Trinidad born, Brooklyn raised Theophilus London has been out on the scene since 2008 but in the last few years, his recognition by design and production greats has aided in shifting the discussion of rap’s current trajectory towards him. His latest album, Vibes, was helmed alongside London by music legends Leon Ware and Kanye West, furnished with an aesthetic sensibility that has earned him significant recognition in the high fashion scene.
But Theophilus doesn’t want to talk about fashion much any more. He’s past that with a steely glare now fixed entirely on his music career. Less than ten days after his sophomore hit shelves, he’s already got future album plans and has begun writing new songs. Theophilus is tired of being used as a vessel in interviews to discuss Lagerfeld and West, something that became obvious a few minutes into our chat. He wants to talk about his music, his future and, more than that, he wants to be great in his own right.
First of all, congrats on Vibes! It’s been getting a good response.
Thank you, thank you.
Did you see it as something that would get much praise straight off the bat?
Well, I didn’t make it thinking that. I want my friends that inspired me to love this That’s what I went in thinking and it was all unexpected. I mean, I actually knew when I got Leon Ware on the project, I knew a lot of people were going to be like ‘oh yeah!’. Then I got Kanye on the project and I know a lot of people were gonna be like ‘oh yeah!’ then I got, like, Karl Lagerfeld as well so I knew there’d be some sort of criticism all because those names are larger than life, all of those names are just so large. People came into the studio just talking about Kanye and the smoke hasn’t really cleared so a lot of my day one fans are kind of annoyed cos he’s got that big following but there’s nothing I can do.
The first single coming off it is Tribe. What’s Tribe about?
Tribe is about love. I say love over like seventy times in the song. I’ve gotta show love. Tribe is about your crew, your squad, your community, your culture. That’s what Tribe is about.
Are you sick of people asking you what it was like working with Kanye?
I mean, yeah, it’s pretty corny. If they wanna know what it’s like, they can go and read and interview or something.
I heard you wore the Yeezi 3’s. What was that like?
What was it like? I don’t know. What would you say if that was you?
I heard you reckon it’s the future of shoes, right?
So what’s that turning point? What is it that made you put them on and go ‘this is going to change the game’ and shift the focus from where we are now?
Well Kanye’s a great designer, there’s nothing else to say about that. Everything he do is gonna be innovative. Anything he do you’re probably gonna wanna buy it. Just keep that in mind.
“…Vibes was about me and Leon Wares, Brodinski, you know, songwriting. But Karl is a great addition.”
Were you really celibate during the time you were recording Vibes?
For a year, yeah.
And what was the decision behind that?
The point was that I was far away, I needed to focus, there was no girls around, I didn’t have a girlfriend. I wanted to put all my energy into my music and, you know, having sex, I’m an addict so if I’m gonna have sex I’m gonna have it a lot. I’m going to have sex every day. So I thought to maybe not get in the habit and I didn’t get into the habit and I did good and I’m happy I can have sex every day now.
Do you think it had a positive impact on the production of the album?
I wasn’t distracted. I didn’t do it as a plan. Just like in Vibes, I don’t plan anything, I just do it. I didn’t want to have sex with anybody. I just wanted to work on my music.
What was it like meeting back up with Karl Lagerfeld for the photoshoot?
Karl had nothing to do with the music but Karl is an innovator and was a great contribution to this project as well. But we’re talking about the music, I gotta talk about all the hours Leon and me and Paul Falcone on the mixer. You’re sitting down with Jeff Fenster, you’re flying to Paris. That’s what really made Vibes. Karl Lagerfeld was just on the backend. He just made the cover, great and everything like that but Vibes was about me and Leon Wares, Brodinski, you know, songwriting. But Karl is a great addition.
Do you see the visual element of your music as important?
I’m a visual person. 95% of my art is visual. I’ve got all my covers from that first cover I ever did was a mixtape called called Jam! through to This Charming Mixtape. I Want You to Rose Island to Lovers Holiday to Timez Are Weird These Days, it’s design. All of my art speaks for itself and, you know, I’m an artist and I come up with these ideas and these concepts. I find a concept that I like, I remake it and, you know, that kind of thing.
“Time to give it to the new kid, whoever’s the new kid. Let him be on the magazine. Let him be sexy and wear Dior like I did.”
Is there somewhere you personally want to go with your fashion influence?
Not really. I didn’t expect it. I just look sexy every day and in the fashion world, they made me their kid first before the music world, you know? So, hey, that’s why I focus more on my music today and I had my great years of being a fashion man of the year in 2011 and 2012, nobody was messing with me and I’m happy with that. I’ve moved on already. I’m still fly as fuck every day but. Time to give it to the new kid, whoever’s the new kid. Let him be on the magazine. Let him be sexy and wear Dior like I did. Everybody needs to be a little sexy, you get all the models, you get all the girls and you get a lot of– You get to hang out with Karl Lagerfeld and Kanye West from that, so you can do it too.
When you performed Tribes on Letterman, you wore the exact same outfit as you did on the video clip, is consistency like that important to you?
