IN CONVERSATION: Jazzz and TenTen Talk Why Its the Best Time to be Making Music in Nigeria, The Joys of Working with a Fellow African Artist, and Their Excellent New Album Absinthe

Jazzz was in a rut in the middle of 2021 when she dropped her second proper record Black Religion. The Nigerian singer and songwriter had loved how she’d been able to bring her smoky and vibrant vocal flourishes to Afrobeats on her first record Yummy Vibes, but pandemic induced stress caused her to rush things a bit on Black Religion, and to this day she wishes she had kept tinkering with that record a little bit longer. While Jazzz headed back to the studio to try and give these beats another try, on the other side of the world in beautiful New Jersey, a Zimbabwe-born producer by the name of TenTen was fucking with Black Religion heavy. Ten was entranced by Jazzz’s gorgeous, bordering on psychedelic, vocal work on the record and did what he could to share Black Religion on his side. Ten had just put out Ashigaru, his excellent collaborative tape with Charlotte rapper Jay Pluss, and was looking to challenge himself with his next project. Ten felt that working on an R&B project would be a good way to broaden his artist horizons and loved the challenge of trying to find sounds and rhythms that fit Jazzz’s dynamic vocal range. He eventually reached out to her about potentially working together on a tape together, which two years later would become their phenomenal new album Absinthe
Jazzz and TenTen started small, as the tape was initially planned as a four song EP. Ten knew that Jazzz was coming out of a funk with Black Religion and wanted to provide her with light and jovial soundscapes that she could really have some fun messing around with. Jazzz ended up feeling just as inspired by TenTen’s production work as Ten was by her smoky soulful voice, and the tape quickly expanded and expanded with every beat pack Ten sent, eventually landing at fourteen songs. Jazzz said that she’d listen to the beat and try and match the energy she thought TenTen was giving her with her vocals. Jazzz heard a movie score in the dramatic pitter patter of “Fiend or Foe” and dramatized her own life in a way that she thought matched the cinematic energy that Ten had provided. Meanwhile on the sleek and sexy “Effectual” Jazzz felt like she was transported back to a disco in the 70s and gave a performance that would have left Studio 54 howling. It’s a sensual and tantalizing track that’ll undoubtedly be making its way onto many a mood-setting playlist. 
The tracks on Absinthe are loose and free flowing in a way that matches the laid back energy of the recording process. The tape really does sound like two musicians having a ball as they slowly get to know each other’s sounds better track after track. Jazzz credits Ten’s chill demeanor for the easy going feel of the tape. She also credits his chillness for how he was able to secure features from some of the strongest talents coming out of the American rap underground right now, though it helps that Ten is good friends with guys like Jay Pluss, Wavy Bagels, and Lungs. As Jazzz put it, “Everyone just loves this dude.” The feature assisted tracks are among Jazzz’s strongest performances on the tape, as she plays so well with the rappers along for the ride. “Signal” with Nappy Nina is an early stand out. Jazzz said that she was talking shit she had always wanted to say on a record on “Signal” and Nina matches her unfettered energy to a T. A few songs later, Jazzz and Lungs pair like peanut butter and jelly on “AYE B See” with her sweet singing providing the perfect counterbalance to Lungs’ dense, rapid fire crunch. Jazzz sounds like she is on cloud nine out in a dream on “Aye B SEE” until Lungs’ comes in with his patented “yoyoyoyoyo” opener and lets his machine gun bars wake us back up. It’s shocking how well the two work together, I feel like I could listen to a whole tape of Jazzz and Lungs speeding things up and slowing them back down. 
TenTen also mentioned how he was particularly excited to be working with a fellow African artist on this project, saying the two were able to bring the best out of one another because of that connection. Jazzz has always celebrated her West African roots through her music, particularly through her veneration of Yemoja, a Yoruba goddess known as the protector of women and children. She agreed that her and TenTen clicked from the getgo thanks to their shared sensibilities and African heritage, making the recording process all that much easier and more enjoyable. The two will be releasing the record on vinyl, and TenTen talked at length at how proud he was that his first project to be recorded on wax will be with a fellow African artist, a joy that Jazzz shared fully. She went as far as to say it was the best time in history to be a recording artist from Nigeria, thanks to globe dominating artists like Burna Boy and Tems helping create an appetite and enthusiasm for local musicians. While they don’t have plans to play stateside yet, Jazzz and Ten are hopeful they’ll have opportunities to play these songs in the US down the road. Jazzz said she is trying to get an intimate listening party together in Lagos in the meantime, but so far she’s really gotten a kick of playing it for friends, coworkers, and even taxi cab drivers to get reactions from anyone who’ll listen, and thankfully all the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far. As she put it,  “If the real Nigerians are fucking with it, thats all I need.”
