Totally Enthused About Making Really Really Raw art (and don’t forget the three “r’s”). Such is the acronym built around the budding Haitian-American artist, Teamarrr’s name and the core of her artistic vision: healing through the rawest of elements (just like good ol’ fashioned tea!). Though today we see a woman reveling in her truth, who plays with cutting lyrical content like sculpting a glass figurine and isn’t afraid to tell you that she will be a superstar, but the road to this destination was a winding one.
The setting is Waltham, Massachusetts, the year likely sometime around 2002, having come from an ultra-religious Haitian family, she’d be dressed head-to-foot in formless fabric, focusing primarily on academia and her faith. Her social experience in school was often an uphill battle, continually facing the torment of bullies and never really feeling like she belonged. That is until she found her flair for the arts.
That flair wasn’t first sparked by music but by creating visual content. Whether it be her sharing humorous, personal anecdotes to the camera vlog style or helping her friends with their visual content, she began to develop a keen eye for style and sense for branding, a tool that has proven tremendously successful in her own music career.
What sets Teamarrr apart from her peers is her acute focus to both sonic and conceptual details. In other words, Teamarrr is not only concocting really dope music, she’s creating a unique world for her fans to get lost in. A world filled with tea cups, piping with truth tea, hot enough that even household names are beginning to take notice. One such name belongs to writer, director, producer and actor, Issa Rae, best known for her hit HBO series ‘insecure.’
‘insecure’ has become famous in the music community for its sensational music supervision and support of rising black artists. Though the details that proceed their encounter aren’t entirely confirmed, the solidification of their creative partnership is a certain match made in heaven. The first signee under Rae’s joint-venture label with Atlantic Records, Raedio, Teamarrr and Rae have established a candid relationship, filled with laughs as well as hands on creative curation.
Today we find ourselves at the morn of Teamarrr’s latest single release “Temperature.” The single is the first of TeaMarrr’s included on the official ‘insecure: Season 4’ soundtrack and will be featured in Sunday’s episode. A smooth, free-flowing track, borrowing elements from dance hall, while still incorporating the particular “bite” which has become so characteristic of her sound. Likening “moods” to “temperature, ” the single chronicles the mood swings that come along with a romantic relationship. “Temperature” is joined by an animated visual companion, which depicts these changes among the cartoons in the story. All the while, a wise little tea cup (presumingly Teamarrr) watches sagely from the sidelines.
In celebration of the release we had the chance to catch up with Teamarrr. A dynamic interview and one my personal favorites, Teamarrr dives into the details of her story, making critical connections between her experience as an adolescent and how these experiences helped form the confident, self-affirming woman and artist she is today.
Where were you born and raised?
You’re first generation American right?
Your parents immigrated here from Haiti, do your Haitian roots influence your music?
It doesn’t but the culture does in my videos.
Did you listen to Haitian music growing up?
Not on my own, like at a cookout, yeah. I was never really into Kompa because they would make fun of the way I danced to it. So I was turned off by the entire genre because I don’t like to be made fun of.
What’s your family like?
My parents were really religious growing up… it was gospel everything. Whether it was gospel-Haitian music, gospel-Country music, gospel-American music, gospel-Black.. like down South-church music… I refused to listen to Haitian music growing up because it felt like it was being shoved down my throat.
What did your religious upbringing look like?
Growing up I wasn’t allowed to show my collar bone, wasn’t allowed to show my ankles, wasn’t allowed to show my under arms. Crop tops? Forget about it. Show cleavage? Forget about it. It was just nun type of stuff. Long skirts always, long sleeved shirts and everything fits loosely enough so you can’t see the shape of my breasts, my curves, my hips… long and no body (laughs). I was focused on grades and no sex before marriage, all the super standard stuff.
How were you able to leave certain aspects of your childhood behind in pursuit of your dream?
I don’t know what really happened, I think I stopped being afraid of what they would do to me.
How do your family’s religious views coexist with your artistry today?
I feel like they love me so much that I knew that they would get past me wanting to be a superstar… The way my dad smiles when he’ll guess “Is that Rihanna?” and we’ll be like “Oh my god, you know how that is?!” Like you’re hip, come on. I know he low key wants to see where this goes… It was weird, my mom was helping me with my EP release party, she cooked food for it and a vegan dish for my vegan friends… They’ve been very supportive but in the back of their heads they’re like “God, please protect her. The industry is the devil.” So they’re very one foot in, one foot out but still like “Aw, look that’s my daughter, I’m proud of her.”
What was the greatest lesson your family taught you?
Stay humble and be nice… My parents would always say to show humility, show that you’re human, show that you’re humble. Be present and be grateful, don’t take anything for granted. As well as, don’t let anyone walk over you. Don’t be dumb, don’t be naive, and of course to stay true to who I am. My mom always told me this story about Oprah and how they were trying to make her change her name because it was “weird” and not a name for TV or whatever. Oprah stuck by her name and now she’s Oprah!
