A report by Natasha S. Alford for The Grio.
Teff Hinkson doesn’t sound like your average rapper. The Barbados-born artist is bringing a fresh sound to music that captures the best of his home island and the diaspora.
His “Afro-Caribbean chill hip hop vibe” as he describes it, perfectly rides the new wave of Afrobeat and Caribbean music genres increasing in U.S. popularity. After establishing himself in 2011 with hit single “Starz” on the Caribbean charts, Teff is expanding his reach these days and touring in cities like Los Angeles and New York.
His recent single “So Insecure” features rapper Gallest, his friend, fellow party promoter and brother to another Barbados-born music artist, Rihanna.
We caught up with Teff during and after the 2017 Crop Over festival to talk about his unique music sound, black empowerment in international travel movements and why he isn’t mad at Drake for bringing Toronto’s Caribbean music sound into the mainstream.
Q: How was your Crop Over 2017?
A: It was great for me. Crop Over is about soca music, I do a fusion of hip hop with an island twist. I still get booked at events because people know me. Although that weekend is hardcore soca, I always have a good time with my friends watching people perform.
Q: Where did the inspiration to do hip-hop come from? A lot of people think of Soca when you think of the Caribbean.
A: All my family except for my immediate family lives in Toronto. I’ve been going there from time I was really young. All my cousins are really into rap. My older cousin is a rapper.
If your family isn’t from [Barbados] then you get exposed – basically the people I communicate with on a regular basis are non-Caribbean. That’s where the love for hip home came.
Q: Where did the inspiration for “So Insecure” come from featuring Rorrey Fenty (a.k.a Gallest)?
A: We host some parties together, we have a party brand called Urban and do a spring break party every year. While hosting all these parties you come across the typical party girl.
It gets weary after awhile and you see the same type of shallow girl. Or a girl who might have some potential but because of what she’s following socially she may end up a little insecure.
Q: In what ways do you think women let those insecurities out?
A: Some girls have so many layers and so many strengths, but yet when they are around persons who actually have a lot further to go, to get to the level that they’re at, they still find a need to socially conquer. It’s a big fish in a small pond kinda thing.
Q:What’s Rorrey like when it comes to working with him? Business wise and socially?
A: Rorrey’s the coolest, he’s very professional, always on time. He always makes sure that what isn’t taken care of is taken care of. He has his own ideas, but listens; he’s savvy, very good socially in all walks of society. It works for him socially; that helps him to partner with people.
Q: Toronto is huge in the culture right now. What do you think about the Caribbean vibe in Drake’s music and hip-hop across the board?
A: If you really look at the diaspora of Barbados, it really affects NY, Boston, East Coast and then Toronto. The influence that you hear in Drake’s music is a lot more authentic than people think.
He’s in Toronto 8 months out of the entire year. That is a culture that surrounds you and Drake kinda borrows from it. Some people have a problem with it, I don’t- it just makes it easier for me to express the culture I come from. He’s the biggest artist in the world, it really can’t hurt.
Q: What do you think Bajan culture is really about and why do you think there’s a benefit to black Americans traveling to the Caribbean (specifically Crop Over)?
A: It’s 94 percent black so coming here you can develop a certain pride. The mobility that you have over here, it’s worth forming relationships. The connections between the two places because of the diasporic connection would be great.
We [Bajans] have a sense of community, that’s once thing I would say. Everywhere you go people will say hi, people are warm and welcoming; we’re close knit but we’re not that small that everyone knows everyone.
We’re also about expression, definitely in this new age.
We have a wealth of talent: Rihanna’s from here, there’s so many more people doing music.
Black Americans should know- when you can connect back to your roots in a place that’s not where you’re actually from in the moment- like having roots in the Caribbean, a network- there are resources that are there for you.