For Austin, multitalented hip hop artist Terrany Johnson, also known as Tee-Double, is the city’s version of music royalty. He’s not only an emcee, but a producer, entrepreneur and community leader, as well. TODO Austin had the chance to sit down with Johnson to talk about Austin hip hop, the force of race in music and his passion for his new project, “Black Mics Matter.”
Did you always know what you wanted to do with your life or did it just happen?
My house was filled with my Dad’s records, so I had a great starting point. I mailed my first demo to Warner Bros records at nine, and I have been making records ever since!
What do you consider the most important cultural value for you and for those close to you?
To me, it’s music and how that brings family and friends together as one. Music is a secret weapon as it can stop wars or start them, depending on how you use it. I choose to make positive music as that is what I want to put out into the universe. Stories of pain, struggle and joy can be displayed behind melodic notes or tales more easily than if someone jut spoke it.
Is there anything particular about Austin that inspires you?
Austin itself inspires me. The people are what give Austin the big city/small town feel. It’s a beautiful place to create and one of the many reasons I’m still here doing my art.
There is an economic and equity divide in our community—the largest in the country—where a privileged few are able to get ahead while others struggle with the lack of affordable housing, choking traffic congestion, a lack of cultural amenities and health centers, and income inequality. Any thoughts on how we can help close the divide?
The starting point needs to be communication. In most cases one side is thinking about how to discredit your struggle before they even take the time to understand it. Families are being evicted from homes they’ve had all their lives as property taxes rise, education is no longer a priority with kids, and police enforcement is at an all-time high where if your skin is brown or black the odds of you being arrested, assaulted and imprisoned are extremely high. But if the issues don’t affect you then most don’t care until it’s at their door and right now the problem is walking up to ring the doorbell.
African Americans make up a small percentage of Austin’s demographics. Still, the community is a powerful force in Austin economically, culturally, politically and otherwise. How do you see African Americans fitting into the larger Austin culture?
African Americans will be a driving force of Austin’s future because when a people are pushed to the side they become more inventive, more inspired, and more dedicated. With a constant focus on economic empowerment within our own communities we can build wealth that can then be used to effectively compete with larger businesses for contracts, land and government. This is what I teach with my nonprofit Urban Artist Alliance. I teach ownership and sustainability of revenue from their art to reinvest into the community or pass down to the next generation. We hear plenty stories of how well we sing or rap but very few on the business minds and foundation being laid daily.
Little has changed since the City of Austin’s African American Quality of Life Initiative revealed in 2005 that black Austinites lacked several of the social opportunities enjoyed by Anglos. As a leader in the African American community, can you see Austin one day actively creating an inclusive climate for all cultures?
Indeed. Austin has no choice but to get on board or it will crumble beneath its own ego. You can’t be the melting pot of ideas if you don’t embrace all the ideas and those creating them. There are more voices who deserve to be heard and respected, not just for votes but for the legacy of the city. The African American and Hispanic demographic are economic drivers for the city and without us the town would slow to a near halt. But I have faith and believe we are on a path of togetherness and growth.
You’re also the founder of Black Mics Matter, a new project that will feature new and upcoming artists with stories of passion and solutions for the black community. What was the catalyst for the creation of this project?
My inspiration came from just seeing what the world is broadcasting in the form of mistreatment of African Americans. As an artist and creative my weapon is my music and my voice. So I created Black Mics Matter as not only a way to ring in the bell of change but to unite our own hip hop community here in Austin, as every great movement starts locally on the ground floor before it goes national. Projects like these are far and between so hip hop artist feel we have to portray images and concepts that don’t fully reflect who we are.
What kind of artists would you like to support with this?
For this project I have Sunni Soper, a great spoken word poet; Brother Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam; female emcee Anya who has been making a buzz; new artist Just Jarvas who has grown immensely since I first saw him and wanted to give him some shine. I am finalizing the track listing and it includes artists from Austin that the world needs to see and hear.
What sort of stories and messages do you and the artists want to promote?
Growth and empowerment. Struggle breeds new ways of thinking and handling situations in productive ways and not always violently. We hope to teach and educate young, old, male and female artists and people of color while continuing to create new allies with those of other backgrounds. I believe in doing more than just talking or marching, instead creating a lasting document of audio to be shared for more days and years than a single day march.
What sort of impact do you think it’ll have on emerging black artists in Austin? What about the impact on the general community as well?
I was told if anyone can bring Austin hip hop together it could be me. So I moved forward on trying. Our art forms and cultures are slowly slipping away and we need to reclaim the roots of what made it so spiritual and magical to begin with. The community at large will see that we have solutions as well and not spending all of our energy begging the city to please do something special for us as we have the tools and ingenuity to make it a reality ourselves as we’ve done many times before. I hope many will join us in this continued journey and build shorter bridges to each other where love and respect are the links to hold it together.
The Black Mics Matter Compilation will be available on August 2. Learn more and donate at gofundme.com/blackmicsmatter.
You can also learn more about Tee-Double at teedouble.com.