I had the chance to connect with TenTen and Jazzz via Zoom to talk about the New York and Lagos music scenes, connecting over the internet, and the process of putting together their excellent new album Absinthe.

GSC: What are your names? Where do you hail from? What is your artistry of choice?
TenTen: I’m TenTen, a producer from Zimbabwe. I’m trying to diversify my musical output, which right now ranges from hip hop to R&B. I’d love to do something more dance influenced in the future while still representing where I’m from. I like making instrumentals and really love making collaborative albums with one artist like we did with Absinthe
Jazzz: I am Jazzz, I come from Nigeria and I’m a singer. I don’t know if I consider myself a songwriter yet because I am still growing in that discipline, though I do write my songs. I really love jazz music. I love soul music. I love r&b. I love reggae. I love the blues. As an artist I’ve tried to dabble with those genres mostly. Singing is my craft. Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know how to speak, and I use singing to be able to express myself physically.
GSC: What are your earliest music memories?
Jazzz: My Mom and Dad, mostly. They always loved music, my Mom especially. When I was a tiny, tiny, little person she’d put me in front of TV and we’d watch all her favorite musical videos.
GSC: Do you remember any stand outs?
Jazzz: She was a really big fan of Tina Turner, rest her soul. She loved everybody, Madonna, Naughty by Nature. She loved new music through my teens too, she basically listened to everybody. 50 Cent, she was a huge 50 Cent fan. She really loved to keep up on stuff. My dad is a big Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles fan, so I found my love of music through them.
TenTen: I’d say my parents as well. In my earliest memories my mom was playing a lot of Bob Marley in the house. As I got to like 9-10 years old my cousin became a really big influence. He makes music nowadays as well, he goes by yoyouno, we’ve made music together too which is cool. He lives in South Africa. He used to play a lot of Lupe Fiasco, Pharrel, N.E.R.D. I was living in Zimbabwe and 50 Cent and Ja Rule felt like the main artists on the radio there at the time, and I was a huge fan of both.
GSC: What were your local music scenes like growing up? How did music become a part of your life?
Jazzz: I always participated in musicals growing up, the first was a recital or something like that in primary school. Then in church I sang as well. I honestly didn’t think I was ever going to be a musician. I would have loved to but I didn’t think I had the option because of how the country was. I wish I had had more training growing up. I am learning so much stuff on the fly working equipment and whatnot, the technical knowhow.
TenTen: I was a listener more growing up, I didn’t have the community I have now.
GSC: Do you guys have a moment where you knew that you wanted to make music yourselves?
TenTen: Listening to my favorite rappers really made me want to be a part of it. When I listened to MF Doom, when I listened to Roc Marciano, J Dilla. Also being around Brooklyn, being around talented people like Wavy Bagels makes me want to make beats more.
Jazzz: For me it was listening to jazz records. Ella Fitzgerald’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” in particular, I really loved her vocals and how she expressed herself. Sam Cooke too. Recently, Marvin Gaye, his vocals have been blowing me away. I love great vocals and hearing people like them sing made me want to sing.
GSC: What is the music scene like these days in Lagos? You have some globe conqueringly massive acts like Burna Boy and Tems coming out of Nigeria right now, but how is the indie scene? Do you have any favorite venues to play?
Jazzz: We have The Shrine, who have been really supportive to underground artists. We have a place called Bogobiri. La Taverna has been very supportive of the underground scene. I feel like now in Nigeria, this is the best time for an artist to come into their own. Like you said, We have so many successful new musicians and now people want to support local musicians. The local legend I am most proud of who blew up though is Burna Boy, we were all listening to him as he came up and he’s surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations. 
GSC: TenTen how are things locally for you in NJ and NY?
TenTen: It’s been really great. I got the chance to perform my past collaborative albums with Jay Pluss and Shane, The Shaman. There are so many phenomenal producers I see all the time, where we keep each other pushing. You’ll be in the studio excited by what Jay Levison or Benji Socrates is putting down and it’ll make you wanna work even harder on your own shit. 
GSC: Jazzz, in researching your last two albums the Yoruba goddess Yemoja, the protector of women and children, is central to your music. Can you talk about her and how Yemoja impacts your work?
