theophilus london is reppin’ for the youth of now and tomorrow
From consulting for DONDA, recording with Skepta and touring with Mark Ronson, the Trinidad-born and Brooklyn-raised artist is a modern visionary.
Sitting down to talk with Theophilus London is a glorious thing. His mind moves at lightning speed and the conversation seamlessly journeys between philosophy, technology, sex, capitalism and community. The comparisons to his collaborator and friend, Kanye West, are apt, Theophilus too is bold and uncompromising in his vision and is genuinely a lover and seeker of art and artists, particularly the next bright star you don't know about yet, the one who might be serving your coffee.
Whilst on tour down under with Mark Ronson, Keyone Starr, Dan Merriweather, Tame Impala and co., i-D caught up with Theophilus to talk think tanks, Vibes and why Karl Lagerfeld is a boss!
You've been touring with Mark Ronson since Glastonbury which must have been amazing, how did this 'allstar' tour come together?
Mark called me and he's like, "Hey man, I'm putting together this tour and Bruno (Mars) is busy, I need an equally sexy person to swag out on stage [laughs]." I was like, "Oh sure man, I'm in." So we created a setlist with a few of my songs and the rest of the fam who would be joining us on the tour. Mark always has super fresh ideas and his whole clique is insane. He was just saying this has been the best band he's ever had and that every moment of his life was leading to right here. A lot of us felt like that too, it's special because I've been friends with Mark since 2009.
You're basically part of the Ronson family at this point right?
Yeah pretty much. When I first met Mark we hung out at his house in New York and were instantly playing music back and forth and he showed me his Grammys and we just talked and instantly connected. He loved my mix tapes. I would remix or rap or edit anybody's songs that I liked without asking them and I would record it.
Have you been recording while you've been on the road?
Yeah. Before I left for the road, I started recording my new album More Vibes. I wrote like 20 songs, super unapologetically African, very Caribbean, very 'I have big hands and big feet, sexy face' kind of music you know, very fantasy, very 'let's go to the desert wear cowboy boots and have sex' kind of vibes.
I know you didn't have the best experience with your label on the last album, Vibes. We're sitting down in the Warner office right now, what does a major label offer you in 2015?
No one can offer me anything. I only offer myself things. I take after Karl Lagerfeld, he doesn't really care about the press or whatever. It starts with the idea, the creativity, in your house, in your mind, I'm the creative director. I'll never work with a label where they pick the producers for me or shit like that. I wanna celebrate my whole being, do a bunch of art shows here and there. I don't want any ceilings at all, I know that my ideas are great. I mean no disrespect to my label. It's great to be on a label like Warner Brothers, just the history of their artists, Prince, Madonna, Talking Heads...
You worked on Vibes for over two years. How did you feel once it was out in the world?
I got so exhausted with it. I gave it to the label and was like, "you guys mix it, you guys master it". Damn, you should hear my demos, it's so sick and so eccentric and colourful. When I gave it to the label, they just made it bland, although it is still a sexy album and I'm still appreciative of it. When it came out, I got into a crazy depression, I couldn't lie and be untruthful and do stuff just because 'hey the album's out now'. Me and Ye' (Kanye West) laugh about that now too.
Besides Kanye's work on your album, you were involved in many of his DONDA projects that people don't know about.
Yeah, I helped with the Yeezys, Ye would ask, "Should I change this detail? Should I change how low the heel is?" I was the first person to have the Yeezys on, the fresh sample when it came. Working with him and the brands he collaborates with has taught me a lot about deadlines and working with huge organisations and the levels of access.
So is the new record ready to go at this point?
Recently, Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) and I are working on a new song together. Me and Skepta just finished a song too. So I'm gonna go to London to work on it. This record is gonna be more fun, like what I did with Vibes, but Volume 2: More Vibes. I'm excited about it, it's gonna have great art direction and more less-structured songs and skits and essentially be an art project.
What other projects are you working on outside of music?
I have five kids I met on Instagram that I have never met IRL and every week they send me clothing from this brand called B.U.M equipment. So I've collected over 200 pieces from the collection for research and I've been wearing it at my shows and now I'm gonna be creative director of B.U.M. equipment.
Are you still doing your label, LVRS?
I kinda stopped doing that because people were like, 'you're a designer? But I thought you were a singer?' I got over explaining that we're post-label, post-genre, post-everything. I meet people who are so talented, there's a bunch of young kids I work with now who are on the same wave, they may work at Starbucks, but they've got great ideas. I've started a little think tank of sorts, every week they send me 20 photos of something on the Internet that they love, so it can inspire me. I want to work with the young kids and the next generation.
The goal is to have no limits?
Exactly, no limits.
Who are some other artists, musical or otherwise, that have changed your life?
Tracy Chapman changed my life. Seal changed my life. Jay-Z changed my life. Kanye changed my life. Marvin Gaye changed my life.
Text Courtney DeWitt
Photography Tracy Bailey