Teff Breaks Down His New Album “Departure Lounge”
It’s hard for Teff to stay still. One Friday night, far away from the seasonal festivities, guests are slowly filing into a house tucked away in a St.James suburb for the private listening session of his album, Departure Lounge. The rapper is playing host: setting out spirits and finger foods, on the phone giving directions to those who can’t find the spot, giving directions to those who can’t find the restroom.
Those who worked on the project, and other close associates, make up the attendees. As they mixed and mingled under the clear night sky, the album is on a loop on full blast. This is a far cry from our first pre-album interview.
Back in 2013, it was just Teff, Akah Revere, and I in Canefield studios – where he was meticulously working on the then titled, BGI to JFK.“…It’s a little more hardcore this time around, even. We really started to experiment with a slightly more grungy [sound]. It’s straight rap, straight hip-hop, but we’re messing with some tones – some dark tones, like some reggae shit” he said. “We just going for something a little more classic… Same sound, just developed a little bit further.” Even though everything looked set to go that year, nothing happened.
Speaking to him in March this year, he shared that he scrapped the entire project before working closely with Mohamed Haniff – The Architecz, Eliseus Joseph and Jonathan McCollin, came on later to add co-production and arrangements. This time he seemed a lot more positive, but still quite vague, about the details. “Expect nothing; but definitely expect a level up in production and direction, content.”
As we talked at the session, he was visibly excited and proud to finally complete the project. In a conversation he likened to Real Late with Rosenberg, he breaks down each song from the album, giving details on how they came about; shares why the project has taken so long to come out (and why it won’t happen again); and more.
Pictures via TeffHinkson | Interview by Carlos Brathwaite
First of all, how does it feel to finally finish the album?
It feels good as fuck [Laughs]. Yeah, you would know that more than most, because you definitely used to check in from the last time I drop a batch of music until now. So you would know better than most that I would feel really good to be finally done.
Why the change from BGI to JFK to Departure Lounge?
I just felt that Departure Lounge was just more general. I feel like BGI to JFK would’ve been a good title if I was “all-powerful-Teff” in the world already, because then I could be that specific.
But I think, trying to get across my story, Departure Lounge is something people can relate to: going from a small place, or comfort zone, to just taking their vision and dream to a larger place, and everything you have to go through.
I just felt that Departure Lounge is universal. Because so many people right now, as we speak, are sitting down in a departure lounge thinking about their next move – this next move that they’re about to do that’s huge.
Well from listening to the album you could that: from how the songs are sequenced, to the sounds of the intercom. Was all of that a conscious decision in structuring the album?
Yeah, you know me. Dreamworld was one of those projects that it’s a project where you listen to the whole thing.
I always like to do it like that because it works out best for when I do hit the road and I do shows, and garnering a new audience, and getting them to listen to it as a project. I just feel like single-oriented artists fizzle out.
So I just wanted to do something that you could keep. And years from know you would be able to listen back to this as a concept album. I don’t necessarily need to have a strong concept like [Jay Z’s] American Gangster, or [Kendrick Lamar’s] To Pimp A Butterfly, that is next level concept album, but you get what I’m saying.
But it still has the same relatability. And that is what I think was one of the strengths of Dreamworld because you reveal a lot of layers. How different is this from Dreamworld in your opinion?
In so many ways, man. My style has definitely developed to become more melodic. Me and my friend [Damien] Marvay… He is like my musical brother. He’s the one that taught me most that I know in music, because I’m not trained in music. Apart from the fact that up to 11 years old I was in a national choir, but that’s another story. But, he’s the one that trained me. So, one night we were chilling and we were listening to some Rihanna. I think it was “Strip clubs, and dollar biiiilllsss” [“Pour It Up”]. And we were listening and we were like, ‘She sounds so Bajan!’
And then as we listening through we kept realizing that the songs where she sounds the most ‘Bajan’ – what we really meant is that she sounds most like herself, not like “Pampalam-Lil’ Rick-raw” Bajan – we realized that those were the songs where she had a low tone and melody. This is just some ‘high science’ we were behind. And then I just pursued that and realized that I sounded even more comfortable than I was already starting to sound as a rapper from Barbados, which is something pretty different.
So the melody really helped make the music feel better. [Make it] feel more real. Get my voice to just be calm [and] open up. It didn’t feel like I was trying to put on anything whatsoever.
And plus you’re working with Mohamed and he brings that kind of production. How was it working with him? I remembered he had only a few on the last batch and now he has worked on the whole thing.