Jazzz: Yemoja, she’s a West African deity. With my craft, my own way of honoring her is using her stories to expose people to our culture. West Africa and Nigeria have this rich culture with so many stories, and we aren’t using them. To be honest, traditional worship is really looked down upon here, it’s almost like you’re a ritualist or something. But there are parts of these stories that touch our history and bring us all together. You’d be surprised how many other cultures, like Brazilian Tao, have the story of Yemoja, and she originated from West Africa. These stories tie the West African diaspora together in ways we’re not even aware of. So it’s how I honor that tradition and celebrate those stories that connect us. It’s not just Yemoja now, I really try to write about other deities too like Legba and Anansi the Spider. Our culture is really rich and there’s so much we can do with it.
GSC: I love that. Moving into your proper body of work, I believe you had a record in 2017 Self Practice, what was life like when you put that record together?
Jazzz: The name of the album is Self Practice because I was just trying out stuff. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had dropped some singles that people were messing with, so I was like “Okay, I don’t suck at this,” so I thought I’d try an album. It was the beginning of my journey. 
GSC: What did you learn from Self Practice that you took into your next album Yummy Vibes?  
Jazzz: Yummy Vibes was more focused as an Afrobeats project. I think my songwriting improved a bit between Practice and Yummy Vibes, though I still had a ways to go. After Self Practice I started working with this amazing producer who is very annoying sometimes **laughs** Shout out to Myme, he really understood who I was and what I was trying to do, even though he’ll try and tell you I am the annoying one. He really came through, he introduced me to the local underground and put me on to producers I didn’t even know existed. I was so excited by all the talent right here in Nigeria. He even taught me to record vocals and all sorts of studio tips and tricks that I still use to this day. The project was more streamlined because he really knew what he was doing, I really enjoyed working with him on that project. 
GSC: The track that really stuck with me was “Lover” where he raps funnily enough.
Jazzz: Yea he killed the vocals on that track, it was such a joy to work with him across the whole project. 
GSC: Do you have a favorite song off of Yummy Vibes listening back? 
Jazzz: Ah, every song is my favorite but I really really love “Juju Na Magic ”. When I heard that instrument for the first time I went crazy, but I love every song on that tape.
GSC: I’d imagine recording Black Religion was different in the midst of the pandemic. What was life like when you were putting that album together?
Jazzz: Black Religion… is a project I feel like I could have done better. **laughs** I was really excited about the people I got to work with on that project but I felt like we were in COVID and I just rushed it out, I should have sat and tinkered with that project more.
TenTen: She always says that! I couldn’t disagree more for the record.
GSC: Do you think that you would ever revisit those songs in some capacity?
Jazzz: I did and may again. I have this project on Bandcamp, sensemental, where I ran some of those beats back and I like that more than I like Black Religion.
GSC: TenTen, at the time Jazz was putting out Black Religion, you were putting out ASHIGARU, your tape with Jay Pluss, as well as twobeat tapes on your own. How did you first connect with Jay Pluss and how do you approach working with him versus Jazz?
TenTen: Me and Jay Pluss first met through Lungs, it was kinda crazy honestly. The first time I met Jay Pluss, it was a lot of us in the studio. I had just made a beat and I showed it to him just to see what he thought. He started vibing and then wrote a song in like fifteen minutes, I am pretty sure it ended up becoming “Back in Brooklyn Again”. We had good chemistry from the jump, I feel like I know which beats that I make that splice specifically for him. He’s a Charlotte artist. When you think North Carolina rap, I think of people like Little Brother, energizer beats, you know. That’s what I try to bring to the table with Jay Pluss. I definitely had a different approach with Jazzz. I was doing something different, going into a new genre with R&B. I had to find out what sounds would fit her voice, the right rhythms, the right instrumentation and samples that would best compliment what she does on the mic. I was also trying to bring a positive energy to her music as well, because I feel like she has a very distinct voice, and I wanted some instrumentals that would bring a sense of happiness to the tracks where she could have some fun.  
GSC: How did you two first connect by the way? 
TenTen: We just came across each other’s music, in like 2019 maybe.  
Jazzz: Yes right around then, the Internet remains undefeated. 
TenTen: I shared Black Religion on my socials when it dropped. I was like, this is absolutely fire, people need to hear this, and that led to us initially connecting. Later on in like 2020 we briefly talked about me sending her music in the future. Finally two years later I had some beats to send her.
