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Cover Story- PAUSE Meets: Lil Tecca

PAUSE MEETS:

Lil Tecca

Discusses new music, creative purity & wardrobe curation.

Photographer: Gabriel Perez Silva // @_youngshot
Stylist: Rhys Marcus Jay // @rhysmarcusjay
Assistant Stylist: Sierra Sesay // @sierrarenas
Producer: Johnson Gold // @johnson_gold
Photo Assistant: Jay Sivayavirojna // @jay.thehumans
MUA: Sharnice Knox // @saintlaurahs
Hair: Nigella Miller // @hairbynigella
Interview: Thomas Woods // @thomaswoods
Words: Amal AlTauqi // @altxuqi
Artist: Lil Tecca // @liltecca
Location: New York, USA

“Regardless if people like it or not, I’m going to keep doing it.”

The influence of Queens NY is one that cannot be overstated. Since the borough has long fostered generations of diverse cultures, musical talent, fashion sense, and activism, it’s no wonder that throughout history it has bestowed some of hip-hop’s most iconic artists. It seems unlikely that such a vital milieu can ever again nurture such an innovative movement, but the current generation of musicians beg to differ – leaving a lasting impact and showing us exactly what they’re made of.

At first glance, Lil Tecca seems like your average twenty-one-year-old immersed in the world of swanky fits, social consciousness, and technological advancements. But beyond his exterior lies a story of ambition – a story that speaks to the power of dreams. A life which almost every kid dreams of.

As a result of his debut single “Ransom” in 2019, Tecca catapulted to fame and, before we knew it, the track had become a viral hit… and the rest was history. Since then, the New-York bred musician has developed his ability to construct layers of sonic nuance through intricate works of art, not forgetting his latest album offering TEC (2023). Armed with 16 songs boasting meticulous composition, Tecca has a clear vision of where he wants to go and how his sound should be reflected, with his presence on the scene being indicative of his continuing influence on his generation and thereafter.

In an exclusive interview with PAUSE Magazine for their Winter 2023 cover, Tecca unfolds on his musical upbringing, seasonal fashion and what we can expect from him next.

Check it out below:

Your latest album TEC (2023) hit number two on the top debut albums chart on Spotify. What is it like to be in that space of celebration right now? Do you feel like you’ve taken it in fully yet?

I don’t think I’ve taken in anything, fully. I haven’t looked at the numbers too much… I try to take a second of gratitude and really just appreciate everything, especially just with my fans, because I understand more than anything that I wouldn’t be anything without them. So, I don’t even look at those numbers and take it as a moment of, like, self-celebration, even though it is hard work that I’ve worked on. I just appreciate it because you can’t predict anything and the fact that I’m being blessed right now, that’s all that I can appreciate for real. 

100%. Where do you feel like you get that connection with fans? 

It’s in my everyday life! My career is so tied to my every activity, so I can’t forget about my fans in any way. I might wake up and make a song and want to instantly preview it to the fans, you know. I feel it with my fans all the time. 

I suppose with the nature of social media that becomes even easier. With your sound in particular, this album has been really well received and you often go quite deep into an ever-changing landscape. How does it feel to know that everything you share, or go through, is consumed by millions worldwide? Do you ever get in your own head about it?

No, I don’t really think about it much. I know being successful in this field is definitely a task, having a lot of people know who you are, but I still try to think about the reasons why I started this and it’s just pure, I just do this because I like it and the fact that so many other people like it is cool too. But, I don’t really think about the amount of people that are potentially going to hear it, hate on it, or love it, and think “damn, now it has to be perfect.” No, it’s just something I love doing and regardless if people like it or not, I’m going to keep doing it.

I feel like finding that purity must be hard for a lot of people. In terms of your creative direction,  your sound has taken a lot of different directions, which is really great to witness. In what ways has your new album influenced your attitude towards music?

For me and all of the people that helped me produce this album, at the beginning of the project there were a lot of boxes that we wanted to check off the bat before we started experimenting and trying to add new things to the pot. For example, the traditional styles that people expect of me, like the more bouncy stuff, my other dancehall stuff, and some of my slower songs, more for the females. This time around, we checked off all of those boxes first and then started working on songs like “500lbs” and “Dead or Alive”, trying to experiment with new sounds that we can also introduce to people.  

You can definitely see that; this album is full of hits. 

Appreciate it!

Jacket – Avirex, Pants – Rick Owens, Boots – Timberland, Headband – Jacquemus at Mr Porter, Bag – Chrome Hearts.

Another discussion I’ve seen online is about something that I personally really enjoy in music, and you can see it starting to grow more in hip-hop, is this project’s use of transitions. It makes the album feel like a whole journey. What made you place a focus on that? Is it about giving people that desire to listen to the album in full and really take it in? 

