It’s been four years since Lil Tecca exploded on the scene with his smash hit “Ransom,” all gawky and unassuming, looking every bit the 16 year-old teenager he was. Now at 21, he’s a co-owner of his own label, Galactic Records, and back with a renewed focus on maintaining the runway “Ransom” provided to build a lasting career.
He’s banking on his new album Tec, out last Friday, to further that agenda. The project, his third, is a course correction from 2021’s We Love You Tecca 2, which was overlong with perfunctory features. At a tight 16 tracks, Tec is already armed with one of the best singles of the year—“Hvn on Earth” with Kodak Black—and the rest of the album is smooth and fast paced. Tecca has a real gift for making things sound as low stakes as possible while the production sounds like it is worth millions. “U Don’t Know Tec” is dreamy and pugnacious; you see why he has always had promise.
For the most part Tecca has retained the playful urgency, slippery flow, and versatile melodies that made “Ransom” undeniable; his bubbly legato is of a piece with the late Juice Wrld and his own hometown hero A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie.
But beyond the music, there’s a quality to Tecca that implies he’s not someone who may fall victim to the distractions, temptations, or vices that tend to undo his peers. His focus on his craft is unwavering: he highlights a tube tech CL1B— a vocal processor that is widely considered the highest quality there is—as his favorite purchase the last few months. That maturity and clarity of vision is apparent in the music on Tec and it’s apparent in our conversation, when the bespectacled rapper sat down—in a polo straight out of the College Dropout era—for a conversation about his new album, working with Kodak Black and his lingering hoop dreams.
GQ: What are you trying to go for on TEC that was not on your previous record?
Tecca: Embracing different production, being a little bit more vulnerable in the topics that I’m speaking about. Also, I wanted to be more straightforward, [instead of] beating around the bush—talking about the topics not talking around them.
What in particular are you trying to talk about more?
On TEC, I’m really speaking about where I want to be in the future, not stuff that I went through in the past. It’s just a little bit more personal—a little bit like you feel like you’re there with me having these conversations.
What’s the process of doing more personal stuff like for you?
Definitely a little bit more patience. Because when speaking about topics that mean something to you, you don’t want to convey them in the wrong way. But not all the songs are super personal in an emotional way or in a venting way. Some of them are me telling you the brand I’m rocking–down to fabrics and my sales associates. It’s definitely a mix of motivational hype for sure, but also speaks on some more sad things too.
Speaking of brands, I think the album cover is really interesting and kind of looks like a high school teen movie or something like that. What was the reason for that album cover with the varsity jacket? It looked pretty cool.
Everything started off in my room—I started making my first song in my room, I probably didn’t step in the studio until two years into making music. So having it in a room around all the stuff that I created that started off just in this bedroom. It kind of made me feel like I’m stepping into a new era. But I didn’t want to just leave everything in the past. I still want all the stuff that I accomplished to be a part of this new world that I’m building out. But stylistically, I was definitely trying to show everyone what I’m on right now, like I am rocking flare jeans. The varsity jacket was actually a Raf Simons varsity jacket that we had to edit to TS instead of the Rs. So if anyone doesn’t know, that’s really Raf.
So, is it style or taste that comes first for you?
Oh, taste. My taste is always going to resonate with me. My style, it changes all the time but the way that makes me feel that’s never going to change. I used to have to wear a uniform to school. When you get to make those fits on that every other Friday, taste allows you to actually express yourself. I go by the same principle now. I gotta make myself feel like I’m proud to walk around the streets and be proud to have everybody see me.
I had to wear a uniform too. You can get fly with a uniform though. We used to wear Uggs, Timbs, or Chelsea boots.
We still got to wear Jordans. I used to rock it with the Ralph Lauren beanie. True Religion was hot [back then]. They had the stitch beanies, like the eskimo hats.
What was it like working with Kodak?
That was amazing because growing up listening to Kodak, it makes it a full circle moment. I felt like the beat definitely resonated with him and his style that he has going on. And when he sent it back, I was like, this is an exact match [to how I envisioned it] in my mind. It’s a very, very personal song. I made the song in my room.
I know you were into hoops as a kid. Are you still into it?
I’m 100% balling. I still hoop but I am a realist. I don’t take it non-seriously. Sometimes I just want to lay up, sometimes I want to play defense. But it depends on the day. I love all parts of basketball. Like, I’m still training. Before my knees are too old, I’m gonna dunk on a 10 foot for sure. That’s the goal.
Let’s take it back a few years. Did you always have a vision for your career?
What made sense in life was always that you can either make space for yourself, or the space is already there for you to fit in. And as a young kid, I already knew what I wanted to do. So I was 14 feeling like, “all the people at the top are 20. Whatever, in 10 years, I’m gonna be 24 they’re gonna be 30-something out the door.” I definitely didn’t see it happening the exact way it has happened. But I saw the space that I could make for myself. When it comes to “Ransom”, I feel like so many things just aligned at one time for it to be this big new thing, but when I made it, I definitely thought it was one of my best songs. I was telling everyone that, [the] day that’ I made it.
What are the challenges with touring at your age?
It depends on what your vices are. As a 21 year old if you go on tour, you have access to the world. You got access to all the women, all the bad stuff that comes with fame. I just like some good food, I like to be left alone, I like to be able to, after the show, go back to the hotel.
What are the differences between Tecca the artist and Tecca the label owner?
I feel like it operates in one unit, because my taste is what carries all of this. What I like in life is what directs me. So I don’t really separate them too much because my experience from my artist side is what gives me the intuition on the label side. Like, I have to see what I resonate with.
You grew up the son of Jamaicans. I am the son of a Jamaican mom. How did that impact your life?
As a first generation American, that’s everything to me. Like, if it wasn’t for my parents, I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to be here to have the chance to just do what I do. That’s my testimony for real forever. As a kid, I never understood how important it was to actually be proud of where you’re from. As I got older, that’s something I held close to me. I was born on American soil, but my blood is Jamaican.
What’s a surprising thing about you that people may not realize?
Whenever I like something, I jump into it. I’m very hands on. Like, I like clothes and sewing: I style my friends, and I also design clothes. I like films: I took photography. I’ve shot music videos for my friends. I’ve edited music videos for my friends. I am a beats engineer. I arrange music. I like to be able to do everything. If I am the last person on earth, I want to be able to make a song and a music video.