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Meet The MC: TeeZandos

Drawing influences from rock music, weird films and the “creepier side”, TeeZandos is upending expectations of what a drill MC can be. With her star on the rise, she sits down with Sophie Walker to talk about image, being an introvert and her love of Ozzy Osbourne

TeeZandos is the Antichrist of drill, dousing your expectations in lighter fluid and striking a match. She does what she wants, she says what she means — and she doesn’t flinch, doesn’t stutter. Her wordplay is as sabre-sharp, and she knows it. At 14 years old, she took it upon herself to approach UK rap veteran Corleone with her bars, and she has been his protégé ever since, the crown jewel of his label GB Records.

2019 saw a 17-year-old TeeZandos ascend to claim the title ‘The Princess of Drill’. Her breakout track ‘Need Focus’, which racked up over a million streams, made her intentions clear: “14 when I first chilled in a bando / 15 years when my blade got swung / 16 when I said, ‘Fuck bein’ normal / I wanna be the oddest one’.”

Her collaborations, meanwhile, are a calculated curation of the finest the scene has to offer, from her incisive drill duet with firebrand rapper Fizzler, ‘Phone Call’, to pairing with the 24-carat flows of the anonymous Midas The Jagaban on her recent single ‘Page 45’. When we speak, the 19-year-old on the other end of the line is disarmingly honest. 

She isn’t in the business of sugar-coating her words; she deals in grab-you-by- the-collar reality. Despite mounting co-signs in the drill scene, TeeZandos considers herself a lone wolf. “I don’t have many friends,” she says — not with self-pity, not with pride, just as a fact. “It’s not even me being cocky and not wanting friends, it’s just as time has been going on and things have been getting more serious, people are just weirdos, so I’m not around them. I don’t have many industry friends, which is pretty obvious. Success has affected my friendships in the best way possible, because now I don’t have any friends, which leads me to no problems.”

Notoriety comes with sacrifice, but is it really sacrifice when TeeZandos is willing to let it go? “I had to give up simple stuff, like going to college and social events... even though I never liked them anyway. I wouldn’t go to a social event, doing what I do. People take things the wrong way. I’m not a normal teenager — I can’t just go to Carnival. I’d probably have to go with, like, 15 people, and two of them would have to be security guards.”

Being an artist who not only appears to have unshakeable confidence, but also seems to be a performer by reflex, the last thing you’d guess is that TeeZandos is an unapologetic introvert.

“The reality is, I’ve never really liked the real world anyway,” she shrugs. “For a long period of my life, I’ve never done normal things: I was never that kid who wanted to go out with their friends and all that. I wanted to stay home. As long as I have my cats, I’m fine.”

She has two cats: one is a black tabby, whose name she refuses to share (“It’s seriously that bad. When I walk into the house and I’m like, ‘So and so!’ people look at me like, ‘What the fuck?’”) and the other is black, white and furry, and called Wybie, named in honour of the strange companion of Coraline, the titular protagonist of a dark fantasy horror film featuring uncanny characters who have buttons for eyes.

“I like eerie things that don’t make sense, or have people questioning [them],” she says. “I grew up in a proper Christian family, you know, all ‘The Light’ stuff, and I never really took that in. It just led me to more crazy things, the creepier side of the world... I don’t really like the normal side.”

Though she was raised on jungle and garage sounds, TeeZandos found herself gravitating naturally towards something quite different. “Like a little weirdo, I started listening to rock music and shit like that. It was the first music I listened to from the force of myself, not from the force of anyone else,” she says. “I like Ozzy Osbourne; I think he’s cool. It’s free, it’s whatever he wants. It’s what he wants to talk about, it’s what he wants to do. He dresses how he wants to dress and he acts the way he wants to act. I like people like that.” 

It’s an unlikely influence that casts a distorted reflection in her artistry: in the visuals for her track ‘Slender’, TeeZandos toys with satanic worship, building the beat on a chant that sounds like it’s falling in reverse, and opening with a disfigurement of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our plug / Who art in OT / Hallowed be thy name / Thy trappers come / Thy will be done / In O as it is in Ends.” 

Having been born and raised there, East London is in her blood, and its spectre looms over many of her lyrics. Home it might be, but she sees it as simply serving time in the capital. “As soon as I get the bag, I’m out!” she insists. “I lie to people: I tell them I’m out already. When I see people, I act like I’m not where I am.

“I don’t believe in London,” she says firmly. “It’s a bad vibe. London is dominated by negative energy, more so for people like me. Everyone gets stabbed, there’s all these fights and gangs.” Believe it or not, success for TeeZandos takes the shape of vast, empty fields in Essex, out in the country. “I would live on a farm in a field if I got the opportunity,” she says. “I just don’t like people — I wanna be as far away from people as I can be.”

This disdain seems to be derived from having to fight for her place at the table; if she rejects other people’s opinions, she can’t be weighed down by them. When she started making music as a 14-year-old, her youth was not a draw, but a limitation.

“No one wants to listen to a girl unless they’re talking their shit or they’ve got an image, innit?” TeeZandos says matter-of-factly. “For the most part, I was only talking my shit, but when I turned 18 and rebranded from Tyler to TeeZandos, everyone was listening.”

It’s an ugly truth about being a woman in a male-dominated scene that she continues to reckon with. “It’s only later on, when everyone started simping, that they realised there was actually something to look at — it’s not just what she’s saying. On the one hand, no, it’s not frustrating because I was listened to before I was looked at, but then in a sense it is frustrating, because it’s like, why can a girl not just wear her hair in canerows and put on a tracksuit? Why does she have to be pretty and wear wigs and do makeup?”

Her reinvention in 2019 from Tyler, a singer, to TeeZandos, the young woman who ripped up the rules of the drill scene, was necessary: she had to abandon that part of herself to let the other half come to light. But ‘Tee’, a homage to her former self, is still a foundational part of who she is as an artist, despite leaving singing — for the time being, at least — in the dust. 

It’s likely that won’t be her last evolution either. “You know what, yeah?” she says. “When I’ve looked into the future, I always think to myself, after a certain age, that I cannot be saying the things I say anymore. When I’m 21, I can’t see myself being a drill artist anymore. People always expect you to carry yourself a certain way, especially when you’re female. It’s scary. It scares me enough that after 21, I’m going to have to do something different.”

Her future is taking shape, though, in ways that may be surprising. “I want to make a rock song,” she says. “I want to start getting a band when I start playing live — drummers and bass players and guitarists, so it sounds like a rock set. I know there are kids out there who feel uncomfortable listening to rock music, and I want to be the one to break that.”

Want more? Check out our recent Meet The MC features with ATO, and Leïti Sène

Sophie Walker is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @herselfportrait