By Sean Claes
For those who have been in the Austin music scene for more than a minute, the name Tee Double is one you’ve heard. Native Austinite Terrany “Tee Double” Johnson is a 25-year veteran of the scene, and he’s done it as an independent artist. He is literally a chapter in the book (2016s Seduced By Sound) on Austin music.
He is an artist, producer, entrepreneur and August 1, 2017 will mark the release of his 30th album, Bless The Child.
Perhaps a big part of the reason he’s been a relevant mainstay on the Austin scene and in Hip-Hop in general is his willingness and desire to give back. It is not surprising that in 2010, just one month after INsite dubbed him the “CulturalAmbassador of Hip-Hop” the City of Austin announced “Tee Double Day” on September 30.
He is very involved in the business of helping other artists hone their craft. He is a member of the Texas Chapter of the Grammys, has spoken at numerous conferences as a leader in the Hip Hop movement, founded the non-profit Urban Artist Alliance, sits on the advisory board for several non-profits. Oh, AND he spends about 10 hours a day in the studio recording, writing, and as he states it…expanding his catalog.
INsite’s Sean Claes had a moment to catch up with the legend.
|Photo Credit: teedouble.com|
Sean Claes: You’re moving in on 25 years in the hip-hop business in Austin, Texas. How have you sustained yourself and kept your passion lit?
Terrany Johnson: Yeah,that is a hell of a long time and I have been very blessed to sustain. One of the things I learned early on was to diversify what I was trying to do and where I wanted to be in the future from licensing,consulting and teaching other artist about the music business.
Claes: You’ve paved your own path in your music by being self-employed, self-publishing and self-promoting. What opportunities do you feel you’ve afforded yourself by going this path?
Johnson: Well, one of the main things is more time to be with family as my time is based on how and when I choose to work. But anyone who knows me know I work ALL the time. It’s also giving me ownership of my craft and where it is used and sold which artist don't have these days.
Claes: In August 2010 INsite featured you on the cover with the title “Cultural Ambassador of Austin Hip Hop” a title, you’ve certainly earned. How do you feel the culture of Hip Hop in Austin has endured and what is the status in 2017?
Johnson: The culture of Hip Hop in Austin is an ongoing thing from booking our events to getting our artist fairly compensated by venues. As a long term artist it is my responsibility to keep the scene on track with solidifying the foundation the culture stands upon so future artist have a great start and aren't starting backwards.
Claes: In the height of the Black Lives Matter movement last year, you spearheaded a compilation of local/area artists called Black Mics Matter. You mentioned it was not a release for profit, but a release for “dialog and spiritual return.” What was the impetus behind the release and what was the effect you saw?
Johnson: I wanted the project to be about more than “It sold a million copies” but more an actual voice from the artist in the community who are being affected by the things some only see in the news.
It showed other black artists they have a voice and when put in a form that everyone listens too, because who doesn't like Hip Hop in some form, then you can have a powerful dialog as the attention that project received showed. It’s still resonating in the community as I hoped it would and a new breed of artist are taking that model and moving forward with new ideas.
Claes: Although it doesn’t seem to be front page news these days, how do you feel the voices of Black Lives Matter are being sustained today?
Johnson: The voices never left but the news cycle changes every half hour so there are still strong movements going on in the communities that won't be on the front page. Austin’s Austin Justice Coalition with Chas Moore and others are truly making a stance and being on the front line for justice and a educated voice for the victimized.
Claes: You’re very involved in the community. Tell me a little about your involvement with The Grammy’s, Black Fret and the Urban Artist Alliance.
Johnson: I was on the Board of The Governors for The Grammys and the education committee on how to assist in bringing music education back into schools for children who if they had the tools might be able to find their new path as I did when I was around 8 years old.
Black Fret is a non profit dedicated to assisting musician in growing their careers by giving grants and a strong team of advisors which I am one to guide them how to use the grants in the best manner for their career long term and not just for the moment.
Urban ArtistAlliance is truly at my heart as it was created to fill a void form other organizations not catering to the artistic development of the black music community in Austin. So instead of whining or begging for another group to it for us I created it myself and used my knowledge and community support to make it grow and my relationships to get the attention I wouldn't normally get if I hadn't made these relationships over the years. We do educational events, consult artist about publishing and ownership that is rarely spoken about.
Claes: Who are some of the local artists who are doing it well? Who out there should people sit up and take notice?
Johnson: Easily there is MOBLY who is touring strongly and creating amazing music. Magna Carda has been consistent on their output and brand building and both are Black Fret grant recipients.
Claes: How do you feel Austin sits right now with the support and progress of local Hip-Hop?
Johnson: Austin is and has always been slow to recognize it’s gold mine in Hip Hop. Hip Hop artists work so hard here but don't always feel like the love is returned even if we are called the “Live Music Capital of the World,” so shouldn't that mean ALL music?
Hip Hop is such an economic driving machine globally it should be embraced more by the city and have its voice amplified not just when something goes wrong at a club but when something goes right which honestly is most of the time.
Claes: When I was a kid, it was all about NWA, Public Enemy, Tupac and Ice-T. There seemed to be a voice of young men coming up to point out injustice, stand up for something and throw their struggles in the face of an America who had ignored them, their culture and their neighborhood. Who carries that torch today?
Johnson: I agree,as before Hip Hop was compressed it only four labels and there very small non Hip Hop based departments there was a message being released about love yourself, build a positive future and still have fun but it wasn't booty booty booty every minute Ha!!
Kendrick Lamar of course is at the forefront because his artistry is on a very high and consistent level with points being made in his music and his visuals he release for his projects. Even the gangsta rappers have a place i the mix as they are coming from a place of struggle and pain which all need to hear but most don't have the how they turned it around page of the story and I think that is because labels and new A&Rs don't think that will sell so they tell artist not to focus on that but let's cookie cut the other stuff and force feed the listener.
Claes: What is next for Tee Double? Playing anywhere soon?
Johnson: Working on my 30th album Bless The Child and doing plenty of licensing work for movies, commercials, video games and voice over work.
Back to what I said earlier about diversifying so I can stay busy and generate revenue without always having to be on a stage and play for tip jars as most booking agents aren't trying to pay an artist what they are worth just what they will give you.Often it’s beer and a tip jar.
Claes: Anything else you’d like to add?
Johnson: Yeah, for the artist, keep focused and moving forward and never let anyone stop you from your dreams or goals only YOU can do that.
Find new circles of resources to expand your brand whatever it may be and then share those ideas with newer artists so we don't have a generational gap of success but a continued lineage of winners.
Love the art, community and what you started out in this music business to be and stay the course.
Be The Impossible.