Just after sound check at the U St. Music Hall, we caught up with Theophilus London to talk about his new album, Kanye West, his 2011 show next to GW’s campus, Young Thug and much more.
MB: What’s up everybody, this is Max
DT: And DiAnthony
MB: From You Know What It Is here, with the one and only Theophilus London, how’s it goin’ man?
MB: Hey! So you guys were just in Atlanta on Friday, right?
MB: How was that?
TL: It was good, it was cool, the kids were great. It was nerve-wracking for me, my first time playing in two years, goin underground to make an album and coming back above ground, it feels good to be back. I told my booking agent I wanted to play the first humble venues I played when I started in 2010/2011 because I want to get really comfortable with the material before I do a big tour that’s all ages, from old women to young kids.
MB: Yea, that definitely makes sense.
TL: This is like a tour rehearsal, like a live rehearsal. It’s not gonna seem like a rehearsal but to me it is.
MB: Yea, cool. So Vibes is great, I listened to it all the way through and for the past couple of weeks. What were some of your biggest inspirations for that?
TL: Well, from early influences…I went to Paris, and I was inspired by the club scene out there. Parisian women, people smoking cigarettes, people slapping each other and grabbing booties, kissing, French kissing, waking up and eating Spaghetti, things like that. So I started hanging out at first and didn’t know what to do. So I started at Fashion Week in Paris and I started to record there. I started working with Brodinski, Club Cheval and we constructed the first couple of songs, which were “Tribe,” “Can’t Stop (My Love)” and a few others. From then on I went to Germany, where I compiled “Smoke Dancehall” and “Smoke (Interlude)” and then I went to New York and then I went back to Paris. And I went to L.A. where I met up with Leon Ware. And…yea, those were the inspirations for the album and Kanye came a year later after the album was, like, about 24 songs. And yea, those were the early influences. John Maus is an early influencer him and Ariel Pink teamed up, we teamed up and wrote Neu Law for me. They made a demo in 2003 and I picked up a demo in 2013 and started writing and I wrote the beat. That was the first kind of production I had ever done solo. And…
MB: Yea, that’s awesome. I personally am a big fan of the “Smoke (Interlude),” the constant repetition of the phrase and the theme of the bad guys and the good girls.
TL: Yea, I actually got that from Chanel Iman, she dated my friend A$AP Rocky at the time, and she had Instagrammed that. And my compadres Young Lord beatgrammed it and said “Every good girl want a bad boy to be good to her, and every bad boy wants a good girl to be bad to him.” Ya, so I turned that into a song after I saw that. I screenshot a lot of Instagrams if I see nice silhouette bodies of girls that I follow and creep on and…I save their pictures in my phone, it’s inspirational.
MB: So, speaking of Fashion Week, did you see the new fits that came out from the New York Fashion Week? From this past week? Any of the new Kanye stuff?
TL: Yea, I work with Kanye, so I’ve seen that while we were working throughout the year, I saw that. He’s been working on it gracefully and I really am amazed at how dedicated he is to that. Even when we’re in the car, he has Wifi connected from his house and he never leaves his computer and his daughter in a way. He’s always with his computer and all these different…very minimal…like, my computer has 50 folders everywhere but his doesn’t and he’s showing me all these different things, all types of things, you know, and he’s very dedicated. I’m happy that it came out good, and all he wants is people to…he knows he’s good, he just wants people to know that as well and I think a lot of people give him his props and it’s cool. I think that was a good moment for him because we always talk about his Paris moment and stuff and how it was a long struggle and battle for him and I think Adidas gave him a great opportunity. I saw Shane from Hood By Air, he’s one of my good friends as well, I support him, and his thing was great. You know, he’s really fierce, he’s f***ing crazy, he doesn’t give a f*** and he’s putting all this s*** up online. Virgil [Abloh], he showed me his s*** up in Paris. But, yea, I don’t really wanna be up at Fashion Week, it’s all about being photographed and spectating and being photographed and trying to be in the mix. You can’t try to be in the mix every year, like I’m trying to be a talent. I present myself in a way that my mind is set up to think in a way for me to live a long life from my music and my image and all of these things I thought about, even going with my real pure name so it can live on forever. People do things, that have a 10-month limit on it or a year, but I’m not interested in that stuff. So I think attending Fashion Week every time is not interesting, I used to get paid lots of money to attend, and to play, and to be a part of it and I kind of invented a lot of styles. A lot of people went to Fashion Week, and then people went home and had tea. But now we made a way, where after the show is over we created the whole party atmosphere for people to play, for people to DJ, for people just to hang out. Like how people like Warhol, and Fab Five Freddy these people just hung out at Fashion Week and we created that in Paris and dubbed it “New Paris.” And now this year too, A$AP Rocky went down there, Skepta, my little brothers Ian and the whole crew from L.A. and all the young kids are going out there and it’s really cool. I’m starting to feel a little old, but you can’t ever get old.
