Interview: Theophilus London Doesn't Want To Be A Rapper
Theophilus London isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Much like the ways of his new collaborator Kanye West, Theo will spazz out -- just not publicly (usually) -- about his position amongst his hip-hop contemporaries. For instance, when asked about his favorite songs on his new album, Vibes, the Trinidadian-born rapper started off talking about his 1980s-sounding, uptempo cut "Nue Law." But, soon after, he veered off into a lengthy vent about himself and fellow MCs.
“I don’t want to be in the rap lane," he said. "I never want to be on the XXL cover with those kids. I’m not a rapper. I don’t have to fight to let people know that. I don’t really care. I don’t even remember what we were talking about.”
Some people only vent to garner attention, but not London. He has a solid fan base to push albums to. And, with Yeezy as the executive producer of his new album Vibes. Theo has earned enough stripes to be as boastful as he wants.
After a slew of mixtapes like Jam (2008), The Charming Mixtape (2009), I Want You (2010), the artist released his Warner Bros. Records debut album Timez Are Weird These Days In 2011. The album landed on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums charts at No. 30. Then in 2012, London joined forces with A$AP Rocky for the radio-friendly "Big Spender." To finish out 2014 strong, Theo is back with his sophomore project to continue stamping his brash and cocksure voice on the culture.
Decked in all black, including black shades, Theophilus stopped by VIBE’s offices to discuss his new LP, Kanye West, why he doesn’t want to be considered a rapper and much more.
VIBE: What was the process like making this album?
Theophilus: I moved to Palm Springs, [Florida] for a year. Bought a vintage house. Built a studio in the house. Invited Leon Ware over. Played him all thirteen of my demos. So, we just wrote in Palm Springs the whole year.
What are your favorite songs on the album?
I love “Do Girls” I like the authentic story in that. Young Black guy hanging out in Paris. Hanging out with all of the models. “Do Girls” is still very Parisian but it’s still very New York. It has a very good hip-hop tempo.
How did that song come about?
I remember working on that song in an Uber with Kanye. And, he got in the car and he was like, ‘Yo, plug it in.” The speakers were super janky, but he’s such a genius that he still gave me great notes. So, I had to keep the notes until the next day. And, he was like, ‘You know what? I’m sorry I didn’t have enough time to talk about the album. Can you fly with me to Austin, Texas tomorrow?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, dude.’ And as soon as the plane got in the air he was like,‘Theo, put on your album.’ And, that was the first time he heard the album.
Have any other favorites?
Another personal favorite is “Neu Law,” written by John Mouse, one of the songwriters that I hold dear to my heart. “Neu Law” is about authority. Having that powerful presence. Even if the law is crooked you got to abide by it. I also like “Smoke Interlude.” It’s written about sex. A friend’s girlfriend put on her Instagram that every bad boys needs a good girl to only be bad to him. And every bad guy needs a good girl to only be bad to her. So, I thought that was pretty powerful. So, I decided to write a song about that. I had this girl over from Paris. And, she was the only female vocalist on the album. And, she’s singing songs about sex, and hurt me, and fuck me, and teach me dirty tricks. And, I’m just saying yeah, ‘I’m on a good boy, good girl vibe.’
Is that what inspired the name of the album?
I named the album Vibes after all the relationships and it explains a good feeling.
So, how did Kanye become involved with the album?
I played him a song from the album and he was like, ‘Yo, I want to help make it better.’ He sees things that I don’t see. And, he can hear everything. He had a lot of ideas. He’s just a good genuine friend. And, he really wants to help me out.
Have you ever disagreed to something that he suggested?
Kanye wanted me to do only eight songs. But, I told him that he should do that. I have twelve on there.
Why did he only want you to do eight?
He looked at my stuff. He looked at the artwork and heard the music and said, ‘This is a classic album.’ You don’t want to add anything extra on it. Make it eight songs.” I told him that I haven’t put a record out in two years. I really haven’t treated myself in two years. This is like the second rebirth of me.
Ok. You said earlier that Kanye thinks you’re a “sick cultural leader.”
Yes, he thinks I’m a good songwriter. He told me that I’m a better musician than him. I don’t think he was telling the truth. We look up to each other and it’s crazy that he admires me because I super admire him. I learned a lot. I think it was fate. As soon as we met we just clicked. I’m happy to hear two Black man get this far with a braggadocios lifestyles of rapping. But, we also have a conscious too. It’s also a big moment for me because I’ve seen Kanye his whole career trying to fight, whether it was MTV didn’t want to play him or Jay Z overshadowing him.
You’re very creative. Where does that come from?
I just feel like a kid, three-years-old in my head. I have the skills to talk to people. I just want to be a three-year-old in my head and be a smart 26-year-old too.
Why don’t you want to be called a rapper?
I don’t just sit back and write raps and you do the beat. I pick the producers through my social awareness of the culture. I start having production meetings with them. But, before I collaborate with someone I have to be friends with them. I got to be able to look them in the eye. I got to be able to be naked. That’s the only way people can get on my album.
So, this is about more than the music to you?
I’m a culture... Well, I would never call myself an icon, but people call me an cultural kid. And, I can express myself through more than just rap. I don’t just rap, rap, rap, rap. That shit corny to me. ‘Cause you just rapping about braggadocios things. And, you wrote that rap in five minutes. It took Kanye West two months to write that "Can’t Stop” verse for me. And, literally everyday he hit me back like, ‘I got eight lines, I’m looking for four more.’ These kids ain’t doing that. Dudes is like, ‘I’ll write this tonight.” I can’t sit down and rap with any rappers. My music is made on a whim. I’ve never written with anyone before. The only person I’ve ever wrote with was Kanye.
So, why should people purchase Vibes?
Vibes is not about me. Its really about the culture. Each of those songs, you can live in them. That’s why directors love my music because they love discorded films. It’s not too controversial, I’m not calling special girls in the community, hoes, keeping the women mentality down by having them thinking that’s what they are. I’m not into that, I'm not into that. I’m like one of the only kids in this lane.