It was so many things that factored towards that, but working with him is great, man. I just find that he’s – he would laugh at all these adjectives because they get over used – but he’s very ambient, very minimalist, very moody. And that kind of like, pulls at your heart strings; it makes you pour out more, it makes you open up more. And then because he’s minimalist, the beats are kind of empty so it’s better for a chill voice like mine. Because, you know, I don’t really got one of those ferocious-Busta Rhymes-type of voices.
I have a chill voice and then [I] found a chill producer that could compliment it well; I thought that was amazing. We just started to get a chemistry.
Track breakdown. Let’s start with “WDWFTS.” I think that’s the first single.
Yeah. Even though “Royalty” dropped, [“WDWFTS”] is going to be the first official single. We actually wrapped up that video on Whit Monday; we had four days of shooting. To me that song is the brand. That is the most brand-oriented song. ‘Cause I never do a song thinking let me just fixate it towards being: ‘Ok I am Teff and I do this and let me just do it this way.‘ I just try to do music and then what comes out, I would just roll with the vibe. But this is a song that when I was done I was like ‘Fuck, this is the brand.’
This is everything that I try to portray: talking about the island, talking about overseas, talking about what’s wrong with what’s going on here socially; but it’s still a party track. But at the same time, it’s a chill party track. It emulates the fact that I’m chill, but still it has the 120 bpm range where it’s knocking and swinging and you could listen to it in the club.
Then it has the melody. It has a really original, melodic flow that’s very catchy. So I just thought that it was the right first single because it explains the brand well – especially bringing the island vibe. The chill island vibe with the world perspective, because that’s how I look at it.
“Southside,” though. Outside of the whole chill element, “Southside” is more out there.
That is actually the last record I did on the album for that same reason. Because I was like, ‘Let me put my head in artist space and do what the fuck I feel like’ – which was a chill album. Then by the end of the album I realized, ‘Alright, what do I not have?’ Need an up-tempo joint.
So the other part of the story, too, is that, Eliseus Joseph actually reached out to me when I was finished with most of the Mohamed songs. But, what happen is, Mohamed studies Law at U.W.I. And he doesn’t have a studio. You know, he operates from his own devices.Anyways. The point that I was trying to make is that: when it comes to the intricacies, the arrangement, the production, the finishing touches, the bringing of the project together, I didn’t have somebody for that.
But it just so happen that Eliseus reached out to me. He was just wondering what I was doing with music because he didn’t hear anything from me in a while. And I sent him some of the stuff and he was pretty amazed; he liked what he was hearing. He said he always thought I was talented so he thought that he could bring it together. He said that is really his job as a producer: more so being the finisher; bringing it together. So what he did is: he helped me arrange all the songs. All the arrangements that I had in my head, I combined with the arrangement ideas he had; and then he also brought in instrumentalists.
He hooked up Arturo [Tappin]. Even though Arturo and I are tight… [Arturo] actually reached out last album and told Minim that “I Need A Moment” was… I think he said something like ‘musically perfect.’ Which is a stretch to me but I appreciate it and I’m very humbled by that.
So, Eliseus reached out to him on this very same song playing in the background [“December”] and told him “[I’m] now working on Teff’s album here and I have a song for you” – and he loved it. And I really appreciate that Arturo, a man of his worth… I mean I went on YouTube and saw Luther Vandross shout out Arturo as one of the most amazing saxophonist in the world.
And he actually reached out wanting to work with you.
Yeah, Exactly. That’s what I’m saying, ya know? And he’s a man with so many international accolades; and just a great musician no matter how you look at it. Even without the accolades. So things like that, [Eliseus] brought those on.“Lifestyle II” is produced by Jaicko. A different French sample this time. It’s something that I’m going to carry on. Kind of like how [Rick] Ross used to do “Maybach Music [interludes].”
So [Eliseus] brought on the bass guitarist and lead guitarist on that. Spruced that up. He edited the intro for me… I could get into all the details but basically he finished the project. “So Insecure” he actually co-produced that. So if you listen to “So Insecure” up until the end of the first hook, that is Mohamed’s doing. From there onwards, any changes you hearing – like how the bass starts to dance; the kick; he brings in some chords in the bridge; some English voices;crowd noises at the end – that’s all Eliseus.
And, I think, that is the only FULL Eliseus, Mohamed collab.As in, he collabed in very tiny ways on others but that is like the most 50/50 collab. And I actually think that is one of the most complete and forward thinking records. I think “So Insecure” is what music is about to sound like. So I feel really good.
And it was actually surprising to hear you and Gallest harmonizing.
[Laughs] Bringing it different, b. I’m going to take it back. When I had first started the album, as you know, I was working with Revere for the most part.