DT: So you said you were getting more hands-on production-wise, are you feeling like you’re doing more stuff with that now? Are you feeling like you’re starting to get it?
TL: I only do stuff like that now. Kanye’s my mentor, and that’s a big enough mentor to show me what to do. He’s definitely dubbed and innovated the home studio again, a lot of people are going back to studios and thinking that’s the answer, and going to get a big engineer, but the home studio is the key to get fully naked and be in your house and wake-up in the morning and the songs are still there. The one thing I learned from him, you can keep making a song, and “THAT’S IT, IT’S GOING ON THE ALBUM!” but like, nah man you might be better tomorrow. You’re gonna be a better you next week, you know…and bring that song up again. And some of the songs, even when the album is out he’s gonna try to change it again, it’s crazy, he tried to do that with “Can’t Stop,” but it was mastered. He said he wanted no drums in the song and it was like…man! I wanted to support his idea but I was like “it’s too late dude, my album is already bomb.” But shout out to him, he shows me and works harder than all of us and he’s older than us. We’ve got way more work to do. He’s like a cheetah running through the woods, very fast so…
MB: That’s awesome…Speaking of Kanye, “Do Girls,” really good song on the album. Did that just come about pretty naturally? Were you guys already in the studio together?
TL: I wrote that song in Paris. That’s why Kanye likes me so much, before we met up or anything, I was in Paris and he wants to be a part of that. I got in that thing so easy, working with Karl Langerfeld and being with Anna Wintour and dinners that she’s at. And I wasn’t honored to be there unfortunately, I would be honored to be there now because I did my research and stuff but coming as a kid from Brooklyn, we don’t know about style. Our job is not to know about style. Karl Langerfeld said “We don’t s*** about style,” but we still know how to put fashion and style together. We don’t know s*** about fashion, I don’t know who’s designing it but if my eyes see it I’m gonna wear it. But now we know. Things that we were never supposed to know, or aren’t good enough to know, we know. We see Alexander Wang working on his s*** backstage, we’re friends with them now. I’m friends with Kanye, we’re “in the know,” and people can take photos. Before the Yeezys came out you saw it. I was working with him on the Yeezys too, I didn’t want to really say that, I don’t know why he wanted me to do that, but that’s my style. He sent me a photo when he did the Yeezys, he just got the first sample, he was on a plane when they leaked and we had a photo of it. I texted him, I sent him a picture like “man…did you know about this?” And he was just like “oh f***…what can I do?” Well there’s nothing you can do. We knew that shoe was fresher than what we saw, it was a sample! I have it on my phone, the sample, it was bigger than it was, and he made a lot of changes, but that’s what it was. People, 24/7 while you’re working, get to see it so…it’s cool, it’s a brave new world.
MB: So have you gotten a pair of them yet? Are you happy with their reception so far? Since you did have a pretty big role in it.
