For Teo The Artist, Music Is A Way To Connect
Written by Vocalo Radio on April 27, 2021
Teo The Artist is a Chicago musician through and through.
Otherwise known as Tim Jones, Teo is a Chicago-based rapper, producer and musician born and raised in the city. Driven to make a positive difference in Chicago and in the rap scene as a whole, he incorporates a background in jazz and gospel to create upbeat tones and often bases his lyrics on real-life experiences. Teo The Artist has been featured on our In Rotation playlists for March 2021 and October 2020, and his track “Come Find Me” was one of Jill’s top 5 picks for March.
We virtually chatted with Jones about the Chicago music scene, why he decided to pursue music, his biggest influences and more.
What has your experience been as a musician in Chicago? Do you feel there is a good sense of community that keeps you here, or could you see yourself moving elsewhere to pursue music?
Chicago is a very small city with everybody already knowing each other. It’s even smaller when you do anything artistic. It’s an open yet cliquish scene at times. There are some great people here, but like any scene or industry, it can get very political. I’ve thought about moving to LA but Chicago is, legit, the only spot that could make me stay. As somebody who’s traveled a lot in the last couple of years, it’s really necessary to have somewhere that’s familiar, where you have people who mean you well. Besides, Chicago is the greatest city ever! Anybody who says different is cappin’.
What is one thing which, in your mind, makes the Chicago music scene so special?
The diversity of the scene. I think I’ve legit seen every act imaginable. There’s so much slept-on creativity here. There are so many dope, slept-on people and it’s amazing to see everybody doing their thing and keep on pursuing their art. Even in our diversity, we all can relate to the different stories ‘cause we all pretty much went through similar things. Art is distinctly one of the biggest ways we all connect.
Could you describe your musical background – what artists did you listen to growing up, and how have they influenced your style today, if at all?
I was originally a church musician and sang in the choir like a lot of people. That led to me being a classically-trained jazz trombonist. Growing up in church and being a minister’s child, I couldn’t really listen to rap like that growing up. But I used to sneak and listen to Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole and Kid Cudi. Then 10 Day from Chance the Rapper came out and changed my life forever. Ultimately, that and just watching what was going on in the city when I was coming up. Like, the emergence of Chance, Saba, Noname and so many more legit inspired me to create my own sound. Chicago has always had a soulful, commanding voice. Just getting that energy from the city and everybody [that] came before me helps influence my sound.
How and when did you decide to start making music?
I started rapping at like 15 at this summer camp at UIC, but officially decided I wanted to rap when I was 16, going on 17. I had all sorts of opposition on that decision alone. I’ve been laughed at and all types of craziness, but I kept going. I literally would hunt for and use YouTube beats but I couldn’t record until like 18, 19-ish. That’s when I made my first tape while I was at my first college in Kankakee. It’s been a roller coaster since then, especially before I became my own producer. I’ve been making beats since 18, and I’ve been making good beats since like 21.
I feel like my career has always been “the hard way” — whether it was my own doing or things I couldn’t control externally. But anything worth pursuing is going to be that way. I’m 23 now, and I feel like those hard years helped me mature and develop my sound. It sucked going through, but it was all worth it.
How would you describe your musical style, for those who are unfamiliar with it?
If you like trippy, gospel-jazz chords, catchy melodies, hard 808s, bars about life, technical flows, soulful vocals and just straight-up weird stuff, then listen to my music! Ultimately, I’m a fan of great music, so I work to make mine reflect that. One thing I can say is my music is from a raw and authentic place. So if you want all that, I got you, yo!
When did you come up with the name “Teo the Artist,” and what does that name mean to you?
I actually got it from my high school junior year Spanish teacher, Ms. Franco. She would call me my name, Timothy, in Spanish which is Timotéo. So my artist name is still technically my name, but chopped up. Also, because I don’t just rap, I’m considered an artist. I’m striving to be the best, so I need to be the Artist.
The name “Teo The Artist” is important to me because it is everything I am and everything I aspire to be. The makings of being your best self is always going to be within you, but you have to unlock it. Being “Teo” has taken me places I never thought I’d be, and that’s not just entirely musically. It’s like having a superhero’s secret identity, but everybody knows it’s you because everyone knows you do music. It creates the balance of living up to your name while making it. It’s the most difficult, most fun thing I’ve ever done! I’m proud of who I am and who I’m evolving into.
Take us through your creative process when writing a new song like “Come Find Me.” Where do you like to record or write? What kind of headspace do you have to be in to really sit down and start writing? Where does your inspiration typically come from?
So, I was at my school’s studio, and lowkey if I wasn’t just walking by, then I never would have heard the song. My guy AJ (Allen Pierre) was mixing this beat that he and my guy Pyro made, to turn in for our Audio Engineering final. I was like, “YOOOOO!!! WHAT IS THIS BEAT!? CAN I RAP ON THIS BEAT!?” and pretty much a bunch of other excited rapper noises. He let me rap on it, but class started in like 45 minutes. I spent 15 minutes writing and then we spent 30 minutes trying to record, mix and master. It turned out dope! We made two versions of this song. The one that’s out now is the second version. This was like two years ago, by the way.
I wanted it to be on OPEN MIND, but I ended up waiting ‘cause it felt better on OPEN HEART. Some time went past, and I felt like I needed to rewrite it and really make it mean something. I wanted to talk about being in love, but also not really being in the right headspace to pursue being in love. I had to clear my head and just say something I wish I could’ve said before. I listen to music and just think. I put a lot of thought into my lyrics because I stress authenticity when I make my music. The best place to start is with yourself.
Could you tell us a little bit about your rap collective, Always Driven Having Determination (ADHD)? What was your inspiration behind starting the collective?
ADHD started when I was like 16. I wanted to make a rap group/collective cause I was looking at Odd Future and Savemoney thinking they were like the dopest thing ever. We’re just a group of dope artists from around the city and we make noise. Matter of fact, Black Glove finna drop an album. Shouts out to them. We’re expanding and evolving so more things on the way.
Who is one artist today you draw most inspiration from?
Chance the Rapper! I’m still learning from what he’s doing today, and the things he did when I was 15. His innovation and the way he “goes hard” for Chicago is the coolest thing to me and if I do half of what he did, I’m set.
Are there any artists you hope to one day collaborate with? What kind of music do you think you would make?
I, legit, have a list of like 50 artists I wanna collab with. Chance, obviously. Peter Cottontale, Saba, Noname, Anderson .Paak, H.E.R., Robert Glasper, Jacob Collier, Rapsody and so many more people. I’m just a fan of music. Whatever comes from people being creative and themselves, is good with me. Oh, and I want an Add-2 verse. Still chasing that!
Is there anything coming up on the horizon listeners should know about or keep an eye out for?
Absolutely! There are plenty more things in the works that I can’t wait to get to you guys. I’ll announce them over time. Bigger and better surprises on the way! But, stream Open Mind and Open Heart on all streaming platforms and on WorstRapperEver.com.
Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca.
More from Vocalo: