You have been building this career for quite some time now, and revealed an interesting origin story on your socials that doesn’t take you from the streets to the beats, but rather to university to complete a doctorate in pharmacology before mastering your musical craft.
AllHipHop: What side of this inspiring story did you choose to incorporate into the album?
Tef XL: Great question. I have a lot to unpack on my journey from the streets to where I sit today. Code Switch is a trilogy about my journey from the streets to being a successful executive and leader. Code Switch Volume I: The Prequel focuses on my awakening while in the streets and the struggle to rise above those hardships. On this album, I chose to take listeners back to my roots, Duval County, and speak on what was going through my mind when I was in the midst of hustling. Those experiences forced me to elevate my perspective on what I could accomplish with intention, money, and time.
AllHipHop: Listening to Serenity, I felt a powerful spiritual component in the lyrics that reveal a strong almost stoic perspective on how the character sees his environment and his struggle. Where did the inspiration for this mindset come from?
Tef XL: Thank you. Serenity was produced by MacTrakz and the heavy drums and soulful melody forced me to reflect on the purpose behind my street hustle. When I sat with myself I realized a common thread we all have or seek is a life of peace and freedom. The first thing that came to mind for the hook was the Serenity prayer and how it can exist as a relatable anthem to a street hustler. On this record, I share the vulnerable mindset of that hustle and fighting for what I wanted … the big American dream of wealth and prosperity.
AllHipHop: My favorite track is B.O.W, one of those powerful motivational beats that get you out of bed kicking. Does this “Eatin Sleep Repeat money on my mind” attitude follow you throughout the creative process? Can you run us through your daily ritual when writing a song like this?
Tef XL: Yeah man, B.O.W is one of my favorite records. When I wrote it I was literally writing as if it was my first and last to write or record. It’s just one of those tracks that as soon as I got it from Mactrakz I was itching to write the hook. I felt like the hook needed to drive the song and represent how I go about anything I’ve accomplished in my life. I focus on WHAT I want, HOW I’m going to get it and then ACT to accomplish it. I get obsessed with achieving “IT.” “Everyday I grind for a life I define …” I felt like the verses needed to reflect my winning mindset and attitude towards being in the music game. My goal is for the world to “feel” something when they hear my music and I felt B.O.W was the track to make that happen, “….now my name is international!”
AllHipHop: The song Pronto with WAX is a distinct product from the rest, are you the beat maker behind this ride-or-die track?
Tef XL: Pronto is a banger for sure! WAX and I grew up on the streets of Duval, he gifted me with the hook and a verse on the record, which was produced by MarcoSolo (from Duval), engineered by MacTrakz (from Duval), and hosted by OG Bigga Rankin (from Duval), the 904 dream team. As far as my role in production, my vision is present, however, I stay in my lane when it comes to music production. As a team, we are at our strongest when we come together and overlap our individual crafts to make the best record possible. We have so much mutual respect for each other that we are able to accomplish whatever we put our hearts behind when it comes to music.
AllHipHop: Duval county, which you mention in the track The Calling, is this the origin of the TEF XL sound or the TEF XL attitude? What lessons did you learn from this part of your life that you carry with you today?
Tef XL: Yes, Duval County in Jacksonville, FL is where I’m from. I grew up on the southside of Jax and learned how to hustle in a project housing complex called Caravan. The bulk of my street experiences (being shot multiple times and the loss of close friends to street violence) occurred in Caravan or tie back to that period of my life. The Calling was a track produced by Dj Pain 1, a multi-platinum producer with a rich approach to his craft man – I felt like the voice of the beat was calling me to the table to talk about my journey from the streets of Duval “..TEF Go Head, Go Head, Go Head, Go TEF!”
In the first verse I talk about what it felt like to break away from the streets, clear my head, listen to my heart, and pivot. I didn’t want to die, I wanted to live and live big. On the second verse I share what it feels like to step back into the rap game after over a decade of being out and talking the real talk.
Yeah, Duval is an interesting city that has a melting pot of talent and has gained a lot of attention in the hip-hop space over the past few years thanks to artists like Nardo Wick, Yungeen Ace, Spinabenz, Lil Poppa, Seddy Hendrinx, and a host of other talented artist and musicians.
AllHipHop: There are a lot of sprinkles of wise quotes, in Bigga Speaks, its pure 16 seconds of wisdom. Why did you choose to put this in the middle of the album and what is the origin of this philosophical perspective?
OG Bigga Rankin is a lifelong friend of Jax. Bigga and I go way back to when he was running his clubs called Cool Runnings. I and my homies used to pull up to the club and I’d grab the mic and freestyle over tracks. Back in those days, Bigga would record the club music he played and distribute it as mixtapes. Shortly after he started producing WRNR mixtapes. We actually did a WRNR mixtape together back in the early 2000s called “Bulletproof” which received widespread praise by the local hip-hop scene.
Bigga is a very wise and spiritual person so, in the “Bigga Speaks” interlude I felt it was best to give homie his room to breathe and speak wisdom “…Only L’s are life lessons..”
AllHipHop: No pressure no diamonds Alonda Rich’s chorus repeated throughout the track “no pressure” was this a central theme to your experience working with Fat Joe? Was he the first legend you have worked with?
Yeah, No Pressure featuring Alonda Rich was another track produced by DJ Pain 1. Ms. Alonda Rich did her thing on the hook and inspired that “let it go” mindset around the pressure that comes with the relentless drive to be successful. Success is elusive to most because it comes with so many challenges and difficult decisions, overthinking and pressure can kill a dream. Big ups to Fat Joe for the tag on the introduction …”No Pressure, No Diamonds Right,” I mean what a surreal moment to have one of raps finest know your work. He knows the climb and approached our partnership with energy and respect, he’s solid.
AllHipHop: What’s next for TEF XL in 2023?
AHH, if 2022 is any indicator of what 2023 will be then I’d have to say let’s turn up! This year we dropped 4 singles and ended the year with my first album Code Switch Volume I: The Prequel. Our focus for the year was building out our TEF brand and setting the foundation for our sequel projects and live performances in 2023.
Thank you to all the contributors, music partners, and fans that have been on the journey with us this year. I appreciate each of you for the ongoing support and look forward to seeing you at a show in the coming year! Stay on the lookout for tour/ performance date announcements, they will be coming!