TL: Yea, I think it’s cool. The day he shot his Balmain cover with Kim for the fashion thing with Olivier, I did my Letterman performance that day, and he kept calling me. He rushed me from Letterman, because Letterman shoots in the nighttime and I was there until 5PM, he was like “Yo, hurry up, come to my shoot” and he didn’t tell me why he had people call for me. So I got there finally, and he was like “Try these on” and opened the box and it was the first sample for the Yeezys. And I had on my Jordan V’s right, and had been touring with those, they stink bad and I was super scared to put my feet in his brand new sample of the first Yeezys ever and putting my stink shoes in them, on my feet. So I went in a corner, put them on, I had them on for like an hour, and when I had them on they were treating me like how John Paul Gaultier does a model. I got it on, and they showed me different ways, you know holding it this way and that. I showed him how I would wear it, I only wear Dior jeans, so I had Dior gold pants on at the time, and I put them over it, so if I had the Yeezys on right now I would wear them like that. That’s why he’s been starting, like with the military boot, because he wanted to get people comfortable with the new shoe form. Kind of like the Kobe’s, I feel like the Kobe’s are a little too high, but it comes right here [points to middle of high top boots he has on]. The military boot comes here too, you see a lot of kids wearing that now, and going to military stores. He’s iconic in that way. But I’m really happy with it, it was cool. We only had a lot of small changes to do. At first it was like having a Gameboy or a Mac or an Xbox, I got the new black Xbox, so you gotta figure it out, work out the kinks. You can’t be satisfied and happy with it the first day, then what’s the point of wearing it tomorrow. A lot of kids when they saw the photo were like “Oh it sucks! It sucks” and I was like “It’s awesome.” You’re either gonna say it sucks or it’s good. And that was the reception. I’m sure the kids who said it sucks are stuck now eating their words because it’s actually good. Things have to grow on you! Like, it’s okay. That’s awesome. That’s why when people say my album sucks or if it’s good, that’s cool. I think it’s supposed to be bad, I’m not supposed to make perfect music, then I wouldn’t be here. I think it’s supposed to be bad, and it’s supposed to be looked at as bad, and that’s why it’s good. It’s a whole different era. Like, yea, it better be s***ty. I’m not no f***in perfect musician. This is something that should be looked at as that. Picasso wasn’t perfect, do you know what I’m saying?
MB: Yea, especially the first time you see something or read something, or even listen to anything, it’s supposed to kind of shock you I think.
TL: Yea, that’s why I don’t read anymore. I f*** with Karl Langerfeld heavy and lots of people f*** with him and they don’t know why they f*** with him. He’s the only guy that’s so inspired by the time that Mozart, not even Picasso, I’m talking about the 1800s, like Karl Langerfeld…he’s from the 1800s how he looks at artists. Like, Jay-Z and all this stuff and that…now we have evolved to Travi$ Scott, we’ve evolved to Kanye, Drake. Drake is an evolution of all these guys. You can’t stop evolution in that sense.
MB: Okay, we have some other stuff we want to ask you about. We’re from WRGW, GW’s radio station, and I think you were on tour in 2011 and did you perform at the Sweetgreen on GW’s campus? Right next to Foggy Bottom? How did that come about? How did that happen?
TL: It was cool man, it was super organic, right when I was starting out.
DT: Right next to the Sweetgreen, super organic.
TL: Yea, a lot of people I feel like are stopping conforming to try to be down. I think that’s where the whole…I don’t like to dub it the word “hipsters” even if it is, but it’s a crowd that wants to branch out on their own and do their own thing, find their own idols and things like that. Because hipster is, you know, everyone’s got their own different mind, this guy likes this band, this person likes this band and sometimes it comes together and…what’s the question again?
MB: Performing at Sweetgreen.
TL: Oh yea, so um…so the concept for the time of my music was stuff like that so it was great. I met up with these guys and it was a great festival I did in D.C. and I used to work with Cornerstone and Green Label Sound and I had like…Mountain Dew was my record label, they were putting out my songs. And you know, I kind of want to get back into things like that, you know, but it was kind of early drafting, being able to work with bands and even being able to perform for like…a health foods kind of place. I hope those opportunities are still around, but now that I’m back in town I gotta see what’s up. But I think more things like that should happen, I like that organic type of thing. I’ve seen a DVD of the White Stripes, and they performed on the back porches of homes and just showed up in a gym and played for kids and things like that, that was cool so I want to do more stuff like that. Because that was organic because I applied myself, and those guys were around, and I was around and they hit me up and I was down.