He’s still around, still in the camp, but he was handling some things at the time. And for me to get what I needed out of him at the time, I kind of like had to let him get his space. But we’re still cool, we’re still tight. I shout him, we hear each other; still looking to work on stuff. But he just had some things to deal with and I just had to keep it going.
I had “Royalty” on a Revere beat, and Gallest had a verse on that. So when it changed, it sped up just a little bit. And I was just like ‘Man this is more of a personal song now.’ I wrote a different hook to it, which is the “Royalty” that Komi [Barrow] is on.
So when that vibe came I was like, ‘Nah this isn’t the song for Rorrey anymore.’So I kept searching trying to find a collab [for him], but the album is so personal, man, that when you get to the end of an album, and you’re looking at collab time, it’s so hard.
So I thought “So Insecure” would be the best thing because, you know, the topic. Self-explanatory.
So he was doing a verse and I was like ‘Man I already got this song arranged. I already got these chords at the end for where you would do a verse.’ So I said ‘Listen, do an alternate hook for me.’ And, to me, he brought sicker lines in the place that he brought them than I did in my original hook, to me, really and truly. More realistic, straightforward lines.
He said ”Now she out in public every night just getting faded/Now all these thirsty niggas got her head inflated.” Those are very relatable lines.
Okay, “So Insecure,” now “Take 2.”
That’s with Mohamed. That is actually one of the first songs that I have done. Revere recorded that, even though it is a Mohamed beat.
That is back when you were at Canefield?
Before Canefield, b. That is probably a 2013 track. That is the oldest song on the project. But, I mean, the beat got spruced up a bit and the hook… I got Simon [Pipe] on the hook… and I re-recorded it too. Changed it; got it more melodic.
No Elton on the bass anymore
I took out the bass that Elton did. Right, you were there when Elton was laying the bass on the tune. But that is actually the point that I was telling you about: where I didn’t have somebody at the helm to bring it together. That was me trying my own thing, looking and saying, ‘Let me see what bass would do.’ So I was really, really, really, grateful that Eliseus came through on the project, man.
You featured Kristen Walker on “Golden Clouds,”how was it working with her?
Well firstly I would say this – and I always try not to swell her head, but I always end up saying that when I’m referring to her. I’m always like ‘I don’t mean to swell your head, but…’ and then I always continue. Kristen, man, I think Kristen is probably the first Bajan artist in a long time to inspire me musically – because I get inspired by a lot of producers or artists that are already doing their thing.
But since Livvi Franc – and it always ends up being women for some reason – since Livvi Franc I think she is the greatest talent that I have seen as a vocal artist in Bim. And just her brand and, you know… I just love Kristen, man.
I think she is definitely going to be next without a doubt. She actually does some work with Mohamed, too. But before I even knew that, I reached out to her. I saw her somewhere and I was just randomly like, ‘Let me go talk to this girl.’ We spoke, she knew who I was. And then after that, I think like a couple days later, I sent her a voice note with the hook of “Golden Clouds.”
I was like, ‘I wrote this hook for you, you could tell me if you want to do it.’ You know what I mean? I was like, ‘If you want to do it ,you could do it. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it.’ So she heard it, and she loved it!
And she actually told me that is the first time – not the first time – but she doesn’t like to sing songs people wrote for her. But she said that she felt like she wrote the song. Which is crazy. Songwriting is something I do a lot of now, I’m diving into [it], and when I song write I try to assume the character of the person I’m writing for. So when I wrote that for her, I was Kristen. No homo.
Pause. Oh, One more thing: she wrote the post hook. The part that comes in: “I am the ocean…” she wrote that herself. But the main hook was me, and that was Mohamed [on production] as you know.
Going back to Arturo, the swansong of “December” fits well into the sequencing of the project. I could understand the thinking behind the song, but just take me through it.
Right. That is actually a song that is produced by Jaicko Lawrence. Jaicko would’ve produced three songs on the project, which would be: the Intro, and interlude, “Departure Lounge Music,” crazy ass beat. He did “Lifestyle II” like I said, the A-side of it, the B-side is Mohamed. And then he did, “December.”
Jaicko and I did a writing camp on the east coast. It was just me and him, we rented a beach house. This was not a Teff-oriented anything. This was writing songs for people, because that’s what he’s into. He might not want me to say this but he has a publishing deal with [a major label] now. He keeps that on the low.
But he is doing very well. He wrote a bunch of stuff for a bunch of label [artists]. He wrote seven songs on an album for a group that Nick Cannon just signed. So he does a lot of stuff like that.
