Theophilus London, Hip-Hop’s Newest Name (and What a Name!)
Published April 5, 2011
THEOPHILUS LONDON. PHOTO COURTESY OF KESH
Theophilus London made an underground name for himself through a series of mixtapes and an EP, then hit it big with “Flying Over Seas” on Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound. Now, he is touring around his pop-chart-topping EP, Lovers Holiday. He’s been wearing a hat and sunglasses since day one. Interview was able to sit down with London poolside to discuss the evolution of his performances, his influences, and his music, as well as the details of his soon-to-be-released debut LP.
MICHAEL POLLOCK: When did you start performing music?
THEOPHILUS LONDON: I started performing music about the age of 16. I lived in Brooklyn, New York, and this thing called the Flatbush Fair comes once a year. That was my first time on stage. First of all, I was overdressed, so that’s why every day of my life I dress down as a motherfucker. I was overdressed, and I wasn’t standing right. I was nervous as fuck and got booed. I even got booed on BET once. Fuck BET. It’s the worst channel of all time. I got booed on BET, but now it’s awesome to come to Austin and even go to Europe and all around the world.
POLLOCK: Just from following your Twitter, I know you’ve been traveling a lot, mostly recording.
LONDON: Yeah, I went to Stockholm a bunch to work on the album and to LA. So it was LA then Stockholm; LA then Stockholm; LA, Stockholm. That’s what it’s been. I went to Jamaica on my own. I went to Trinidad and Tobago just to go to Fashion Week over there. I went to Japan last year. I went to Korea last year. This is all based off the strength of my brand relationships and the fact that I love to travel. And it’s not going to stop. I went through two passports last year, full. POLLOCK: When you say your brand relationships, you’re talking about Bushmills and Cole Haan?
LONDON: Bushmills, Gucci, Cole Haan, Nike, Mountain Dew.
POLLOCK: What’s it been like working with them and rising at the same time?
LONDON: It’s such a new idea, because you’re supposed to rise first then all that shit comes. Like, “Oh this song is hot. Let’s put it in a commercial.” But I got these deals before I was a household name to the masses, not just to the progressive people that know me. It’s about the fucking people who are chilling in this pool right now. They get to know me because of a commercial or a billboard in New York City. It’s such a new idea. I’m building a new business model for artists who want to do this after me—artists that haven’t even put an album out yet. I put an EP and three mixtapes out. I didn’t know that was the path I was choosing. And I’m really cool with ladies, so if it’s a lady in charge of the brand, then, yeah, I’ll get the deal. You know, in a business way.
POLLOCK: You mentioned the mix tapes and the EP. How would you describe how your music has progressed since the first EP and up to this album that’s coming out over the summer?
LONDON: The music progresses as my inspirations progress. The inspirations that I had during JAM! were put on that tape. I Want You was Marvin Gaye-inspired. Then I was into some U.K. indie-pop shit. To now, I’m writing my own songs. My Lovers’ Holiday EP is sample-free. No samples had to be cleared. All the songwriting is done by me and another writer and a producer. Then we fly around the world to make this next album. It’s a ten-song album coming out in June. Can’t give you the official date. I want to make a fucking good-quality record in an expensive motherfucking studio with great motherfucking mics. I want to produce the best popular music I can. And I think I’ve done that. I got the album, been listening to it. It’s done, it’s ready.
POLLOCK: If you were to take a couple songs from the album and make a split 7-inch, who are the artists you would want on the other side?
LONDON: Well I already gave this kid, Jamie XX, all the a capellas to my album, so he’d be on the other side.
POLLOCK: Jamie XX is going to take the vocals and put beats behind it?
LONDON: Hopefully. Drake’s acting mad corny and trying to get him to do his whole album, but I was like, “Listen man, this album is going to be better.” Nah, but he’s got his hands tied up. He’s working on a new XX record, everybody wants him. To me, he’s one of my favorite producers right now.
POLLOCK: Are there any big features on the new album?
LONDON: It’s a personal record, but I’ve got a few friends on there. Sara Quin, she’s on my label; there’s Holy Miranda, she’s on XL. But you know, I think this record is me, and I originally sat down and mapped out the record, and I wanted it to be a boy/girl record. I wanted to be telling a boy/girl story, so it’s just me and females. There are no male rappers, no male singers. I’m rapping, I’m singing already. I just need someone to complement the track, like Solange Knowles. But my second record, I’m already five songs in, is down tempo and going to feature a lot of soul singers, all male. That will be cool. Actually, the title of the album is tatted on my body. Me and a lady friend are very inspired by the album. We both got tattoos of the album cover.
LONDON: I can’t say.
POLLOCK: What are your live performances like now?
LONDON: I feel like the show is still super indie, and it’s growing. As soon as we get a big festival, we’re going to have a big live show, like we had on Letterman. But right now I want to make it personal—not too many people on stage. I want it to be me, my friend Dep, he produced Final Procedure for me, and Steve Wonder, my DJ. We have a bassist too but he’s on drugs. He’s somewhere in San Antonio. I got to go pick him up.