MB: That’s definitely a good way to do it. I remember everybody on campus was saying “Oh, I think Theophilus London is here…I think he’s having a concert at Sweetgreen!” By the time I had heard about it I think it was almost over, but it was legendary. We still the poster you signed actually up in our studio, you signed one of those for us. So okay, another thing we wanted to talk to you about it dancing. A lot of what I get from Vibes is that you like to dance a lot. So, what would you say is your favorite dance move?
TL: Huh…see I haven’t been on the road for so long that I forgot a lot of my dance moves to be honest, but I only know my dance moves through the music. The music tells me what to do next, I don’t have the move without the music, if that makes any sense.
DT: Did you help choreograph the music video that you had?
TL: Yea, yea I did. So this guy, he does like…Missy, he did Aaliyah, he does like…Rihanna and helps them dance and do their video. So he came to my house and I was shooting this promo with Apple for their new IPhone 6. He came to my house, and I was gonna shoot the video for Apple. I did! I shot like…a million dollar video for “Tribe,” for Apple, and I think it was too good that they cancelled it. They didn’t even wanna give me the [copy]
TL: Yea, it was f***ed up. The guy who shot that video…he’s an amazing dude. He shot Michael Jackson “You Rock My World,” he shot D’Angelo, Biggie “Hypnotize Me”…Paul Hunter. I’m sure you saw that name growing up as a kid, you know from B.E.T., “Directed by Paul Hunter.” He did everything! So, we shot a whole movie for Apple, but you know…it’s closed or whatever, it’s not happening. He introduced me to this guy, and he came over to my house. We had a dance battle in my living room…we just like dance fought each other and came up with the moves, so. His name is Troy Kirby.
MB: That’s awesome, that’s really cool to know about.
DT: So those are battle moves in there?
TL: Yea…and we’re gonna have the whole dancers and stuff come through, but not for this tour, for the time we come back around…the big tour, like in big rooms. I don’t know if House of Blues is what I want, but big, nice, like opera houses. I’m gonna choose and do all my research on places I want to play, and they’re gonna be special. Even if I show up and play in the woods, and it’ll be something like that, it wouldn’t be in a club or conforming to all of this stuff, you know? I was so in the energy and the spirit of what I was doing before, that I could turn on a switch. But right now I’m so scared, it’s like I’m in the dark. But I’m so ready to do that, so ready to play that stuff, you know, it was so easy. That’s why I broke the glass, I broke my whole image down, and my sound. Broke the glass and put it back together. So this is me, putting it back together. I’ll be a nasty f***ing shooting star like…*jrruuuum* you know, I’ll be nasty as f***. So right now it’s very raw, it’s very rare to see me like I’m naked.
MB: I feel like as you perform more and more, you can kind of critique yourself more and more throughout the shows and make it better and better.
TL: You know, I really have to live out the creed of this music live. I’ll be doing it for the next two years of my life. And the most insane sounds, and harmonies and forms of this type of genre of music I’ve got to really bring it to life, and I feel like right now I’m at 50%…maybe 45%.
MB: Are you listening to anybody in particular that’s creating these thoughts and maybe helping you…at least sonically helping you create a new sound or a reconstructed sound?