So, we did a writing camp. And at the end of the camp, when everything was done, I heard this beat. And I was like, ‘B, what are you doing with this?’ And he didn’t really want to give me, ya know. Because he had already given me the Intro beat and the [one for] “Lifestyle II” – which to him are kind of throwaways.
Not because they’re not good – as you know they’re hard as shit – but because he himself is more into the pop/mainstream. That is the stuff he puts out. That’s his lane. Even though he could do other stuff.
So, I was like, ‘What are you doing with this?‘And, you know, he didn’t want to give me. He was like, ‘If you want to, you could use it. I might use it for someone else but you could do your thing.’
I wrote to it looking at the beach on the East Coast. And it was just me and my thoughts, b. It had felt really good at that point in time because I knew of all of these new developments in my album. So it was just me and I had felt good. You could see I was getting goose bumps just now [Points to his arm].
It was really easy for me to write it. If you listen to the first line in it I say “Heavy rain all night til’ the shoreline sunny in the morning.”
It rained the night before. And we’re on a beach house in the East Coast, so, you could feel that. You wake up the next day and you’re writing a song. It’s sunny out, and I’m looking at the shoreline, so that’s the first thing that came to me. So that metaphor just resonated.
The beat, as you can tell, is nice. And then Eliseus heard the record and thought it was the most amazing record on the album. He was like ‘This needs Arturo.’ He brought Arturo, who had already liked my stuff, and he killed that. He actually did two takes: a take to test the mic and then did the take which is the ending that you hear.
So we took one piece from the first take and put it at the beginning of the song and then the second take is the outro. He knew it was the last song, he knew it was the farewell, he knew it was the swansong, and he put his foot in that and I’m very grateful.
It really brought it all together.
Funny thing about that song, too, is that [“December”] is actually about Barbados. And it would wow you if you studied that.
I actually got it, you know.
You’re actually the first person to get it. It’s Barbados personified as a girl. Even Mohamed – first time he heard it he was tripping – he was like, ‘Jaicko so hard oh my god.’ So then the song finished playing in the studio and then I was like ‘ Yeah you know that song is about Barbados, though, not a girl.’ And his mouth dropped. It played over and all he could do is keep shaking his head like ‘Chhhh.’
“Got a nigga back staring running on the treadmill in the coffin/Got to take that flight looking for a couple mill in the ocean, feel the emotion…”
That is why I said swansong. This is how I picture it as a consumer: you’re sitting in the departure lounge and then you go into a dream mode…
That’s why I got the [Mimics sound of the interludes].
I wanted to ask you about those.
That is my doings. I was looking for a sound effect that sounded like a travelling noise – like a journey. I took that from something I was listening to from a very old artist. It just felt jungly. It felt like moving from a jungle to getting out of the jungle, kinda. So I was like ‘You know what? This suits.’
I have it like three times on the album, and it kind of like moves through the chapters.
This part was like Eliseus’ idea. But when you hear it go from the crowd talk and the background elevator music type of shit to the person talking, that is supposed to be me taking off the headphones and hearing her. But that’s his doing. That’s just his interpretation. I does feel like that, though.
So, I would’ve taken the headphones off, heard what she had to say, and then I dropped the intro. Then I went back into my dream when you hear the [interlude]. Then the first chapter is Barbados, you could tell. “WDWFS” social party song about Barbados.“Lifestyle II” is an interaction with a girl from Toronto – which is the main place that I’m going – is from when I met her in Barbados at a photoshoot, to when I met her in Toronto where I went to perform. I kind of cut the story short because it gets a little crazy from there; I’m not trying to air out anybody.
Then “Southside” is like the block out by me. Where I go to breeze, go and check de men, you know, burn something etc. Just my observations of out there. Then from there it kind of gets into girls stuff.
Then into more witty stuff – which is the old me that you know – like the “Vibrations” and the “Royalty”, just the random wit.
Then the last chapter, after the witty stuff, I go back into the strong theme of the album. Which is strongest, to me, on “Golden Clouds” and “December.” You know, the disparity between Barbados and overseas. Leaving [Barbados]. “Golden Clouds” is about sticking to my vision.
“Golden clouds on the skyline, follow the sun, past the horizon/When these devils get me down (People in Barbados with no vision) sunsets never let me down (The vision I have, the team, the environment I need).”
“December,” same type of thing: missing you, missing Barbados. Everything that it has done for me that I liked; ways it has fucked me up. But still showing you that I have the love for you and I’m not leaving you out.
You and Mohamed have spent time in Toronto, and I realized the album carries that type of sound, is that the crowd you are trying to target?