GSC: Absinthe feels particularly distinct from your first two records Jazzz. Where they are afrobeats leaning this tape is free-flowing R&B with some hip-hop features. How did you come about the sound for the record? Similarly I love the range of collaborators with several greats from the underground, how did the features come about?
Jazzz: Ten is really just very chill. He basically just sent me beats and said do your thing **TenTen Laughs** You are! Very very chill, very easy to work with. We connected about working together and he sent me a pack of beats and said let me know if you like any of them, feel free to do your thing. I was blown away when I heard what he sent, like damn this shit is really cool! He has this boom bap traditional sound with these jazzy touches I really love, so many interesting sounds and samples. I just really love the soundscapes he creates and what it was bringing out of me. Originally we were talking about four songs, then it quickly grew till it was fourteen. I just kept being like yep keep em coming Ten.
GSC: Gotta keep riding the wave while you have the momentum.
TenTen: It was really amazing. I tried to make the instrumentation way different from my past projects to give Jazzz sounds and grooves she could really have some fun with. We’re both African artists as well, me from Zimbabwe and her being from Nigeria. It was so much fun getting to work with another African artist, I feel like we were able to bring something special out of each other because of it. I also thought if I’m going to have a record as my first to be pressed to vinyl, it will be cool if I make it with another African artist as well, so I couldn’t be more hyped that we’re going to get to do a vinyl run of this record, be on the lookout for that. As for the features, I’ve been cool with Jay and Wavy and Lungs for a while. Nappy Nina is the only one I wasn’t super close with but she was super cool too. I basically explained the vision and played them the music and they were all down to be a part of it, all of them killed it too.
Jazzz: That is what I mean when I say Ten is really chill because everyone just loves this dude. I didn’t expect we’d get half the features he was able to get, Ten really came through.
GSC: I love the Nappy Nina assisted “Signal”. How do you how did you make the electric *WuhWow* sound?
TenTen: That is actually a sample I found at a record store that I flipped, I knew I had to do something with that. That track is **VENMO TENTEN $1,000 FOR THE SAMPLE** It’s a rare record too. “Signal” is one of my favorite tracks on the record too, it has great energy to it.
GSC: Jazzz, what kind of energy were you trying to bring to “Signal”? I love the chorus especially.
Jazzz: I was just having fun basically. “Signals” the instrument sounded so cool and funky when I heard it for the first time so I was just like, let me have some fun with this one. Saying things I’ve always wanted to say on a record and enjoying myself, just like let me let go on this one.
TenTen: Some of her vocal takes on this record sound like psychedelic, I don’t know how you do that Jazzz.
Jazzz: You gave me some sounds I could really lose myself to!
GSC: Psychedelic is the right word for it. “Fiend or Foe” and “Effectual” are two tracks I love, especially next to each other, because they’re like opposites, the first ice cold and the later fiery with passion. Was that sequencing intentional?
TenTen: Thank you, those are two great tracks. “Fiend or Foe” I love the way that piano starts.
Jazzz: Like a movie! Like I said Ten really came through with the sound so basically just I was trying to just do whatever the beat made me feel like. “Fiend or Foe ” felt very dramatic and I wanted to say some more things I’ve always wanted to say on mic. I craft my writing with real life stuff and fantasy. So maybe I’ve been in this situation, and I am singing like I could have done this, I could have done that differently, said this thing, reacted this different way. I thought let me be dramatic about my messed up situations. I’ve been through this stuff, how am I going to like make it into a movie because I wanted to match how dramatic the instrumental felt. 
GSC: The pitter patter of the drums has a real noir-like feel. 
Jazzz: “Effectual” meanwhile was a surprise, I won’t lie. After I wrote “Effectual” I was really surprised with myself, I didn’t know I could write like that. I didn’t plan it, I just liked how his instrumentals made me feel. It was very funky, very retro. He just took me back. I thought okay, if I was in a disco right now what would it sound like? I take in a lot of American culture, and it gave me that disco, roller skatey, kind of vibe, so I tried to match it.
GSC: Right now my favorite track on the album is “AYE B See”. You and Lungs could not be more different on the track, but you go together so so well. How did that track come about?
Jazzz: Ten had sent me his video initially.
TenTen: I sent her his Topshelf Freestyle with Phiik that was going viral at the time.