TL: Yea, like when I linked up with Synergen and Leon Ware, Brodinski, Kanye, that whole team, they helped me come up with this sound. That’s cool, like…this album is a Sunday album, it’s like a Monday album, a Tuesday. It’s like…you’re working on your art project and have it on in the background. You know Vibes made history, I was talking to Virgil and Kanye about this. Vibes made history, like nobody really cared about creatively directing an album like that for a long time. I mean, people did, like Kanye cared. Like Watch the Throne, right? All of that. So maybe Watch the Throne was the first album of it’s kind to go outside and get a creative director like Riccardo from Givenchy. Those ideas. But those are too big of acts. Like, woah, boom, that’s too big. But Vibes really made history in the sense of the way I went about putting the album together, having Karl Langerfeld do it, putting a team forth. And now you can see Drake has done that, put a team forth, has Jim Joe as creative director, and his house at O.V.O., and a movie. That’s what Vibes is, I’ve got Vibes on a chocolate bar, I got Vibes on bras, jeans, jackets, like Stussy, because Karl Langerfeld…that Vibes logo is as good as the Chanel logo or Fendi logo. So now Drake understood that after my album came out. Instead of the music just sticking in your head, the whole color of the album…because you see kids getting tattoos of…what’s the album? If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. My boy Jim Joe wrote that, and he studies the way you write lines, [and how] it can affect people, like the way lines are spread. If you read that Drake thing, it makes you feel a way, you don’t even know it. But the way you read, and that’s why this guy is going to be the next Picasso, who wrote that. You need to buy his art now, because it’s gonna be so cool. You can probably get it for $40 now, but it’s probably gonna be going for who knows later on in life. Now, everyone who reads that thing, like when you see Vibes everywhere, you know. It’s bigger than just an album, now it becomes a brand, so now that thing is becoming a brand, “6 God” is becoming a brand, you can put it on a hat, you can put it on a piece of chicken if you wanted to, whatever, and now it can live on. So now it’s a different platform of albums and being creative with your themes. Kids like Young Thug, he probably doesn’t have the right people around him who care about him, so these guys are just raw talented and you can actually bring them to this side too, you know a musical creative director, and boom. I think people really looked at Vibes, and people don’t wanna say it, it really inspired a lot of people, and it’s really ahead of it’s time, and it’s cool.
DT: So you brought up Young Thug. Are you listening to Young Thug?
TL: I’m a huge fan of Young Thug, I understand where he’s at in his life. I think it’s a huge end of an era for Cash Money. All labels fall. I mean, Rockafella can’t stand forever, Death Row they can’t stand forever, I don’t think So So Def is one, but all of those big labels that have acts. Bad Boy, all of those. And then Kanye has to choose a side. People have to choose a side, so I think Young Money/Cash Money, whatever you want to call it, I think it’s the biggest thing that’s about to fall down, and get a new thing going. They have great acts like Drake and Nicki [Minaj], but I think [Lil] Wayne, his time is up. And he’s not making the music anymore, and maybe it’s because he’s done, maybe he’s said everything he has to say, but Young Thug is continuing it in a new way for the kids growing up now. The kids growing up now maybe can’t listen to Lil Wayne. I think Young Thug is at a place in his life where drugs and his talent are so good that it’s created a demon inside of him, and he has this demon inside of him that’s speaking from his spirit. And he has skill, one thing people don’t have anymore is skill. Young Thug has a skill that he conforms to, and he knows how to go to that place. And I think it’s brilliant. It’s such a young time for him, people don’t understand. It’s a moment, he’s growing up in front of our eyes. He doesn’t have an album out and we don’t know of him, but he’s gonna be a legend and so by the time his album comes out, it’s like *boom* it’s ready. A lot of kids don’t have that. Like me, and [A$AP] Rocky we just jumped out of the gate, because people liked what we do and get to the point where we’re closing out the B.E.T. Awards or opening up the M.T.V. Awards. We got out so quick with an idea that we don’t become legendary so fast. He’s doing a great thing with what he’s doing. He’s recording every day, he’s like the spirit of Tupac. So if he dies today, God forbid, he has like seven albums to put out, so I think it’s great. It’s like Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson, if you’re in the spirit with your talent, like…I used to mumble my words too, but I knew what I was saying. I’d come up with different things, and different things I come up with to express myself and Young Thug has that. Like, when you don’t know what he’s saying in his music, but you can feel it. Like when he says “Dunadunadunadunadun” [to the tune of “Danny Glover”] you don’t need to know what he’s saying, but he knows what he’s saying, so. Michael Jackson had that too and…I think he’s as good as Celine Dion and Mariah Carey as far as singing goes. He probably doesn’t know how good he is, but he’s really good.
-Max Blackman and DiAnthony Talmadge