Oh yeah, you know, I’ve learnt that from people like Michael Jackson, James Brown, people with a brand. I’ve been working on this image for two years now, I’m happy to debut it on Letterman, I’m happy to debut it on my music video, I’m happy to debut it for the New York Times and I’m happy for kids to wanna look like me and be influenced and inspired by me cos I’m inspired by the greats as well. So hopefully I can inspire someone else.
When you were at Madison Square Garden and got brought up on the big screen, how did it feel being referred to as an R&B artist?
Yeah that’s cool, man. That’s cool as fuck. Whatever. I’m an artist, I don’t have no genre or anything like that. I’m an artist, I’m a voice of a generation. I can do an African album, I can do a Brazilian album, I can sing a Cuban album, I can sing an Austrian album. I can do whatever I favour at the moment. It’s just that I’m a voice and it’s my fantasy and what’s coming through my headspace. So it’s cool that whatever perceive me to be, I’m naturally open to that, I’m not one thing, I’ll never be one thing. And, whatever you want to connect it with, that’s fine, that’s great.
“I don’t just work with someone for their accolades or meet someone because they can get me on the radio.”
You come across with a really positive approach. Does that make people want to collaborate with you?
I’m not sure. I don’t know how to collaborate and I don’t collaborate as much. I only collaborate with family or if I need someone for a long time or things other than music. You have to have a foundation. Kanye, Dev Hynes, Brodinski, they’re all my family. I don’t just work with someone for their accolades or meet someone because they can get me on the radio. I don’t answer the label emails about working with someone because of that. I have to know this person because when I work, I have to do it in my most honest form and I got caught up with that and I don’t wanna be caught up with that no more. I don’t collab at all.
So you grew up in Flatbush. What do you think of the Flatbush psych rap scene that’s slowly emerging with acts like Flatbush Zombies and the Underachievers?
Yeah, I think it’s cool man. I see people like Bobby Shmurda and when I first met Kanye, he told me that Jay-Z told him there’s always going to be a kid in Brooklyn who’s gonna be on top and he’s gonna follow the culture and he’s gonna win. Brooklyn is the reason I am the way I am because it’s the way the city made me. There’s a lot of cool kids live around so you never run out of ideas and you never run out of people better than you. There’s always someone who can do what you do but cooler and that’s what inspires me about Brooklyn. Whatever going on, I support it. I came from there.
“I listen to people like Skeptagram, Young Thug and Azealia Banks. That’s who I listen to.”
When you do see someone who’s doing something that’s cooler, does that make you want to do better?
Oh yeah. For sure, man. I ain’t not going to support them, I’m in competition with myself. I’m just trying to be better than myself. So when I see someone that’s cooler, that isn’t intimidating me in any way. I built the lane that only I can follow. Someone wants to follow my lane then it’s funny cos they would really have to talk to me. I listen to people like Skeptagram, Young Thug and Azealia Banks. That’s who I listen to.
You and Azealia’s new album are pretty much on top on Metacritic right now.
Okay, cool, yeah. I’m happy to be #2 to my sister and her album is so innovative. I called her so many times and told her how much I loved it and I’m proud to be the only feature artist on the album and she’s really pushing it far. You know, you have to make mistakes to be progressive. You have to try new things. She’s not playing it safe. Every rap lyric, every line, line for line, no one’s fucking with her, I’m not fucking with her. She actually wrote my verse. That’s how great she is, she wrote my verse and she’s the only person I’ve ever let do that. After so many years working with producers and now she’s herself. I believe in her genius, I let her write my verse which I never let anyone do and what a great verse. She has that vision for a long time.
Is it unusual to spit something someone else has written?
Not really man. You gotta trust when people are great songwriters. You know, Leon Ware, he wrote Michael Jackson’s first hit single. So years later I’m working with him so you gotta trust people. Leon Ware helped me write Water Me so I’m comfortable bringing people into my art. Like I said, though, it has to be family based.
After Timez Are Weird These Days, you put out a remix album Timez Are Weird These Nights. Is there any chance of a future Vibes remix album?
I’m not sure, I’m not sure. I’ve got no plans as of now, but I do know that what we’ve got planned is my boy Brenmar did the first official remix from the Vibes album and that’ll be coming out next week with a remix of the song Tribes and I like to explore and innovate and bring the DJs on tour with me, creating a better tour atmosphere for 2015 is what’s on my mind at the moment more than a remix album. And I do know I’ve already started writing for my new project which is a follow up to my 2010 free album called I Want You which is dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware hosted by my girl VA$HTIE and now I’m doing I Want You 2 and that’s going to be hosted by VA$HTIE again and produced by Kanye and Leon Ware. So you heard it here first and I’m also working on movies at them moment.
You pretty much have the best name in the game right now. Reckon anyone’s good competition for the best name in rap?
*laughs* I don’t know man, cos that’s my real name. I don’t really look at it like that and I’m happy that people understand my name is a powerful name, it means lover of God.
What are some albums you put on when you’re looking to get inspired?
Right now, I put on Yung Thug, Skeptagram or Azealia Banks.