Yeah! I didn’t want people to start the album and then finish it thinking that they’ve just heard a compilation of a bunch of songs. Sonically, I wanted it to feel like you’re going through a story, especially if you’re going to give it a top to bottom listen with no interruptions; I wanted it to feel like an experience. There’s highs, there’s lows, there’s fast, there’s slow… but in the middle of those, there’s a segway to get to that where it’s like, “oh wow, the energy has just changed here.” And it kind of makes you appreciate the songs more than just a minute and thirty clips of lyrical compositions and beats, it’s more about a story being told. I kind of wanted to add that extra layer to my musicality to where people could take me a little more seriously and know that I’m taking the extra steps to make it obvious that we’ve been working hard on this project. That’s just because I haven’t dropped a project in two years so I didn’t want to come out of the gate and make it seem like I hadn’t been working on a project for two years, you know?

Yeah, totally. As someone that consumes a lot of hip-hop and music in general, I feel like that really came through and there are so many different elements and genres on the album; it felt like a whole body of work.

Thank you so much. 

You touched on it earlier, but you spoke about dancehall and we see pockets of romanticism here. I think it’s a reflection of how much your discography has grown over the last few years, so do you ever have time to look back? Or are you more focused on what’s ahead?

I do look back when it’s presented to me. For example, when I go on a fan page and somebody posts a throwback clip or something like that, but in my own day-to-day I don’t really look at the things I’ve done just because it keeps me in the past. I do look back on my old stuff when I’m working on new projects to study my own work, just because I don’t want to pull influences from peers. I would never want to be a clone of anyone that’s a peer of mine. So, I do look at my own stuff to look at my structure and study myself a little bit, in that sense. 

I like the way you phrased that. In the making of the album itself, you worked closely with Internet Money’s Taz Taylor and Working on Dying’s BYNX. How did your relationship with those two develop? And what do you feel like they brought to the table here?

I’ve been working with Taz Taylor since the start. His production was the first production that I ever hopped on that wasn’t on YouTube, actually. He helped me start hopping on official type of stuff. With that being said, we’ve also been taking these risks together and bringing new things to the table because Internet Money have a traditional sound too, one that people know from them, working with very big artists like Juice WRLD, X (xxxtentacion), Drake… people like that. So, them adding new things to the table… I keep going back to ‘500lbs’ but it’s such a new thing for me and all of us, in a way, so it’s kind of the prime example of things going left in my career and still turning out right. With BYNX, I’ve been friends with him since 2020 and I’ve seen this whole thing happen for him, it’s kind of an amazing thing to see because I’ve been known that he was on one; he wasn’t regular, he was a real producer. I feel like they definitely brought everything to the table and I feel like rappers are nothing without beats, like, producers should really be getting most of the credit in my opinion. When you think about paint on a canvas, the producers are filling out the whole outline for you and you’ve really just got to go in there and colour it in here and there and make it look good. I mean your face is on it, but I give them all of the credit because I wouldn’t have nothing to rap on if it wasn’t for them. 

100%. I’m sure they’d be over the moon to hear that because I still feel like producers’ work is sometimes left behind, but yeah, BYNX has taken things to new extremes in the last few years with what he’s done. In light of how the soundscape and industry differ from what you grew up listening to, what are some things that you remember about music back then that you wish were present in sounds today? 

I do wish that there were more melodic artists. I don’t feel like the majority of artists are appreciating how far melody goes in music, especially catchy ones. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t spit bars or be lyrical, but I think people are missing an important part of musicality, just being musical in a way. That’s really it, you know.

Top – custom t-shirt by stylist, Trousers – AMIRI, Belt – Off-White at Mr Porter, Sunglasses – artist’s own.

Speaking of looking at the past, I saw you dropped off your album to Cole Bennett on an old iPod, which had had unreleased artwork and credits; I thought that was sick. What was the thought behind that? Do you think having tangible products, like iPods and vinyl, still hold weight? 

Yeah, because the things that I love, I really love them. If my phone is dead, where am I going to look at it? I want real life artefacts of the things I hold close to me and just having different avenues like posters, actual CDs, vinyls, putting stuff on an iPod, like, it makes it more real instead of everything being super digital for Apple Music or Spotify, any DSP. I want to see a poster on the wall or something! I literally just ordered posters yesterday of some of my favourite movies and even though I could watch them right now, I want to see posters on the wall, like, I really love this.

Definitely! What did you order?

I got ’Tokyo Drift (2006)’ (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) and Rush Hour 2 (2001).

