Layover: Teff Hinkson’s Post-’Departure Lounge’ Loosies Showcase his Tenacity
“I want people to remember me as a guy that fought through the impossible,” rapper Teff Hinkson told Empress Zingha of Gine On Magazine in a June interview. “Something like rap, which is not traditionally from here,” he continued,”… starting as somebody that, you know, people used to be like man you wasting you time; this, that and the next thing when I was going to [University of the West Indies], to the point that I’m at right now. That alone, if I was to die today… I kind of, actually am happy in the path that I’m taking already.”
Whether you’re a fan of him or not, his persistence is admirable. The drive to keep working in a genre many love but few respect when its auteurs are from here, has established him as the visual and sonic benchmark, which cannot be ignored. This tenacious attitude has been on display on the road to his sophomore project. It’s been rocky to say the least.
When I visited him back in late 2013, he was on the cusp of releasing what was then known as ‘BGI to JFK’ – heralded with the single “Ride Out.” Then, nothing. “Royalty (Feat. Komi)” dropped in March of 2015, and the ‘Dreamworld’ follow up had a new name, “Departure Lounge.” What was ‘BGI’ was scrapped entirely when he started to work more with Mohamed Haniff, and Eliseus Joseph came in the end to lend some much-needed assistance, as he told me.
It seemed like the album was finally ready to see the light of day when I heard it in full and we had a breakdown of each song. The full tracklist was released to the public that July. Anticipation was high and a “soon” drop seemed as a possibility, but more hindrances were on the horizon.
Frustrated with the slow roll out, he bucked the norm and released “Vibrations” to those who signed up for his mailing list that August. A snippet of “Southside” was used in a promotional video for biker Elsman and “So Insecure (Feat. Gallest)” and “Golden Clouds (Feat. Kristen Walker)” were played in full at the tailend of a visit to the New York-based, online Hip-Hop show, Bar Talk Radio. There, he kind of gave a reason for the album’s delay: “I was just waiting on the right PR company so that I could get my shit on all the right blogs… get my name out there.” The blog coverage came when the song and video for “WDWFTS (We Don’t Wait For The Summer)” was released in early January of 2016, but the album still never surfaced. “So Insecure (Feat. Gallest)” came that April; the video, via a Noisey premiere, that October. When “Headshot,” a song that wasn’t featured on the album’s tracklist, came that November, it was safe to assume that Teff had gone in another direction and what was known as ‘Departure Lounge’ would never see the light of day – living on the hard drives of those who worked on it, and in the minds of those who heard it.
Seven months since the release of “Headshot,” the assumption that the rapper taking a new path was solidified with the release of five new songs – “Daylight” “Any Minute” “Blurry night (Feat. Komi)” “Other Side (Feat. Kyle Wildfern)” and “Vibe Like You (OMG)” – which don’t seem to be attached to any semblance of a project – or at least this hasn’t been divulged publicly to avoid another jinx.
The tracks deviate from ‘DL’ ‘s warm aesthetic and are heavily influenced by Toronto’s guttural, brooding sound and sing-rap song structure. This is a given since he has always dubbed the region as his second home, and all of the producers credited – Mohamed Haniff, Dvious Mindz, Yuri Koller, Martin Sole, Kyle Wildfern, Chris Rose – are either from there or have some influence from the Ontario capital.
“Head Shot” and “Other Side” are your typical, bread-and-butter braggadocio delivered in a sneering tone. These songs show that one things for certain: the emcee knows how to make catchy, social media-ready joints that circulate in nightclubs and get on Barbadian radio without a problem effort. “Vibe Like You (OMG),” a celebration of the black, Barbadian woman, is his latest radio offering. But despite it being worked on by all Caribbean hands, it sounds like hollow, generic, post-”Controlla” dancehall by outsiders artistes who never left the hotel to soak in the culture, or much less visited an island before. Still, the message, and subsequent video, is something I can get behind (no pun intended).
On “Daylight,” “Blurry Night,” and “Any Minute,” he is introspective and openly self-aware, seemingly trying to clear some headspace. “Can’t talk to myself I don’t listen / the Hennessey still fuck with my system / Ray Bans don’t help / I can’t stand myself / Literally can’t stand / Look at the handstand,” he says on “Blurry Night,” a chronicle of his excursions under the haze of inebriation, which is bolstered by a very smooth Komi feature – and is the most popular of the releases with 23k plays on Soundcloud, as of writing, when the others haven’t even cracked 10k. (The closest is “Headshot” with 8k plays.)
His best performance comes on the musing “Any Minute” which encompasses everything Teff. He raps:
“Tell my mom I love her so / Even though she don’t acknowledge it / Never rated none of my accomplishments / Got my love from the hoes and the following / And they fickle like clothes on a model ting”
Along with the occasional flex, being an open book about his contentious relationship with his mother and reflecting on past relationships with women have been a part of the Teff brand for as long as anyone has been listening to him. It is a by-the-way expression of disappointment. So when he sings “Feels like I’m about to blow any minute,” over skittish drums and chilling chords, it sounds like the vent of someone on the verge of a breakdown, and past the point of frustration – maybe, too, even because of so many hindrances in his career.
But when he goes back to his cool with some tongue-in-cheek bars and foreshadowing a fruitful future, you can’t help but think it is the cries of relief from an artiste on the cusp of finally getting returns on years of paying dues:
“Deep down, I don’t care anyhow / Pull ya phone out, nigga / Like the Bad Boys I can buss any minute now / Tour bus with my own bus any minute now ”
Like the possibility of seeing a sophomore project, we’ll have to wait and see if that day ever comes. Nevertheless, there is no doubt Teff would always grinding towards making that a reality. Where others have gone under the radar or found other avenues after a few failures, the emcee’s kept hustling to stay in the populace’s conscious since “Starz.” And he has always made sure that you heard him everywhere, every step of the way. As cliche as it sounds, giving up is not an option.
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder & Editor of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.
Sign up for the INTERLUDE Newsletter – delivered every Friday.