Not too long ago, south LA's Christian Jones — known to everyone now as TeeFlii — was in dire financial straights. At one point, the young singer/dancer was forced to sleep behind a Starbucks in Los Angeles. Certainly there had been other artists and musicians who had faced similar hardships in the past, but this was not the average struggling artist. This was a bright young talent who,as a teenager, had been teaching superstar Chris Brown dancing techniques and appeared in the popular documentary on dancing Rize. For someone destined to rise to the top of his class this wasn't exactly a positive start.
Partnered up with Darwish, TeeFLii had finally transitioned to the musical career his whole life had been building up to.
Growing up in south central LA, TeeFLii had a self-described “spoiled” childhood that was equal measures negative and positive. He was an immensely talented dancer and began writing songs from an early age, and was raised and influenced by a stellar award-winning grandmother who carved a successful career out for herself in gospel. He was also an individual who was no stranger to trouble, and had a mother who at the time was battling a drug addiction and a brother who was struggling with the street life and gangs. Throughout it all out though, his grandmother stood out as a beacon of influence.
“When I hit 11, 12, she was the main person that raised me. Her and my uncle Henry,” he says. “She was the main one who really pushed me for the music thing.”
TeeFLii's grandmother taught him everything from breath control to knowing when something simply just sounds good, and he wasted no time diving into the entertainment industry by trying his hand at krump dancing. He was spotlighted in the movie Rize — a film about the krumping dance scene — for his exceptional ability. By the time he finished his role, he was already diving into songwriting.
“I felt like one day maybe I'd write a big song and maybe I'll get known off of just that one song. I never ever thought in a million years I'd be singing my own song and be on the radio with my own voice,” TeeFLii says when talking about his early career prospects.
In the years following his teenage years and his start in music and dance, life would be rougher than for most aspiring musicians. But when TeeFLii began crafting his now well-known and highly regarded Annie Ruo'Tay mixtape series and working with his manager Ali, life quickly started to take a turn for the better. He had faced a lot of hardships and hurdles for much of his life, but things were starting to work out better than anything even his dreams could have crafted.
“Timing is everything,” says TeeFLii, and judging by how his career unfolded everything seemed to come together under the banner of perfect timing.
“My mom coming off of crack, that brought me off a lot of the BS that I was on. My brother putting the gun down and staying out of jail — that made me focus more on what I got to do. Just to see people whose minds were on another level and then everybody come to one — it was time.”
Now, according to TeeFLii, his team and his loved ones are all doing well, and he has also just landed a huge deal with L.A. Reid's Epic Records. All of this comes from TeeFLii's years of perseverance and the huge regional popularity of his raunchy, “ratchet” brand of music called “Fly'n'B” or “fly'n'blues.” In layman's terms, it's music that combines the R&B and the bravado of The-Dream, the club-demolishing sounds of YG & DJ Mustard's ratchet movement, and TeeFLii's own south central-bred personality. Basically, it's something that's tailor made to make every radio listener on the west coast sing and dance whether they're at home, on the street, or stuck in traffic.
“I bring that raunchy side. This is really my life, this is what I really do. This is who I am, this is not a front. Everything I talk about is really what I do and what I've lived through and what I've been through,” he says. And people in high places have taken notice, as apparently multiple record labels were at war to snag TeeFLii, with LA Reid and the Epic team finally emerging victorious.
“I wasn't seeking for a record label, that was the crazy thing. I wanted to stay independent, because I have the artists that I have under me. I got a whole squad under me that is ready to come out and unleash their connection with the people.”
TeeFLii had been the perfect example of how to properly create a career as an independent artist, and if he was going to work with a label, it had to be something that would work out exceptionally well.
“If I was going to go major I wanted it to be right,” he says. “Epic just came right. Everything I wanted it was there. A lot of the rest of the people that were really coming with the deal offers I felt I would end up getting shelved or I would end up selling my songs or something like that.”
Just days ago, TeeFLii arrived in New York to have his meeting with label head LA Reid and label executive Sha Money, and was accepted as if the Epic team were his long-lost relatives.
“When I went to New York, they didn't play no games with me. It was all love, it was family. That's one thing that I wanted to make sure I was signing into — family.”
With the major label muscle behind his already strong organization, TeeFLii's career and life are moving in the best direction they possibly could, but still TeeFLii is committed to remaining grounded and just trying to do the best he can do with the cards he was dealt.
“I feel like I'm going to always be the underdog as long as I don't feel like I'm the best. I don't want to feel like I'm the best, because I just want to be the best musician, the best songwriter I could be. I don't want to be better than Michael, I don't want to better than Usher, I don't want to be better than anybody. I'm just going to try to be the best person I can be, period.”
And, as time goes along, TeeFLii plans to continually evolve and progress. He has done well for himself constantly pushing himself forward, and progress is where his sights are set.
“R. Kelly made 'Bump N' Grind' in his early days, and as he got older he made songs like 'Happy People.' There's growth with where I'm going, that's why I hold the keys to my court. That's why I'm the king of fly'n'b, because I know where I'm going — I know what I want to do.”
TeeFlii performs this Sunday with Juicy J, Problem, French Montana and more as part of the Dub Show World Tour at Anaheim Stadium, 12-6 p.m. For full show details, click here.