Ahhh, Rush Hour 2 is a classic! That’s a good one. I like stuff like that, because in hundreds of years time, you might not be able to look back on some people’s digital music, so having something tangible is a lot better. In terms of your relationship with Cole Bennett, tell us a little bit more about what that’s like, I know that you’ve consistently worked with him. 

Yeah, Cole Bennett was definitely part of a very, very pivotal point in my life. With Lyrical Lemonade as a young kid, I used to look at all of the Famous Dex videos and things like that and think, “wow, this is really different from traditional hip-hop.” And with getting on Lyrical Lemonade, it’s one of those things where there’s no tutorial or step-by-step guide on how you end up there. Going from watching it and wondering to being one of those people that’s on it, it’s actually pretty cool. It’s really cool. 

Yeah I mean, just via a video, there are so many people that Lyrical Lemonade have put me on. They have this crazy story where people were coming from all different kinds of directions.

Yeah! I feel like Lyrical Lemonade are like MTV from back in the day.

Hip-hop has been profoundly influenced by Queens, New York ever since it ascended to prominence. What inspired your creative spirit growing up in such a culturally significant area?

I feel like it comes mostly from the fact that my dad did music, and this is before I was even born. He kind of stopped doing music in the process of me being born and on top of that I’m Jamaican, so I grew up around a lot of music at BBQs, cleaning days, and just in the crib, period. As a kid, it never really came up as a thought for me to start rapping or making music, but once it became a thought in my head, it kind of never left. 

Planted that seed, I guess.

Yeah, I kind of fell in love with music once I started attaching myself to it because, I’d always listen to music but the thought of making it never came through my head. There might be those people that sing in the shower, or sing in class, or sing their favourite Chris Brown song, but I was never one of those dudes. So, it kind of surprised me when I started making music, especially music that I liked. I surprised myself.

It sounds like you had an eclectic upbringing in terms of music, especially with it coming from so many different directions. What was your dad into? What was he creating?

I’m pretty sure he was making ‘singing’ songs, like he was a singer. He wasn’t rapping how I rap… like, you know how melodies are integrated into my raps? He was a singer, but I’m both at the same time. 

I suppose that’s where the influence comes from! 

Yeah, my melodies definitely come from my dad, for sure.

Leather co-ord – Bleriot, Scarf – Mugler, Boots – artist’s own.

You approach your career in a fashion-esque manner, almost as if you are seasons ahead in the path you are headed. How do you plan to spend your time since the project is still so premature? Are you working day-today? Or is there a plan in place post-album?

I would say to come up with a rough finishing point and work towards that. I don’t just wake up one day and be like, “yeah I’ve got my project done, let’s release it now.” It kind of goes like, “I’m planning on dropping here, I’ve got to make this amount of songs to end up with this amount of songs that I actually want to drop”, and if I do that, maybe we could have enough music videos and cover art around the time when I plan on dropping. But, most of the time, it does not happen that way… I really end up dropping months after when I actually planned on dropping, just because I don’t really be done with my songs and all that stuff. But, planning towards that, it gets me in and around the ball park. 

I think that your fans can speak to that; they’re always waiting on you! But it’s worth it when you come out with a body of work like the one you did. In relation to your fashion sense, your style has flourished. We’ve seen you rock more mainstream labels like Balenciaga and Chrome Hearts, but you’ve recently shown love to European brands like NO/FAITH STUDIOS. What inspires your fashion choices and how do you juggle between the various brands you wear? Is it a conscious thing? Or do you just see it and pick it out?

As a kid I was always interested in fashion, like my brother would always come into the house with some crazy True Religion on, BBC, Moncler, Ed Hardy, so I’d see all of these things as a kid and think that they were crazy. I didn’t really have the facilities to be getting all of the stuff that my brother got, so I was just kind of chilling and rocking my Jordans and stuff. Once I got the facilities to start wearing the stuff that I really love, I started going crazy. I remember in 2019 on my first tour in Europe, I went to like this Germaan Saks and I got the Balenci bomber, the Balenci sweatpants, I was going crazy. 

You have been for a while…

Yeah, I feel like if I’d had the facilities to do what I wanted to do (back then), I would’ve looked like how I do now. But, you know, being fly costs! I feel like clothes are the freshest scam in the world, so it’s like, everything comes at a time and now I actually get to express myself how I want to because that’s what clothes are to me too, an expression of how I feel. I went to a uniformed school and on Fridays when they used to let us wear our own clothes, I used to walk in the building feeling like the man! Just because I could wear what I wanted to and I’d know nobody else would be wearing it, nobody else was going to be wearing it how I was wearing it. Clothes are a passion that I hold very close to me. 

