Theophilus London’s is currently living through very weird timez, or at least that’s what he likes to call it. There are record label meetings, international concerts, private meeting with Kanye West and that’s just the past few weeks.
With three mixtapes and one album behind him at the fresh young age of 23, TL is quickly making his mark on youth culture and changing the way people connect with hip-hop. “It’s all about your ideas and making them come to fruition. In this fast paced world everything is soon to be in a fucking chip in our fucking assholes…” he says over the phone. This Trinidad born and Brooklyn raised rapper is pushing (and so far succeeding in) bringing his ideas to light before those chips make it anywhere close. Call his music new wave, hip-hop or pop, in the end it doesn’t matter— there’s no denying that it’s some good, pure 2011 shit.
TL just woke up from a nap in his Miami hotel room and is already on his second interview of the day. He charmingly answers questions about everything from his mixtapes to his debut album, Timez Are Weird These Days, to Twitter and Basquiat. He even discussed how dropping a mixtape link is no longer as dope as it used to be and the intricacies of being a pisces. Don’t pass this kid off as young and naïve because his weird timez are about to infiltrate ours.
When did you start rapping?
I was in my cousin’s bedroom. They were gonna cipher and I was like oh shit let me try this shit. Basically, all they did was rhyme words and talk about shit that they don’t got, so I started doing it. I was like I’m in a gold Range Rover, Hova. It was a two liner and everybody was like ohhhhhh, yo man you should really do this. They were like keep going, keep going. When everybody left I kept going to see if I was good or not. I brought it to school the next day. I spit a rhyme and they were like eh, it’s all right. I’m not so confident in my rhymes, so I tried to get the most obscure Jay-Z rhymes that I didn’t think anyone in my school was listening to because everybody was into the “Thong Song.” I was like let me get the most obscure Jay-Z lines and I copied them and recited them in school in like 5th grade and everybody thought I was this amazing rapper.
How old were you at the time?
I was like 13. I didn’t understand anything [Jay-Z] was talking about in the lyrics. I don’t think anybody believed it because I was definitely not living his lifestyle, but some guys believed it. Eventually I started writing my own rhymes and I got in the spirit of it seeing people get wild and go ahhhhhh ohhhhhhh. Everybody was like freaking out so it inspired me to go home and write my own verse and really have a passion to do it and figure out everything I could’ve bought at the age I was.
When was the first moment you knew that you were going to be big?
After This Charming Mixtape. I made that mixtape and when I dropped the link that night—you know it’s so dope to drop a link. Links right now are so overrated, so hyped up, so past tense all these links, but it used to be links that were so dope like you pressed that shit and you knew that was it. I dropped This Charming Mixtape link and then I got calls from a couple idols. I got calls from Mark Ronson, A-Track all these guys freaking out like I gotta meet you, it’s the most brilliant thing I’ve heard in a long time. All these lawyers, like 20 million labels hit me, mad managers trying to meet me. I was like why does everybody want to meet me?
What do you think it was about This Charming Mixtape that made everyone click that link?
The innocence of it, man. I noticed that when artists are super broke, they’re super hungry for all the obvious reasons. I just made that in the spirit of just recording in my friend’s closet, it’s all of our ideas. That’s the first time it got me in the whole mentality of my career. I had to wake up in the morning, start working on the artwork, go to libraries and look through vintage magazines, pull references. I sat down and had board meetings with like four people in a room, make decisions. Just to be at a control room of your own art.
[It was] at that early age where all these mixtapes started getting good, mixtapes were breaking artists for the first time. It was around that time that music was very open wide. The best rappers in the world were kind of over rap. Kanye just put out that 808 & Heartbreaks record, Jay-Z’s like fuck rap. So it was wide open for creativity to come in.
Also what happened with This Charming Mixtape was that it opened up my international market. So I said fuck America. If they don’t want to appreciate this shit then I’m out. I went to London for weeks on weeks on weeks and met with all these brand new people that changed my life. I met with all the people that I remixed on this mixtape except for Whitney Houston. But that was just surreal. I was all over Europe and America was like why you don’t love us? Come back.
So Europe picked you up before America did?
Totally. It’s cool man. A lot of brilliant minds over there, a lot of thinkers all over the world. America appreciates all the bullshit stories behind it like who is he dating? Is he gay? Who’s he sleeping with? And all this other bull shit. All they care about in Germany is the fucking music. They don’t care about 50 Cent annihilating Ja Rule. You just go to Germany and tour the country and be like Prince Charles over there because it’s just music.
How’d you come up with the title Timez Are Weird These Days for your album?
Well I was on a flight from the Dominican Republic back to New York— it was pretty weird. I played a show in the Dominican Republic— pretty weird.
The name of the album was originally Love is Real. I was writing a tight song called “Love is Real” about modern love, but I’m a Pisces and Pisces gets an idea and then wake up the next day like nahhh. As a Pisces things have to feel right. I knew that was a good album title, I knew that was what I wanted to do when I first initially started, but at the end it didn’t feel right. Everything can change until that moment it comes out. I just went back in with my mind frame and I was like alright I’m gonna listen to this album, I’m gonna add some more records to it, take some records off. Actually a lot of the records I took out are like my favorite records now. That’s why I’m putting together this mixtape because all my favorite records got taken off Timez Are Weird These Days. (Laughs)
They’re going to be on the Prince TL mixtape?
Yeah. That’s gonna come out like late September, early September depending on how this September looks.
