Reporting Shannon Carlin
On his latest single “Rio,” Theophilus London gets funky by channeling the soul greats of the ’70s. On the horn-laden throwback track, featuring the Menahan Street Band, the Brooklyn rapper shows off his sultry vocals and sounds far more relaxed than he did on his 2011 debut, Timez Are Weird These Days.
“I wanted to put a vibe out there that would change people’s taste buds of what they perceive me to be,” London told Radio.com. “So I teamed up with the Menahan Street Band and you know we made a classic song.”
But this song won’t be on London’s upcoming album Vibezz–tentatively slated for release this fall—instead it’s just a treat for fans looking to hear something new. London says the album itself will be much different from anything else he’s every done.
When asked what it will sound like, London offered a few different descriptions: “It’s like real new-school, new-beat. It’s like digital. It’s like progressive electric funk.” Then he just cut to the chase: “I’m trying to predict the future instead of being nostalgic.”
London is tired of people talking about the good ol’ days of hip-hop. “When the ‘80s were happening, everyone was trying to predict the future,” he said. ”But this generation now, they’re trying to think about the past.”
To develop his avant sound, London first had to get out of his hometown where he says he was starting to feel a bit lost. “Being a new artist everybody wants to invite you to this party or this thing is happening or come to this show…You get caught up because you want to say yes to everything,” London said. “But at the end of the day, when you really made [the music], you were by yourself, in your closet, just being personal.”
In the two years since his debut, London has spent four months in Paris working with French house producer Brodinski and two months in Germany working with Austrian producer CID RIM. “They’re brand new producers people don’t know,” London said of his collaborators. “I wanted to do something new. New idea.”
He’s currently finishing up the album in Palm Springs, California where he rented a big house. “It’s like mid-century modern,” London said. “I have a studio in the living room and I’m writing some good songs.” He spends 24/7 just writing and recording, something that he would never have been able to do in New York City.
London isn’t the same artist he was two years ago. He’s more focused, and he’s determined to stand out from the crowd. This means he’s willing to try out new things, including throwing out conventional ideas of how to record an album. “I’m tired of the idea of renting a studio that all these same artists go to and it’s the same gear, same sound, same plug-ins. What’s personal about it?” the 26-year-old rapper asked. “Everybody’s coming out with the same sound and having all this f***ing equipment to be so perfect now. Where’s the human error?”
While London’s debut was a fun, highly-produced party record that gave fans songs like “Last Name London” and “Why Even Try,” which featured Sara Quin from Tegan and Sara, this time around he is more interested in highlighting his flaws, musically and personally. “I’m talking about different topics,” London said, rattling off a few different titles including the relationship focused “You’re Gonna Need Somebody,” the R. Stevie Moore song “Everyone But Everyone,” and “Smoke Dancehalls,” a bumpin’ and grindin’ reggae track. “It’s really my story.”
But even more than being personal, London wants his upcoming album to help expand the definition of hip-hop music. Just as Kanye West did with Yeezus.
“People are too comfortable in what they’re doing,” London said about the current state of rap music. “That’s why I love the Yeezus record, it’s defining what music is, you know? Kanye, like Prince when he first hit the scene, is just making genre-less music. And I just see what he’s doing and it sounds dope. I just want to give myself something new that I made and I can listen to at the end of the day and be like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’”