Creative Director DaMarko GianCarlo
Photographer Malik Daniels
Fashion Editor Pierre Giovanni
Wardrobe Fairfax Copenhagen
Makeup Dion Xu
Hair BJ Blaze
Location Creative Island Studios
By: Latoya Coleman
Edited by: Madeline Blue Schussel
TeaMarrr was freestyling in a car full of her friends to Mood Deep’s “Shook Ones, Part II” when she realized she might be good at this “music thing.” It was 2016, she was in Toronto, and a lot of her “situationships” over the years had been musicians—but she’d never admitted that it was also a path she had thought about for herself. “I was dating a trumpet player at the time, so that influenced things silently,” shares the Haitian- American singer-songwriter. “I would be collecting [knowledge that my boyfriends were teaching] me, and I’m sure when I popped out with my [own song] they were like, ‘What?’ Because I never sang for them. I never said, ‘I want to be a singer.’ Never. Never never.”
TeaMarrr is larger than life. At the studio, the sun is setting, and she has just changed out of an all-denim outfit, including over-the-knee boots, into a teal skirt-and-bra set adorned with a cape and elbow-length gloves. One would think she would be tired after shooting for 8 hours, but this last look gives her even more energy. Her team patiently waits and observes every outfit, still letting her run the show. With white-framed sunglasses, a teacup in her right hand, and a tea-kettle-shaped bag in her left, she saunters across the studio, talking to everyone on set in a fake British accent. Then, she switches to talking in Creole. In this hollow space, her voice bounces between the walls, sending an electric current through the room—a current that makes everyone forget that they’ve already been there since 10 am.
After her final teacup look, once everyone on set has taken a sip out of “Vivian” (her current chosen teacup), TeaMarrr changes again, and then sits down with me. Now in a rainbow tie-dye top-and-bottom set and her signature half grey, half black braids, she kicks off her white Adidas slides, turns to me, and crosses her legs. Both her publicist and manager sit down in earshot, but they let us do our thing.
After freestyling in the car that day in Toronto, her friends were blown away. They encouraged her to keep going—so she jumped into her friend’s boyfriend’s studio to record her first song, “100 Yu-Gi-Oh Cards.” The song’s producer Kaz was the one who really stopped and asked her,“What is it you’re trying to do with your life?” At first, TeaMarrr found it hard to answer the question with confidence. She tells me she knows she was lying to herself about music for a very long time. “I would even tell myself, ‘You sound dumb. Being a singer is such a cliche.’ [But] that’s when [music] got here. It was like, ‘Alright, here’s a seat, here’s a mic, sing, bitch!’” she says.
Following this moment of clarity, TeaMarrr stuck around in Toronto, where she finished her first EP, Thanks for the Chapstick. The title came to her after she’d literally dried out her lips from endless hours of singing in the studio. “We tried everything [to moisturize them,] including peanut butter, but nothing worked. And then, of course, on the last day, I find Chapstick in my pocket that my ex gave me,” she laughs. Fast forward two years, and her ticklish pop/R&B song “One Job” had 1.7 million streams, which, in turn, got her the opportunity to open for Grammy-Award winner H.E.R. That caught the attention of Emmy-nominated director, writer, actress, producer, and now, cafe-owner and record-label CEO, the darling Ms. Issa Rae.
“Every time people ask me [how I met Issa], I try and make it sound spicy, but its not,” TeaMarrr grins. “It was a matter of time and place.” As it turns out, their two managers crossed paths through a mutual friend, and they realized TeaMarrr’s music career and Issa Rae’s new label would be a perfect match. TeaMarrr’s song “In My Mind” was quickly featured on Issa’s Youtube series, Giant. By now, she has already opened for the 2019 Soul Train Awards, she’s been the opener for Inglewood SiR’s United States Summer Forever Tour, and she’s gearing up for their Europe Edition in February 2020. Of course, you’ll also hear TeaMarrr’s vocals “all over Season 4” of Issa Rae’s Insecure, airing April 12th. So with a little chance and a lot of hard work and encouragement, TeaMarrr went from chapped lips to huge status in just four years time. But healing and growth are really the central premises of everything TeaMarrr has been creating from the get-go, from her name—which is actually an acronym for “Totally Enthused About Making Art Really Really Raw”—to her music, the song titles, music videos, and artwork. As an artist who thinks of every little detail, it is not surprising that her EP song list forms a complete thought: (1) “Keep It “100 Yu-Gi-Oh Cards” (2) “I Do…But” (3) “In My Mind” (4) “I Thought You Were” (5) “The One” (6)“I Suppose…” (7) “I Know Nothing.”
And her persona is so carefully handcrafted, TeaMarrr now identifies as a “musical pharmacist.” Always carrying a teacup, a tool of the sick has become a signature motif for her music and visuals, as if she herself represents the cure. She confesses that her old manager helped her clean up her unusual persona on social media. (He told her she would need to “get rid of this @Imaliltcup mess” and change all of her handles to @TeaMarrr so fans could easily find her—unless, of course, she could make the weirder handles make more sense.) “When he said that, I was like, oh—no. What about other artists, like ChampagnePapi? And although I’m not Drake—just wait,” she says, smirking.
