On the list of things to know about Beaumont, Texas native Teezo Touchdown, it may take a while before you get to the songs. The nails he wears woven into his braids weigh, supposedly, 15 pounds. His style, composed of leather, denim, football pads, and oversized clothing, has made him a fashion-world favorite, affiliated with Telfar, Marc Jacobs, Moncler, and more. He communicates in odd ways: sticky notes with feel-good messages and announcements, elaborate Instagram skits full of alter egos and zany plots. And the celebrity co-signs keep rolling in: from Janelle Monáe and Madonna; from Tyler, the Creator, who said, “That kid’s an alien in the best way possible”; and from Drake, who was so moved that he broke character in an Instagram post to praise Teezo’s new debut album How Do You Sleep at Night? as “some of the best music ever.”
To Teezo’s credit, he doesn’t deny that up until now, his fusion of Texas rap, nostalgic pop-punk, and funky R&B paired with clever and memeable music videos (in the clip for the sleepy acoustic guitar ballad “I’m Just a Fan,” he stands surrounded by portable fans and spins his arms while nails tinkle like windchimes) has come secondary to everything else. “No one really knew me for the music, and music, to me, is my foundation,” the 30 year old said in an interview. How Do You Sleep at Night? is a debut tasked with making music the point, rather than a brand extension. He attempts this by imitating Weezer rap-rock, The Love Below soul, and 2000s pop radio, a genre mash-up that isn’t as offbeat as it wants to be. Most of all, it’s too sanitized, too impersonal, too cliché, to be a statement.
There’s a Teezo Touchdown snippet that has floated around YouTube and SoundCloud for a while, in which he sing-raps on a beat that could have been on Finally Rich: “Meeting with my PR team/They tellin’ me to keep it clean/No more songs about sex and codeine.” Luckily for them, How Do You Sleep at Night? has the edge of the Jonas Brothers. When he does sing about sex on “UUHH,” it’s uncomfortable. Not because it’s subliminal—some of the sexiest songs of all time get there without straight-up admitting I want to fuck—but because it’s as if he’s confused about how sex is supposed to work, like he might giggle if you said “dick.” The most angsty he gets is “Daddy Mama Drama,” where he hurls bleeped-out “I fucking hate you”s at his parents. On “Mood Swings,” he tries to open up about his inner blues on some played-out funk (just listen to the Victoria Monét album instead), but undercuts it with an overly cutesy hook that features the “weees” you would hear pushing a child on a swing. The lyrics are hard-hitting, too: “It seems when I step out of my dreams/Everything melts like ice cream.” Sure.
What Teezo has going for him is an elastic singing voice that slides nicely into the R&B lane. His melodies are shaky and occasionally crack, but the imperfections feel so much rawer than his sterilized pop and rock adventures. His speak-sing glide on “I Don’t Think U C Me” is smooth as hell, channeling a little of that Brent Faiyaz sauce. If you can get through the miserably upbeat first half of “Too Easy,” the breakdown into smoky coos with chatter of missed DMs feels like a sweeter homage to those old Drake R&B switch-ups. The stretched-out falsetto of “You Thought” is catchier than any of the softball pop hooks. Too bad his rapping feels like an afterthought: In the past he has called Lil’ Flip “dang near my favorite rapper” and has invoked Speaker Knockerz on a throwaway single, which is way more interesting than acting like Sum 41 is cool.
It’s clear that, like Lil Yachty’s psych-rock experiment Let’s Start Here. (which Teezo featured on), How Do You Sleep at Night? is targeted at young teenagers hearing certain sounds and experiencing certain emotions for the first time. Yet his feelings are so timid: never that sad, or that mad. In moments when the emotions could possibly get more difficult he censors them, prioritizing his image. “Impossible,” produced by Justin Raisen and SADPONY (who also contributed to Yachty’s album), is a guitar-driven believe-in-yourself anthem where Teezo lays out uplifting anecdotes: What if Basquiat didn’t paint because his parents said not to, or if Ali stopped boxing because he lost? On “Familiarity,” he croons about ignoring parental doubts to chase a dream. Why is he describing life like a Disney sports movie? It’s all so simplified, not only selling short teeangers’ ability to handle more complex emotions (hello, Olivia Rodrigo) but making Teezo look like a generic corporate vessel, genre-hopping to distract from the hollowness.