How did your tea-centered artist vision come into fruition?
When I first started social media I got a twitter and instagram and I asked my little sister, “What should I name myself?” And she was like “I don’t know, how ‘bout I’m a lil’ t cup?” Just because… my friends call me T, it wasn’t even like they called be “T” “E” “A,” they called me the letter “T.” There was this one boy that I was dating at the time who always spelled it “T” “E” “A” and I was like, “I like that! Why’d you do that?” I don’t know, that was in high school, this is my first time connecting that like out loud, him calling me “T” “E” “A”… So I was always “I’m a lil’ t cup” and then I branded my visual stuff with that…
Then when I started doing music my manager at the time, not Kareem, said, “So we got to change the handle now to Teamarrr right?” And I was like “Ew, no. Why?” And he was like “Uhh that’s how they’re gonna find you, how are they gonna find I’m a lil’ t cup?… You’re a new artist, you should stick with the name…” And I was like “NO! Champagne papi doesn’t have to do that” and he’s like “Well you’re not Drake!” And I said, “Well just wait.” … Then we got into a little argument and he was like “You know what? Maybe if we just bought a teacup, buy a teacup and make it make fucking sense.” And I was like “You know what? Fine.”
Hence why you always carry a trusted tea cup around town with you?
Yes! So I found a cup that spoke to me… and I named her *Lilly” and she meant everything to me, then I moved to LA and she broke… So I just got another one and that’s “Prince” and then it just became a thing… The place and time of when Lilly broke was all symbolic, it was at Atlantic Records… and here I am signed to Atlantic Records. There are like these little signs that God gives me when the cups break.
I find that part fascinating, plus your “tea cup rules” that you’ve shared on your Instagram. How did those rules evolve?
(Laughs) I have to get them laminated for you!
OMG I’d love that!
(Laughs) It’s kind of like you know as you go, you know? As you go you realize, okay everyone who works with me gets a sip then it becomes, everyone I work with who I fuck with gets a sip… I just kept doing things and they’d be added to the list of “things” … First it was just people that worked with me musically, now if you interview me, you get a sip; if you do my hair; you get a sip; if you style me, you get a sip… but also if you style me terrible you’re not gonna get a sip.
(Laughs) Also I feel like… now this is subconscious, I’m saying something I don’t think I’ve ever said before, but growing up I was always bullied. I felt like I wasn’t a part of any clique, you know? Me and my best friend Kim hopped around to tables, it was just me and her, we didn’t really have a group of friends. Even before that I was bullied all the time, like I tripped and fell ONCE in front of these kids and they called me “darkness falls” all year… So with this teacup I feel like “you can’t sit with us,” you know? (laughs) There’s a small tiny middle school girl version of me that enjoys her little mean girl club, but it’s also like I genuinely respect your energy and how you handled (yourself) and how you worked with me, please this is something I find very sacred and I don’t offer it to everyone, will you please take a sip and let me record it?
What’s the name of your current primary teacup?
Her name is Malvina (Mal-Vye-Nah).
I know Issa Rae’s taken a sip… How did you become acquainted with her?
Through our management, I feel like a lot of word of mouth too. Like her manager and my manager have a mutual friend who loves music and is always talking to both of them about new artists she’s found… so she was like “Oh, you should put this girl on ‘insecure’…” And I think one thing led to another, they reached out, then we had dinner and she (Issa) was like “What do you like to drink?” And then she bought me a drink, then she drank it (laughs)… She was like “Oh my god, my bad.” We have a lot more candid moments than business ones which is cool because I really like to be around her funny side… I kind of want to know how Issa found me too because I really don’t know exactly how it worked out.
What has her influence on the project been like?
It’s dope… I feel so honored that she found a place for my sound in her work. I’m so geeked because I was such a fan of ‘Awkward Black Girl’ and to be a part of ‘insecure’ is so unreal.
Your music is very honest and blunt, often encouraging healing through truth. Has being truthful ever been difficult for you?
Yeah… only because it hurts people when I do it, not necessarily saying that the truth always hurts but feeling like “Fuck, I shouldn’t haven’t said it that way, that was too harsh” because I’m like extra blunt… I guess telling the truth isn’t scary, but when being truthful you have to be cautious because you don’t know who you’re gonna hurt.
What are two areas of creative growth you focused on in the making of ‘When Tea Turns To Wine’?
Topic is a big thing. I used to just spit and spit and spit and then cough something out and be like “This is it!” Now I’m trying to find double entendres, I’m trying to find something more …. I want to put some intelligence in the writing so when you go back you’re like “What’d she mean by that?”
Another main thing I wanted to focus on was my feminine and masculine artistry. I promise you this EP is half masculine, half feminine, the songs are for both of us. I feel like I injected a tone of “Ooh” and a tone of “Aah.”
CONNECT WITH TEAMARRR
photo / Tyren Redd
story / Jessica Thomas