But what was initially a tactic to keep her handle names focused on her beloved teacups has become a symbol of her growth and evolution in music. She finds antique cup-and-saucer sets by digging “deep into the interwebs,” although she won’t tell me exactly where. She does feel they each have their own personality, aura, and essence. On this Tuesday evening, she is still accompanied by Vivian, an antique cup with a floral interior and black exterior, with a gold-lined brim. She thoughtfully replaces each cup whenever one breaks, she tells me. TeaMarrr also takes an insight away from each fatal incident. When Vivian’s predecessor broke, she took that to mean her own foundation was shaky and she needed a stronger one—at exactly that time, she signed with Issa Rae. “Look, OK,” she adds as she sits upright, a dark spark in her eyes. “I [previously] suffered from what I call Dumb Bitch Syndrome”—which, as it so happens, is the name of a song on her forthcoming album. She says she almost let her “syndrome” (“DBS” is another acronym she uses) force her to stay at home to film her boyfriend’s music showcase in exchange for weed. Luckily, her homegirl Ray (no relation to Issa) convinced her to shoot behind-the-scenes footage of a modeling show in exchange for something way cooler: a free trip to Toronto. This was a trip, she would later realize, that put her in the right place at the right time.
Growing up in Boston in a strict Haitian household, TeaMarrr feels she was “deprived of real Haitian music.” “[In my house,] it was always gospel, soca gospel, and then, more gospel. So I had to sneak and listen to JAM’N 94.5, and people like Ludacris, T.I., and Trey Songz.” Growing up, she credits her influences to Biggie Smalls, Foxy Brown, and Lil’ Kim—whose “gully” sounds and the ways they animated their voices inspire her to this day. She also says she picked up on jazz artists like Amy Winehouse, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald. When she mentions Ella, TeaMarrr breaks into a beautiful 30-second scat while moving her fingers to the sounds.
With over 4 million streams total now, this songstress is the pioneer artist for Issa Rae’s label Raedio, in partnership with Atlantic Records. She feels like the “Princess of the Rock,” she tells me. But she knows she is also the guinea pig, and that there will be challenges along the way. Still, she enjoys Issa’s mentorship, because she really lets TeaMarrr “do her.” In fact, Issa’s Awkward Black Girl Youtube series encouraged her to pursue her creative dreams. Teamarr recalls that when she saw Issa with no hair, with a thin layer of makeup or none at all, on freakin’ YouTube of all places, she was in awe. “[There she was,] acting with her dry humor. It was like watching The Black Office,” she smiles. “I remember I was like, ‘Yo, I can do this!’” TeaMarrr knew she could sing “rappy” lyrics infused with sarcasm, and that she might be free to be totally herself. Like the factory worker in her “Kinda Love” music video, TeaMarrr wants to help people through the plights of their souls. When I ask her what the elements are to look out for in love, TeaMarrr doesn’t fail to mention a sense of humor, intelligence, and independence (well, she says “not clingy.”) She throws her head back laughing when she describes what this freethinker would be like in her own love life. “He would live in his own little creative dungeon and he’d be too lazy to cheat on me, ’cause [he’d be way too] focused on his own thing.”
TeaMarrr’s own strong identity is clearly important to her. As a self-taught videographer, TeaMarrr dropped out of New England Institute of Art after one month because it was too expensive, and she was already serving clients. The bright colors of her media visuals reflect her Haitian heritage, and the fashion she employs in her songs and skits is tied deeply to her native culture and Creole tongue. To keep in alignment, she also makes sures all her videos have four key elements-, earth, fire, air, and water. This brings TeaMarrr right back to her beloved motif, tea. She breaks down for me how the process of making it involves all those elements: it grows from the earth, it needs fire to brew, the steam joins the air, and it fills our bodies for balanced healing. She hopes to sustain this balance with her future family—that her husband, wherever he is, will be a water sign to even out her fire sign.
Simply talking to her, I’ve connected with her distinct, colorful, raspy, playful tone, and I
feel uplifted. TeaMarrr plans to continue to inspire all people to pursue their dreams, but in particular, Haitian girls and boys—especially since she feels she grew up with her heritage being viewed as “gutter.” “[It isn’t] shameful to be Haitian,” she tells me, that dark spark returning to her. “There are so many artists that people don’t even know are Haitian, like Future, Dawn Richard, Stacy Barthe. I want people to know. I’m going to break that [silence].” She’s committed, she tells me, to rebuilding confidence, mending broken hearts, and ultimately, curing Dumb Bitch Syndrome. “My music is very healing. Just the same way a cup of tea can clear a bad throat, [help] you lose weight, [or make you] happy, [there are] teas for everything. My music can easily be that. The tea, a tea for everything,” she says. As we come to the end of our 40 minutes together, she asks me to take a sip out of Vivian. I humbly abide.