Toni Mudrack, aka Teesy, is the most sensitive newcomer in the German hip-hop scene. His debut album “Glücksrezepte” or Recipes for Happiness has just been released.
As of last Thursday, he was relatively unknown on Wikipedia, where his entry consisted of two or three lines of scant biographical information – and the message that the reader might consider creating a new page. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to predict that this is likely to change in the coming weeks.
Mr. Mudrack is a newcomer, someone whose name you don’t know yet but is worth noting. His stage name is Teesy. It sounds a little American, just like the musical idols he listened to as a teenager, people like 50 Cent, The Game and all the other cool rappers with their baggy pants and muscular torsos.
For someone who spent his childhood and teenage years in Kaulsdorf, an idyllic, middle-class neighborhood in Berlin’s Marzahn-Hellersdorf district, they were apparently role models worth emulating.
Teesy is a long way from baggy pants and a muscular upper body, and yet he has his own style that is just as visually striking. He often wears a tuxedo, shirt and bow tie on stage. His cheeks are rosy and he looks at the ground most of the time – not exactly what you’d do to make a cool impression.
Still, even though he hasn’t assumed the rapper uniform, he has preserved his love of rap, and even expanded it musically. In most of the songs on his debut album “Glücksrezepte,” Teesy sings about wanderlust, feeling helpless, the existential fears of young people and, of course, love – the entire spectrum of the rapper’s playbook.
On his debut album "Glücksrezepte," Teesy sings about wanderlust, feeling helpless, the existential fears of young people and, of course, love.
In “Der Anfang” (The Beginning), Teesy raps with a strained voice about his path into the limelight: “I swam from the very bottom to the top, as if I’d started something big at just that moment / Shoes drag me down, and there’s a struggle inside me / But from down here I can look into the light, and I can see that it’s all worthwhile.”
Sitting in the offices of his record company in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, a smile comes to Mr. Mudrack’s face when he remembers his first musical ventures. He was in eighth grade at the time, and a friend played him a hip-hop song he had recorded. He was so fascinated that he sat down at his computer the next day to try it himself. “Using Windows Movie Maker, which still had a recording function at the time, I starting doing Beatbox and rapping.”
His first lyrics were in English. He didn’t have “such an affinity for German” at the time, says Mr. Mudrack.
“I was listening to what my classmates were listening to, but I was skimming the surface. Bushido, fucking, pussy, that kind of stuff. Then I thought to myself: Naa, this isn’t really my thing. I’m not made that way.”
He sounds convincing. The 23-year-old makes a shy impression in conversation, frequently looking out the window. He seems like a young man more likely to sign up for the Mahlsdorf Gospel Choir than to emulate the promiscuous fantasies of hooligans and word acrobats.
Teesy plays the uninhibited romantic, prompting some critics to see him as a German version of Canadian R&B singer Drake.
When he began to dig deeper and find things that inspired him, Mr. Mudrack realized that rapping in German could be a completely different experience. He discovered artists like J-Luv and Max Herre.
“The fact that German music can spawn that sort of thing is a statement in itself,” he says. He realized that he wanted to make his own contribution to the genre, and in a way that was both focused and consistent. Soon he began selling his first recorded CDs at school. “They were a pretty big success, and that’s when I figured out that I might have a future in music.”
Still, Mr. Mudrack was unwilling to rely on a vague feeling, as he demonstrates in the video for his current single, “Generation Maybe.” The black-and-white clip shows Teesy in a poker game. He risks his entire stake and loses – and then he’s thrown out. He looks lost as he wanders aimlessly down the street.
In the refrain, he raps: “One guy shows you how to do it, and everyone has to do it too / The government is having a laugh at your expense, because none of this was planned / Nobody thinks about things anymore, because it’s all spelled out already / If you have an iPhone 4, you need an iPhone5.”
Mr. Mudrack places himself squarely in the midst of “Generation Maybe.” But the truth is that he is someone who doesn’t put much store in daydreams and status symbols. He looks embarrassed when his cell phone rings. When he pulls it out of his pocket, it isn’t a modern smartphone but something he might have borrowed from a technology museum.
He appears down-to-earth in other ways too. After graduating from high school, he performed community service in lieu of military service, and after that he helped out in his father’s painting business. Then he entered a teacher-track program for German and physical education. “I did it for my parents at first, but now I feel motivated to finish it. You never know what’ll happen in a music career.”
Mr. Mudrack moved to the northern city of Kiel three years ago to attend the university there. Before long, he met a team of producers called Tracksetters. He spent his weeks attending lectures, and on weekends he went to the Tracksetters studio in Hamburg, where he recorded his first mix tape. He eventually ended up at Chimperator, the label of rapper Cro, who performs in a panda mask. The two men got to know each other and recorded a few features, and Cro asked Teesy to accompany him on tour. Everything was pointing to a career breakthrough for Teesy.
And now, on his debut album, Teesy plays the uninhibited romantic, prompting some critics to see him as a German version of Canadian R&B singer Drake. He’s someone who, in between raps, sings about the detached nature of relationships. It’s clear he isn’t embarrassed to talk about his feelings.
“I think jazz had a strong influence on me. Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé. I’m not being ironic. Jazz vocals are very gallant, spirited and charming. I always wanted to write lyrics like that, but without making them cheesy.”
“Keine Rosen” (No Roses) is a case in point. Teesy will perform the song at Stefan Raab’s Bundesvision Song Contest in the central German city of Göttingen on Sept. 20, where he will represent the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
In the song, he paints a picture of his ideal woman, someone he hopes will desire him for what he is and nothing else: “Oh baby, I want love / From nobody else but you / I don’t need roses and cars, and I don’t need a big garden / All I want is you.” Does it sound kitschy? Of course! But it’s also quite touching and poignant.
Slow songs and televised competitions don’t mix well, or at least that’s what host Raab has been telling his contestants for years – so perhaps Teesy’s chances of winning the Bundesvision Song Contest are slim, especially when he’s up against such formidable and well-known competition. Materia is performing for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Miss Platinum will represent Berlin and Andreas Bourani is singing for Bavaria. But it’s safe to assume that we’ll remember Teesy after his performance in Göttingen. And then he’ll finally have his own Wikipedia page.
“Glücksrezepte” was released by Chimperator on Aug. 29. Teesy performs Nov. 13 at the Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin, as the opening act for Cro.
This story first appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. It was translated by Christopher Sultan