BY Puja Patel
5:25 PM EDT, July 29, 2014
It’s 1 A.M. on Artscape Saturday, long after the arts festival has packed up and gone home, but the Windup Space keeps the party going. The bass coming from the venue’s speakers is too loud, as it should be for electro-clubber King Tutt. Behind him, a host of familiar dudes: Unruly Records co-founder Scottie B, Artscape curator and DJ Chris Brooks, savvy local remixer Steve Lemz, visiting producer C Double, and a grip of other promoters, DJs, and friends who wander up to chat with the DJs.
Tedra Wilson, better known as TT The Artist, is the only female on the stage. She obviously stands apart from the blurry huddle. Though she’s the smallest by a large margin, she presents herself on stage as much taller than her a-little-over-5-feet-tall frame would suggest.
Tonight’s show is TT’s fourth performance in two days. Her nails and lipstick are on point, but then so are her sport tee and fitted cap, and she’s fierce on the stage, channeling one of her idols, Missy Elliott, on the springy, stunting, Diplo-produced ‘Dat a Freak.’ Her plea of a chant, “Are you gonna love a freak like me,” rallies the weirdos and demands booty-bounce battles, which she is all too happy to referee.
“I have a total of five or six shows this weekend,” she says later. “And I’ll still be the person that stays until the end tonight.” She will stay in part to support the rest of the lineup, but also because she still feels like she has a lot to prove. TT proudly describes herself as “out on the streets.” She goes on: “When I say I’m on the streets, I don’t mean I’m out there selling drugs. I mean I’m out there trying to be in touch with and then positively touch the community.”
For now, that means engaging the streets with her music. Alongside her frequent production partner and live DJ Mighty Mark (formerly known as Murder Mark), the MC released her debut EP “Money Monsta” in 2012 (which featured ‘Pussy Ate,’ CP’s “Best Summer Jam” of 2013), showcasing her now-signature fusion of pop-aimed hooks, EDM-infused beats, and club-music sounds. More recently, she’s appeared on two tracks from Mark’s new “Mighty” EP, ‘Girls’ and ‘Ping Pong;’ appeared on a remix of Schwarz trap-addled ‘Open Up Yr Mind’ with Hypnotize Minds hip-hop queen La Chat; collaborated with James Nasty on ‘Where All Da Freaks At;’ and begun working with the legendary Rod Lee. All the while, she continues to witness her profile rise thanks to her music catching the ear of Diplo.
The hipster DJ-turned-superstar producer behind Mad Decent Records put her on ‘Dat A Freak,’ which has since been sampled on Jennifer Lopez’s June single, ‘Booty.’ That series of events usually makes an artist abandon smaller projects, but TT seems a bit wary of the mainstream attention. “I heard that Chris Brown heard the song from Diplo,” says TT, laughing. “It’s the first time I’ve had a songwriting credit like that, which is cool, but I don’t know what else might come from it.” Meanwhile, her track ‘Money Monsta’ abrasively warns about the moral disasters that often come hand-in-hand with any glimmer of success.
TT—who is openly gay, but doesn’t make a big deal about it—was raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and drew early inspiration from the ’90s-era, no-apologies hip-hop that existed in tandem to the nearby dance influences of Miami bass. It’s a pairing that would naturally evolve to bolster her own tough-minded, female-empowered raps backed by the Baltimore club sound (it is worth noting that early club innovator Frank Ski was originally from Miami and Bmore club is a result of the mix of that city’s bass and Baltimore’s house love).
TT grew up Pentecostal, “in a very religious background,” where friends who weren’t also from the church were forbidden. “I wasn’t allowed to listen to certain types of music either. But I used to sneak out and listen to music on the radio,” she adds. Artists like Uncle Luke and Foxy Brown introduced TT to the playfulness and empowering wit of party rap.
TT moved to Baltimore to attend MICA and after graduating in 2006, she went to work at MTV’s Time Square studios as an intern production assistant. Two years later, she returned to the city. “I came back to Baltimore because I realized it was a place that nurtures creativity,” she says. “I learned the behind-the-scenes of video production in New York, but at the time I wanted to be a dancer. I even auditioned to be Beyonce’s backup dancer.”
While her time in New York was undoubtedly crucial to her growth as a performer, the city was too expansive for her to build roots. “I didn’t know many people in Baltimore but I knew from my experience that [Baltimore] was somewhere that I could do me and focus my energy on my own creative work.”
That “do everything and do it yourself” mentality has been the strongest force behind Wilson’s success. She appears to be up for almost anything that promotes positivity in the arts communities. Over the past six years, TT has worked as a teacher, has helped produce and direct local music videos, and founded ArtistLand Productions, a service that provides music video production and direction for inner-city teens. She also paints.
The neighborhoods that TT has drawn inspiration from are reaching back out to her. “I’ve always reached out to artists, especially female artists, about working on music together,” she says. “I want to help other artists develop too.” These days, she hears herself on the radio. “I went home the other night and heard one of my songs playing outside the window,” TT says. “I ran down the door to see who was playing it. It was probably coming from a car parked up the street. But it was an incredible feeling to hear your music being played outside of a club.”
She talks more about the importance of acceptance within smaller music communities and the necessity for rising artists to feel free to experiment with local sounds without being defined by them. While Baltimore club is beloved to up-and-coming artists, succumbing to traditional tropes can often be limiting and ultimately detrimental. “We are trying to become experimental and diverse because the people engaging with club music are becoming more diverse,” TT says. “If we’re not actually out there engaging with people, we’re not doing it right.”
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