Jazzz: I saw that track and was like, his raps are so intense! Rapid fire nonstop. It was almost intimidating at first but that intensity, I thought he would bring something really different to the record. I was a little nervous when we sent the track but was mostly hopeful that we were going to sound good together and I don’t think it could have come out better. I really like now how he comes back in at the end of the song too, we bounce off each other in a fun way at the end there. Shoutout Lungs and everyone involved with this project, everyone made things so easy. We weren’t waiting months for verses, everything happened so nice and fluidly.
TenTen: Even all the way through to the mixing and mastering! Shout out to Martché and Tomas on those fronts.
GSC: I’d be curious to know, what is each of your favorite performances that the other did on this record?
TenTen: Wow… That’s not fair! **all laugh** My favorite that I’ve listened to the most is “Cradle”. That just puts me in the zone, I remember when she sent it to me I think I listened to it thirty times. It sounds like a theme song as well.
Jazzz: For me, “Again, Again, Again” when I heard that demo for the first time I was just like, DAMN. Like, wow, I really really really love “Again”. I even loved how you named it, because you gave me the demo name.
TenTen: Somebody told me the beat sounded like Q-Tip and I’ve been on cloud nine since.
GSC: Do you have a favorite song on the record we haven’t discussed?
TenTen: “Rave” the intro. Jazzz, I think that might be like the best written song on the record for me personally. I made the beat with Metic and Tropico Beats which was really special, they both killed it. The way the guitar comes in and the bass, I felt like it was going to be fluid and work with Jazzz’s voice well.
Jazzz: I really enjoyed that instrumental too. I enjoyed everything though. Ten really helped me grow as a musician on this tape, I am so appreciative for him. After Black Religion I was like okay, I learned my lesson. Let’s now take a step back and enjoy the process again and see what we can do. It was a breath of fresh air.
GSC: Who are some of your favorite contemporaries that we haven’t talked about? 
TenTen: I would say right now probably listen to people like Cise Greenie, Benji Socrates, Nothing Neue, Wavy Bagels, S!LENCE, Phiik, of course Lungs. It’s a lot of them, there’s way more, but I definitely want to give a shout out to my friends the most because that’s who I’ve been listening to.
Jazzz: I have been listening to lojii a lot, I love their music. MIKE, I really, really love MIKE. He’s Nigerian and proud and he’s an amazing rapper, his writing is unparalleled right now.  I really love listening to old stuff. Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, and A Tribe Called Quest I’ve been going through phases with all of them. That and anyone Ten is fucking with, like Shane, the Shaman.
GSC: What’s the best show you’ve been to recently? And will you have the chance to play these songs live either locally in Nigeria or here in the States?
Jazzz: Ten and I were talking about that the other day, me coming stateside. He said there are a couple of places that we could perform live at. So I am keeping that dream alive, hopefully someday but we don’t have anything planned yet. On my side here I’ve been trying to perform bit by bit, I had a couple of shows. I’m hoping that we get an opportunity to have  a listening party here, something very intimate with people that I’ve really been messing with here. I’ve played it in a few taxi cabs where the cab drivers were fucking with it, so if the real Nigerians are fucking with it thats all I need.
TenTen: I saw Ebo Taylor in New York City recently, he had the whole building dancing, the energy in that room was completely unmatched. I walked out of there thinking I need to see that man again as soon as possible.
Jazzz: I saw Clayrocksu, she’s an indie rock musician with an incredible voice making some very interesting music. She has this whole goth thing that I was really into. I hadn’t seen someone from here take on the goth vibe in such an authentic feeling way. You know, living our truth, dealing with our ghosts in a really impressive way. 
GSC: What is something outside of music that brings you joy that might surprise people? 
Jazzz: Watching The Sopranos!
GSC: Is that because TenTen is in New Jersey, so you’re trying to understand his world?
Jazzz: Yea right? No, I’ve watched it a hundred times and I always come back.
GSC: I sneaky think The Sopranos is one of the funniest shows of all time.
Jazzz: It’s actually hilarious. Meadow is my favorite character, she tries to be low-key and do her own thing but she has to deal with everybody in that house, I feel for her.
TenTen: I’d probably say playing soccer. 
GSC: Did you play growing up?
TenTen: Yeah, I played in college as well at Castleton College in Vermont. 
GSC: Oh hell yea, what position did you play? 
TenTen: I was a forward striker, center attack and mid.
GSC: Were you a goal scorer? Putting ’em back?
TenTen: I’d score when I could but I really loved assisting honestly, loved sending a good pass and seeing it get buried. I guess some things never change.

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