From opening for Chromeo at Freaky Deaky 2 Halloween Show in October to headlining a couple of weeks ago at The Bowery Ballroom how have your performances grown?
I’ve learned more that this audience has come here for me. Hopefully everyone in the room has my music in their iPod or they have an opinion on me or they have something in their head about what I am. I know that I have to come out every night and reinvent what I am to them when they can see me live and touch my hand.
The best part is that I’m only 23, which is hot and pretty sexy that I’m 23, but I think the best part is that I have so much more room to grow, to learn, to kill the live show. Everyday it’s like more focus. It’s at a young stage right now, it’s not like I’m at the world stage, but I’m headed there and when I get there it’s gonna be fucking flawless.
How are you embracing the online world in a way that the rest aren’t?
You just gotta be real, man. You just gotta be real and be yourself. You gotta kind of invent, especially on the DIY stuff. That’s how I got started and I never want to change that to some robot tweeting for me or some guy who’s getting a 9 to 5 check tweeting for me. Fuck that. You kind of have to separate yourself from selling your own music or selling yourself. Maybe someone else can do that better, but I like this connection I have. Maybe it’s something new, maybe this is a path that a lot of artists are gonna follow. I think a lot of people follow my Twitter just to see the antics or I wake up in the morning and have an idea and I just put it out. On some raw shit— just fucking live your life. I think there’s a fine line with an artist really promoting themselves on Twitter to just promoting his lifestyle. I would never walk into a room in a promotional t-shirt that had my album date on it and my CD’s in my hand like yo, buy my CD! You like hip-hop? You might like this. I’m never that guy, but mentally I can channel that on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not just about my music, I show people my lifestyle and people like that shit. I know some girls that my Twitter goes to their text messages. If my tweets are going straight to your phone that’s crazy, I gotta really tweet some good shit.
You always wear those really sparkly shirts at your shows…Tell me about those.
I design those. They’ll be for sale this holiday. I’m working on three tanks, they’re couture. I’m releasing them in the fall so you’re gonna have to wear them with a blazer on top of it, which is kind of how I wanted it to be worn. They’re just awesome to me. The line is called LVRS it stands for The Lovers– a creative company that I started 2 years ago. The LVRS is kind of a couture line, it’s definitely gonna be up in the price range, but it’s gonna be tight. It’s tight to have a vision and just do it. You gotta make that shit happen, man. It’s all about culture.
I really think men get cheated out from the amazing fabric at the womens store. From the bra to the panties to the blouse all that shit feels good on your skin. A lot of dudes are wearing a lot of rough fabric that’s why they come outside feeling rough. I’m gonna change that up.
You were recently compared to Basquiat in an New York Times piece. What did that feel like for you?
It was weird, but it’s cool. My album is called Timez Are Weird These Days, that’s my excuse for everything. I’m gonna blame it on the times, man. Timez is weird. I thought it was accurate. I mean I think if Basquiat was alive today he’d definitely have a Tumblr, he’d definitely be as sexy as me and he’d definitely have influences, Madonna wanted to be kicking it with him, Andy Warhol. I’m back and forth with Kanye who’s like everyone’s looking at as like that guy. I think it’s pretty accurate, yeah.
Your new song “I Stand Alone” kind of sounds more like rock and has been compared to The Police. Would you say your style of music is changing from hip-hop to rock?
No, not at all. I can do anything I want to do and I kind of know that. My sounds aren’t gonna change from pop to rock. I have new influences. My sound isn’t gonna be the same for years on years on years. I wanted to make a pop record in 2011. I wanted to make shit where I could be on Jimmy Kimmel and go to 90210 the next morning and then go to Venice, Italy and then go to Trinidad and Tobago to perform. It’s been an exotic tour and I feel like it’s because of the music. It’s because of the openness; it’s because of the freeness of the music. You can’t put your genre on it, you can’t put your tongue on it, but you want to put your tongue on it.
I think that’s what really excited me about what I’m making right now. I feel like, I don’t want to compare myself to anyone, but even guys like Prince when he put out a record where he was just wearing a thong on the cover, what the fuck are you gonna call that? Ain’t no Pitchfork dude that can right a review of that. No one wants to hear your take on it. This is good, it’s current, it’s happening right now, it’s passionate and it has years of evolvement to go with it.
That’s the scary part that this guy has five more records to make with no identity crisis, using my real name. I’m just excited with where it’s going. I think the next albums gonna sound curious. I’m going down tempo, a lot of saxophone solos, a lot of electric guitar, a lot of emotional raps like fucking chicks singing. Good songs, anthems that I can play at festivals and shit. Show my eyes.
Can we expect to see you without your sunglasses anytime soon?
Yeah, I promised myself the third album that I’ll be sunglasses-less. It’s gonna be awesome. I’m gonna have a lot of hair. I’m gonna have a huge mustache, a big beard. I’m gonna be sunglasses-less in the album photo and it’s just gonna be all black and my photo in black and white. Just a big face, so for the first time you can see my smile.
Who’s your dream collaboration?
David Byrne if he was a little younger or if Prince was 18.
If you could describe yourself in 3 words what would they be?
Tall (pause). Dark (pause). And handsome!
What’s your favorite color?
I don’t have one at the moment. I’m very into camouflage. Salmon could be one, but it changes everyday. If you have a favorite color for the rest of your life, you’re living a dull fucking life. My colors change every week like oh shit this color’s tight. Next
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