the dance-funk of “Neighborhood” to the mellow folk-blues of “I Don’t Think You C Me” and even some surprisingly soulful R&B with “You Thought” featuring Janelle Monáe. There’s a little Radiohead, a little Beck, a little Maroon 5, some Nirvana, all laden with the cheek of turn-of-the-millennium pop-punk and anchored by some actually impressive vocal work from Teezo himself. He lilts and croons and sing-raps with a verve that I’d love to see from some other rap-rockers who’ve gotten a little too comfortable with a very specific sort of nasal whine that suggests emotional wailing but feels like more of a shortcut disguising tropey writing.

Teezo indulges in some of that tropey writing himself — something he can work on and improve on future output — but he also drops enough specificity into his lyrics on songs like “Daddy Mama Drama” that he ends up feeling a little more authentic and relatable than some of his peers. While there are those who might see this as a drawback, I tend to view things from the lens of “who is this for?” There are sad suburban Black teens out there for whom Teezo’s recollections of being awkward and not fitting into stereotypes are going to be foundational for finding self-confidence and identity. That’s not nothing. Even though the boundaries between “Black” and “white” music have blurred a bunch in the algorithm-driven streaming era, questions of self-worth and insecurities about not belonging aren’t going anywhere — and I know some kids who could have used a Teezo Touchdown growing up.

What sets Teezo apart from some of his peers in the rock-rap scene is an arm’s-length distance from the “rage” most purport — that infectious joy I mentioned earlier. He sounds like he’s having a lot of fun and that’s what translates, even if the boisterous call-and-response crowd work can’t really be translated to the album format. What these songs might miss in originality, they make up in gutsiness and gusto. Teezo is pushing his own vision, not a watered-down version of something that already works; he wears his influences on his sleeve, but so do most of the members of his generation. I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s a feature, not a bug, and everything doesn’t have to be transformational or totally innovative to be interesting, fun, and worthwhile.

How Do You Sleep At Night? is all three, and the best part about it is knowing that the artist himself has the live performance chops to do all the transforming when he plays them live. Maybe I just want the kid to win because of how genuinely engaging he’s been at the shows I’ve seen or for the commitment it takes to make and wear a shirt and wig made entirely of nails. Sure, there’s some shock value at play there, a bit of “look at me” showmanship that can come across gimmicky for weathered old cynics who’ve been doing this critic job for way too long. But anyone whose worldview allows them to think of doing off-kilter stuff like that is worth championing. How Do You Sleep is a decent kickoff, suggesting just how close Teezo is to figuring out the perfect play to live up to his name.

How Do You Sleep At Night? is out now via Not Fit For Society/RCA Records.

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