TeeDee, born and raised in Sheffield, isn’t as new to the music game as you might expect. In fact, he’s been working as a producer, an engineer and a DJ for years but 2021 has seen him enter a new phase in his career. He recently signed with Sony Music UK, sealing the deal with the release of his debut single “Love Me”, but it didn’t just happen out of nowhere—years of hard work have been poured into this very moment.
TeeDee grew up in the bassline era, surrounded by the jumpy, ground-opening bounce that defined Sheffield in the 2000s and heavily inspired Yorkshire icons such as fellow Steel City native Toddla T and Leeds-hailing T2, as well as the Tottenham titan DJ EZ. His dad was a raver and was the source of a lot of his knowledge of a scene that’s older than he is. On the flip side, it was 50 Cent and vintage Tim Westwood shows that clued him up to the world of rap.
“Through different parts of my life, I’ve been inspired by different people,” he says. “At one point, I was really inspired by my dad when I was younger, because he was the man that I wanted to be. But I’ve looked up to a lot of different people. There was one producer in my area called JG; I looked up to him for a long time when I was coming up, but then I started to grow up and I started looking at the superstars. I look up massively to Drake just because of everything he’s done and the way he’s marketed it and all that sort of stuff. Then there’s people like Calvin Harris, Diplo, all those sorts of people and even people like Aitch as well. I take a lot of things from a lot of different artists, and I kind of take little bits from them and apply that to myself.”
By his mid-teens, the two worlds were starting to merge and after teaching himself how to make his own bassline tunes, TeeDee started remixing the likes of Chris Brown, DJ Mustard and whatever was popular in the US rap world. “I’m just that guy. I was famous in my school,” he jokes. Eventually, however, it became clear that if he wanted to progress beyond being the most famous kid at school, he was going to have to broaden his tastes beyond the house and bassline that was only really popular in his local area.
“I ended up getting a studio,” he explains, “but I stopped making bassline and house because there was no opportunities in it. It wasn’t going nowhere. Bassline became less popular. House was declining. And it was just like, there’s not really a space for me to do this right now. And that’s when Afrobeats started popping.” Inspired by a burgeoning scene that was working its influence into both the charts and the underground, TeeDee ventured out of the area which he’d grown up and started making contacts with different scenes. “Because where I grew up was a predominantly white area and a very tight-knit community, I just kinda broke out of there and started exploring different communities, listening to lots of dancehall and Afrobeats and that’s when I started making more rap beats.”
Whether working in the state-of-the-art studio he has today or the thrown-together set-up he had as a young teen (with a mattress for soundproofing, no less), his process has been pretty much the same throughout, catching inspiration on the fly and stitching the threads together later. “I usually struggle to make music in the studio,” he says. “I make the best songs when I’m at home or when I’m not putting myself under too much pressure, like when I’m in my car and I’m listening to loads of house. Or maybe I’m listening to Afrobeats. I might just get that spark or inspiration and I’ll just go into my room. Sometimes I’ll just hear a certain sample of something and think, ‘Oh my god! That sounds sick!’ and I’ll get down on my computer and just mess them up and see what happens.” The main thing is you can’t force these things. “I have good days, I have bad days. Sometimes I’ll open up and scrap about five different projects. If it gets like that, I’ll go play on my computer or go for a run or something.”
Through doing studio sessions as a 16-year-old budding producer, TeeDee ended up meeting an artist called Shaxx who introduced him to a producer called TomMakesBeats. Noticing that the growing ‘Type Beats’ online industry was a US-focused one without a UK equivalent, they started a YouTube channel, The Beatz Hub, where they would upload ‘Type Beats’ for artists like J Hus, Fredo and the wave of UK artists bubbling up around 2016. One of those, a Not3s-type beat, caught the attention of Fredo’s nephew, Keds. Keds’ parents called him up, brought him down to London for a studio session, introduced him to Loski and everyone else in Fredo’s circle and the studio sessions kept coming.
By this point, TeeDee had made a steady career out of working as a producer and running studio sessions for others. It was steady work, but it wasn’t fulfilling for him anymore and it was starting to lose its sheen. “I always knew the moment was coming,” he says, “because every day when I’m in the studio and I’m pulling up and I’m doing sessions, I’m always thinking to myself, ‘I need to get out of this because I’m just working a normal job.’ Yeah, the money is good. I’m meeting good people. I’m doing something that I love, but I’m not going to achieve my full potential like this and I want to put myself in the best position I can be.”
At the time, TeeDee was also amateur boxing, melodic rapping as well as producing beats, so it was unclear which career path TeeDee would find himself down. Then COVID-19 hit and everything was upended. Like a lot of people, TeeDee ended up catching the virus which proved to be a blessing in disguise as while laid up in bed, with nothing but his thoughts to occupy him, he decided enough was enough and he needed to make a change. He started planning the next steps of his career, where he wanted to be and how he was going to get there.
“I’m going to start doing YouTube videos,” he thought, “and get my personality out there a little bit more.” At first, the videos were more of a vlog proposition, a way to get his personality out there and get fans to invest in his story. Then he started recording them as TikToks and then posting those to his Instagram to drive traffic. They did okay, but then he hit up on a slightly different idea. “Then I made the ‘How To Make A Tom Zanetti-Type Beat’.” That’s when he realised he could use TikTok to engage with his own audience and with the artists he admires all at the same time. Thanks to a concerted effort from him and his followers to make sure to tag Zanetti as much as possible, eventually the Leeds-hailing DJ hit TeeDee up.
Before the Zanetti video, TeeDee’s work wasn’t focused on one specific sound; he was dabbling in rap, afroswing, drill, but once he saw the Zanetti video notch up a quarter of a million views over night, he knew he was onto something. The house sound of his debut single, “Love Me”, and the DJ sets he plays out live now, aren’t a total departure from what came before. “They’re very rap-influenced and very bassline-influenced,” he says. “If I had the opportunity to do a studio session with someone like Mist or Aitch right now I’d make an absolute smash! Because I’d make a house-influenced rap hit. I could easily tap into that.”
But it’s not just house music he’s got in his sights and he certainly hasn’t turned his back on the rap scene, or even the thought of being a rapper himself. “I think it’s really important to embrace the culture that I’ve been a part of. But I think for now, it’s really important for me to get my brand and who I am as an artist producer out there first. So by dropping my single, ‘Love Me’, people can see what I’m really about. They’ll see my music video, see how I can come across, and see what I can really do. When I get that to blow, it’ll give me a bit of a platform.”