LA CANVAS: The Revelry Issue, Theophilus London

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The retro-rapping, neo soul-celebrating, groove aficionado on his new city, personal style, and iconic collaborations.

Theophilus London has arrived. His aura exudes mellow, Milky Way vibrations—candy bar rich, galaxy-smooth, and nuanced with intent. He is a presence stocked with a brew of poise, wonder, and intrigue. Tall, striking, and with a breezy demeanor, he spreads love the Brooklyn way, and speaks proudly of his roots in Trinidad. Part rap-singer, part producer, and all fashionisto, Theophilus’ latest project, aptly titled Vibes, finds him collaborating with soul music icon Leon Ware, sartorial authority Karl Lagerfeld, and executive producer Kanye West. The album is a well-crafted celebration of a young man growing older, lyrically espousing maturity while not forsaking the revelry of being 27. Over buoyant beats and sultry compositions, he glides deftly through spheres of genre influence—electro, new wave, soul, hip-hop, and dancehall—solidifying his spot among a handful of prominent artists of color who also defy expectation. Perched atop seven years experience and a substantial discography, Theophilus has taken a minute to survey his trajectory, mapping his flight path he continues to ascend. Ducking into a cozy corner office at Mack Sennett Studios before the LAC cover shoot, we stole a few moments to talk about his now and future.

GARTH TRINIDAD: You know LA, but how does it feel now that you live here?

THEOPHILUS LONDON: Yeah, I’ve been here a couple of months. It took me 20 years to understand New York City—it’s such a complex place. Then it took me three years to get on top and be where I wanted to be in NYC. So I can’t judge any city even though I might want to after two days. It’s not fair. I’m finding some really good people out here. I came out for the serenity factor. I think LA is about to have a super booming culture. I want to help that. I want to spread the awareness of less celebrity,
more culture.

GT: How did the Karl Lagerfeld component of your new project begin and evolve?

TL: That wasn’t really planned at all. It started as a daydream. I just finished writing and producing the album. At the very end, I had to start all over again on the art side. The art is as important as the music. I was like, I should get Karl Lagerfeld to do it. Velvet Underground had Andy Warhol do their shit and that’s how they bridged the music and the art world together. So how could I bridge music, high fashion, and the art world together today? That was the only way. Everything on this album happened with good timing and scheduling. My agent asked him right around Christmas. Lagerfeld is a super busy guy, so we didn’t know if he’d do it. I got a call from Karl on New Years. He said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I was like, ‘fuck.’ That’s how I started the New Year.

GT: When did style and fashion become important to you?

TL: I think being a male teenager, it was often like, ‘How do you get the opposite sex to like you?’ Nice haircut, nice skin, nice teeth, dress nice . . . smell good? I was always thinking about all those things so I could attract females. I was taller, dark-skinned, and, at the time, that wasn’t really in. We just lost Biggie and all these light skin guys were taking over—Ja Rule, Jay Z. As a dark-skinned guy, I had to work harder. My cousins were pretty boys so they didn’t have to do much, but for me to be acceptable I had to do a lot. People weren’t as comfortable with really dark males—that’s what they were brainwashed to think. They didn’t realize this was sexy at the time.

GT: So how has your style evolved?

TL: I’m a visual person. I’m always watching. I see every detail in slow motion. When I travel, I’m very vigilant, watching peoples’ style and culture. I was never into social studies, but I got into it when I started traveling. Like, ‘Oh shit, this is where Anne Frank was.’ I also watched important male musicians—Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Morrissey. My conservative girlfriends would leave when I got into my not-caring, dirty-hipster, crowd surfing-thing. It evolved with the streets
too. Then I got smarter. I started learning what works for my body. It didn’t matter what it was. I didn’t give a shit if it cost two dollars—I could make it look like a million. It wasn’t about the brand. Once I figured that out, I was all right. Now, I keep evolving every year. Rockstar for life,skinny jeans, and I basically do what I want. No crazy stylist in my house.

GT: How did you meet Kanye, and what lead to the new collaboration?

TL: My friends will tell you I’ve always been a big Kanye West fan since the beginning. I used to skip school and listen to his music. I would need a whole day at home to figure out how he did these drums, or this orchestra . . . or why he would work with that guy on the keys, why he would work with John Mayer. Besides Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye, Kanye was another reason—a new reason—why I wanted to get into music. It was cool. You could really be yourself. He stepped out of hip-hop boundaries. So in 2008 and 2009, when I released an album, I was out there, and people were forming opinions about me. I was also in the fashion world—GQ and Vogue picked me up. So Kanye heard about me. I finally met him in Cannes. I was sitting at the best table during this day party, and he and his team started walking up. My friends and I were like, ‘Shit, we’re gonna get kicked off this table!’ I started to move because I didn’t want to be embarrassed (It happened before—Chris Brown got me kicked off a table). Instead, Kanye asked if they could hang out with us. It was a good look. We talked about Tyler, The Creator, and what he and Jay Z were doing. That night, he did a show, and I could tell what we talked about inspired it. That’s how he is. We went to an opera together while working on Vibes and he didn’t know what the Yeezus tour was gonna be like yet. The opera inspired the tour. It wasn’t about the music when we met. It was a friendship thing. I didn’t really know how to work with him in the beginning. I was in awe. But he brought it out of me. He taught me how to work with other
artists, and I brought out some good stuff in him.

GT: You have a unique ability to channel your inspirations to shape your own sound—one moment listeners feel Marvin, the next Depeche Mode, The Smiths, ATCQ, Sade, etc. What nurtured that ability?

TL: Yeah, that’s one of my pastime secrets. I like to take things in. I need to stimulate my mind all the time. I have to go to different places in order to produce. I don’t want to do anything new. I’d rather go back, because I feel like that’s new—newer than the stuff now. I listened to Jay Z, Mase, Busta Rhymes, and Big Pun to get rap patterns. But my influences are not just rap. I took in Isley Brothers, John Mouse, R. Stevie Moore, The Smiths, Joy Division, and James Brown. And I’m not just listening to albums. I’m digging up everything I can—movies, DVDs, behind the scenes work, YouTube. But I never copy. Plagiarism’s not good.








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