You can see that. Was that every Friday you got to wear your own clothes?

It was like every other Friday. 

In England you’d get one a term, so we were really struggling!

Wow, you’d have to go crazy on that day…

For real! It felt like a whole week of preparation. 

Literally though!

Considering the wide range of brands that I see you rocking & now that you’re in a position to buy these more expensive pieces, if you had to wear one fashion house, who would you be rocking for the rest of your life?

Oh wow… hmmm. Probably, If Six was Nine. And I only say If Six was Nine because I like their pants and their hoodies, and their shirts too. There aren’t too many brands where I like every single thing that they do, like, there might be certain brands where I like their tops, jeans, or their boots, but with If Six was Nine, I like their pants and their tops. 

How do you approach building an outfit stylistically? Do you start with a base layer and build on that? Or do you rely on accessories and staple pieces? Or is it even to do with mood or where you are in the world?

Once I figure out how I feel and try to translate that to a mood and outfit, then I go via proportions… I don’t like my outfit looking sloppy when it comes to how each piece lays on each other. I go with pants first and then I might go with a tank top or something, maybe a belt with that. Once I’ve got my pants and my belt, then I’ll go and look at my jackets because my pants are already going to be fire, just because I don’t own any pants that I don’t like. My jackets are really where I keep the statement of my outfit. So, I’ll plan my outfit and then get a shirt according to that, and I’ll probably know what shoes I’m going to wear already, and then I’ll pick out my bandana and my finishing accessories to make my outfit look full and a look, for real. 

You had a fit the other day with a NO/FAITH STUDIOS jacket… been after that for so long.

Man, that jacket is CRAZY. 

So crazy. I’ve seen you rock their denim as well, which is so good.

Hell yeah, that was like my favourite sh*t for a little while… that’s my boy that make that sh*t. 

When it comes to fashion, what direction do you see yourself taking this autumn/winter season? 

I’m not even going to lie, this year I’m coming CRAZY! I’m coming all fur, everything fur. 

That’s a bold move, but I like it. That’s New York heritage. 

It’s going to be fur looking like the last war just ended, and those are the clothes left type vibe. Apocalyptic elegant. 

I’ve never heard that one haha, you might need to coin that.

Getting back into music and what’s ahead, I’ve seen you speak recently about how you don’t see yourself rapping way into your future – or making music in general – so are there any others areas you see yourself moving into? Or is it more about just finding that peace?

Nah, it’s everything. Everything I do I feel like I can turn it into something, like, I love film and I want to direct TV shows and movies some day. I love clothes and I already make clothes, so I want to actually have my own fashion show at fashion week, and have my own fashion house. I want to style the people who’s style I really like, bringing it to the next level. In everything I do, I really want to be effective in that field and not just dip my toes into it, but really jump in the water. I want to control the sh*t and show people that I’m creatively effective. 

If we take music as a sample case study, you can see a dedication to craft anyway, so I feel like that would never be an issue for you. 100%.

In terms of who you’d style, who do you look to for personal inspiration?

My brother. Growing up, my brother was the flyest person that I knew, you couldn’t show me a person that was flyer than my brother EVER, EVER. The way that I dress now was really how my brother was dressing back in 2013 and 2014, like, he was going to sleep in the stuff that people would put on on Saturdays going to the club, for real… that fly. He was never popping out with brands being like “come and look at this, you see this new stuff”… nah! I was coming to him asking about the new Jordans that were dropping and he was coming back to me in the house and I’d have to look at his jacket and be like, “yo, what is that?”. He was wearing Moncler, that was the first time I’d heard about Moncler so, that’s him for real.

Keeping it close to home! It’s always good to get advice from the best, especially when they’re right next to you. 

Moving forward, can we expect a tour any time soon for you? And can you let us know about any secrets for what’s coming next? 

What I can say is that I’m definitely going to go on tour in like January time. I’m doing like a five city tour, but that’s not my full tour, that’s going to be at the beginning of the year. And my next album is definitely going to drop next year, I’m not going to go another gap without dropping one. I only went that whole gap without dropping one because I went on tour for the whole of 2022, so if I wasn’t on tour for that whole year in Europe and the US, I would’ve dropped the album too, but… that’s what I can say. And I’m going to drop more music in between that too. I might drop a little project, a little something here and there… it might be three songs all at once, I don’t know, but I’m definitely not going to go quiet. 

Are you going to come to Europe during this next tour? 

100%, I can’t come on tour without coming to Europe! 

The European crowds… they’re crazy.

Bro, European crowds are crazy. That’s not even too far from home when I’m on stage, for real. 

 

TEC (2023) is out and available to stream now.

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Lil Tecca on Instagram

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