Greatness isn’t measured by a fixed set of criteria, but many art lovers would agree that great artists take multiple forms while remaining true to themselves. TT the Artist certainly meets that standard.
The native Floridian, 31, has taken her roots, chopped and mixed them and given back to her adopted community of Baltimore, Maryland, through music. In the meantime, she’s started a new chapter of her life.
“I had a very strict, religious upbringing and no secular music was allowed to be played in my home,” writes TT the Artist — real name Tedra Wilson — via email. The church she grew up in “was very cultlike and corrupt,” she adds.
Wilson and her mother left that church when the teenager was about 14 years old. After they did, Wilson delved into the secular — mostly through hyperspeed, often X-rated Miami Bass music.
Citing a desire to “command respect with her voice” from her male peers, Wilson continued to engage in the arts, especially rap, from her high school years onward. Over time, she began to figure out who she was.
“I joined the band and danced. I met friends who [also] rapped. I just felt free,” Wilson writes. “I was starting to live the purpose that God had intended me to live, despite what the religion tried to restrict me from doing.”
When Wilson first stepped foot into Baltimore — in 2002, to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art — she knew that she stumbled onto something special. She found that her purpose would evolve, along with her sound.
“I heard Baltimore Club music for the first time and it reminded me of [my roots],” Wilson writes, referring to the city’s signature breakbeat sound. “Naturally, I adapted… and began to make my own club music.”
Warning: Some of these videos contain explicit lyrics.
But it’s not all about the music. As her profile grows — driven by her energetic recordings and videos — Wilson wants to enrich people around her. She’s performed at benefit events, including a recent fundraiser for the Monument Quilt, which raises awareness of sexual assault. She’s also breathed life into Baltimore’s club-music scene, using her music as a launching pad for other artists, and she makes time to pass down the lessons she’s learned.
“I’m all about sharing knowledge. That is why I feel so blessed to have all the opportunities that come my way,” Wilson writes. “I am a vehicle and I want to uplift those who may need guidance or just feedback.”
Once an outsider in the scene, Wilson has spent her time in Baltimore and the D.C. area boning up. Now she’s a regional fixture, rapidly becoming a national name. This weekend, she plays Baltimore’s Bombadillo festival, sharing a bill with New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia, techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson and Baltimore art-poppers Lower Dens. Her most recent EPs, Art Royalty and Gimme Yo Love, got national attention, and her fall tour will take her as far as Australia.
For Wilson, staying busy is important for one reason in particular.
“It keeps me inspired to develop new ideas,” she writes.
TT the Artist plays the Bombadillo festival in Baltimore Sept. 26.