Yeah. Well, as you know, I’m based in Toronto now, but I would say it’s more organic than that. It’s not that I was like ‘I’m moving to Toronto. Mohamed let’s try to do Toronto music.’ That’s already where I was! Like, the stuff with Revere was a sound I was trying to create – which is kind of in “Royalty” even though Mohamed produced that.
But this, which I spoke earlier about how minimalist it is, how empty it is, is where music is going in general. I was actually really glad that Drake actually dropped If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Because that kind of helped break people – desensitize people – into this type of sound: minimalist, those type of tones.
It’s not nearly the same thing but you understand what I mean. So I would relate to The Weeknd, PartyNextDoor, Drake, other stuff. I actually got a remix to this song playing in the background [“So Insecure”]. I didn’t put it on the album because, you know, I need that longevity after.
The remix to this would be the fourth single. And that is the first big collab I got.
Nice. You don’t want to let the cat out of the bag?
Nah. Hell fucking no. I mean, it’s not Drake or anything, but it’s very close. Like, by the time that drops, this artist is going to be… I could say it is close [to Drake], that much. A lot of people don’t know the artist, but a lot of people definitely know the artist.
Nah not Jazz. I’m going to do some stuff with Jazz, too. I would actually like to get him on the remix, too. Me and Jazz already talked. We are going to do something. He’s tearing up Toronto right now.
So things are looking on the up.
Chronicles, buddy. I got some good friends, b. That is the best way to put it. People guiding me to have the most effective independent situation that I could have.
I’m seeing you got the Island Indigo situation. So no more Island Life, right?
Umm. Yeah. Not really. Island Life was what I was trying to push. But then as I moved on, too, I realized that it’s kind of hard to run with the name Island Life. Just because so many people have adopted it almost on a hashtag level, on a lifestyle level. So it’s kind of hard to brand it. Kind of hard for like, you know, buying the website, buying the domain, copyrighting the saying.
So I just changed it to Island Indigo. That more represents people coming from islands, or these type of vibes, with special capabilities.
I actually got a vlog series running soon where I’m going to be featuring… it’s actually a combination between Urban and Island Indigo. Because Urban’s logo is bringing youth together through music, fashion, art, and sports.
So, interviewing people under those four categories that have done stuff outside of barbados. Like, Shannon Harris now got a deal with Elite Model Management. Which is probably like the second, or biggest, in the world. I’m going to interview her. I’m going to interview my man Els, he’s a biker.
He goes away every now and again. Bikers are seen as nuisances in Bim, but, really in truly, they have quality. Just things like that. I’m trying to push these people that don’t get the push that need it. That [are] on an international level. Because if certain people knew about them, they would be millionaires.
That is basically what I’m trying to push. People with those talents; with that level of talent.
After the album has dropped, what is next on the horizon?
Just this grind; building the international audience. Another thing I like to explain, too – good thing I’m doing this interview – I would say this: the average person that is not into music, their thing is: ‘When are you getting signed?’ ‘When are you getting signed?’ ‘You getting signed?’
When you get signed, you bust. That is the ideology that people have. But people do not understand that if they look at music right now, all of the big artists that they listen to are not signed to major labels. And I was trying to preach this for a while.
Because everybody knows what labels do. The only things that labels can do for you that you can’t do, are those political connections that would get you, like, the grammy nominations. And you could get those without that. I’m just saying they have those political connects.
But my life right now is really not about anything fake. Success for me is based on freedom and it’s based on expression. So to be able to put out an album independently and operate on the level of a major label artist, is what I always wanted. And this situation that I have right now with Island Indigo is like that. I’m going to be using this pr company called The Chamber Group. They represent, like, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Wale, 2 Chainz, same Jazz Cartier – a bunch of people. [It’s] expensive as shit, but, they are going to get me where I need to go.
Then I’m going to end up hooking up with booking agents through that, end up doing shows, might end up opening for somebody, who knows?
But, ideally, I would like the album [and] the videos to accumulate a lot of views, accumulate a lot of audience. I would like to open for an artist that suits my brand, and tag along on a national tour.
I would like to get a legit opening for somebody and then work in – that’s my plan. And, like I said, I got the remix. I got a batch of music that I already started recording. I might drop three songs in a month or so on top of this; just keep [the buzz] going.
One thing i can tell you for sure is that you will never get another hiatus from me. Until I’m done rapping; in retirement years.
I got everything together now. That is one thing people don’t understand, too. The team is so important, b. If I had my team together at the beginning of this process, I would be done ever since. I recorded the music on this project in such a short period of time you would never believe it.
Check out the cover art and tracklist for Departure Lounge here.
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.