The "Big Spender" creator opens up about EDM, collabs and why the urban niche doesn’t suit him.
Words and Interview by Zoy Britton.
Theophilus London coolly emerges from his trailer, proclaiming that he would prefer to do our interview outdoors, much to my sweaty chagrin. Clad in his usual dark sunglasses, camel-colored jeans and his (current) signature Rochembau wide brim Borsalino- styled hat, the 25-year old Trinidadian-born Brooklynite saunters over to the white plastic chairs and plops down. Even sitting, his tall frame plays palm tree shade delights, towering over my 5’1 figure as I flash longing glances at his air-conditioned trailer.
London is no stranger to the high-end fashion scene and is well-known for his natural fashion-forward style. He’s been praised by the likes of Kanye West and GQ. But don’t call him a fashion designer regardless of how many collabs he’s done with brands from Del Toro, Supreme, Stussy to Surface by Air. “I’m just going to say, [I’m a] curious designer. When I’m bored, it’s something I just do to pass the time. I like to revamp things, like I make to make things better in my eye, but I don’t put out own lines…I just collab with my favorite brands.”
London’s distinct idiosyncrasies have helped push him into the mainstream despite his underground tendencies. His song “Neighbors” is on the Twilight: Breaking Dawn saga soundtrack. How much more mainstream can you get? Still, London won’t let anyone deter him from representing himself and his brand how he wants: “[I] only work with people that I admire or grew up admiring, like when I sat down and worked with Bushmills—the whiskey. It’s like promoting French shit since way back and that was a cool campaign…. You got to really put your shit into what you believe in.”
He is a man protective of his brand, who likens his penchant for a particular image to that of Chanel’s iconic creative director, Karl Lagerfeld. The elder wears a black suit to every public event to the effect of “creating [a distinct and memorable] image”— the stuff of legacies. London has gone so far as to market his style and demeanor as a lifestyle all the same. Enter his fashion-based insignia called “LVRS,” which can often be seen on various collaborative merchandise: “…it’s not about money it’s about following your heart and following your dreams, but I don’t want to sound cliché. It’s family-based, curiosity; not being afraid to try shit, challenging yourself.”
Though London can loosely be termed a “rapper,” he is so much more than that. He embodies layer upon layer of artistic inspiration. He is both assertive and zen; a man who uses intelligence, exploration and creativity to drive his artistic points home. Plus, he epitomizes that “artistic lover” type with a broodingly dark but charming disposition and a seemingly “could care less” attitude that only serves to make you want to explore beyond the surface. His appeal is clearly working.
From Mark Ronson, Big Boi to Solange Knowles and A$AP Rocky, London has worked with a plethora of mainstream figures, giving him exposure but not influencing his emerging iconic style. It’s an impressive feat, considering how many underground artists give in and go mainstream once they access that community. Instead, London has chosen to take his extensive access and apply his own touch to what appears to be one part new wave EDM, one part social commentary and one part retro disco, R&B and hip-hop influences.
His musical and visual sensibilities can be easily defined by the video “Girls Girls $” off of the These Days record. The song and visuals perfectly match, playing funky cartoons against real world backgrounds, like a bodega to mock the fake personality fronts that so many folks—music industry not withstanding—employ. The visuals, courtesy of Ben Solomon were birthed from a “cryptic e-mail” that London sent him, which included “…mad spaces everywhere, [misspelled words] and just my thoughts real quick… and [somehow the video came out as] exactly what I wrote. [Solomon is] so genius for doing that.”
From Jam to Timez Are Weird These Days and its progressive EDM counterpart Timez Are Weird These Nights (2012), London’s albums and mixtapes progressively display ample growth and versatility. Perhaps his major influences, like German electronica pioneers Kraftwerk, are to blame, having inspired him throughout his evolution from Bed Stuy lyricist to a noticeably more sophisticated, synth-centered, disco-percussion lover. Think “Wine and Chocolate” off his latest album, These Days. Don’t even talk about These Nights; the remixed album is a progressive EDM haven, and serves as a compilation of some of the most groundbreaking international producers today including Scotland’s Linus Loves duo, Jeffrey Jerusalem and Brodinski.
But London has been tweaking genres since he began seriously pursuing a musical career in hip-hop, so it should come as no surprise that he would ride through the barriers into EDM music, even before EDM became the new wave (no pun). And now that EDM has hit a new level of mainstream popularity from David Guetta collabs with Nicki Minaj to major music concerts like Jay- Z’s “Made In America,” which headlines acts like Skrillex, Run-DMC and Drake, it will be fascinating to see where London lands on the spectrum as he develops his craft. One thing is for sure, London isn’t selling out for any of his licks: “I’m not compromising my music to be mainstream, it has to be abrupt, like, ‘Oh fuck, we got a good song or single and it’s doing it’s thing.’”
Speaking from experience, and why he makes it a point to shy away from the labels and category that so many hip-hoppers seem to be running away from in search of greener pastures—you know, the “urban” niche— London says, “I moved away from all that underground shit because when people are in a group and they come up together, they just bash you. I just want to be here for a long time and the people that support me, the reason why I got money in my pocket, I want to support them back with good shit.”