Interview: Theophilus London “Vibes” with Kanye West & Leon Ware for Sophomore LP

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Words by Paul Meara (@PaulMeara)

Numerous critics and fans have called 2014 one of the worst years for hip-hop music in recent memory. Album sales are down. Many who we deem the kingpins of the sport haven’t yet or aren’t slated to drop LPs this year and the few who did, primarily misfired. Recently, Killer Mike & El-P’s Run The Jewels 2, Stalley’s Ohio and Logic’s Under Pressure have been well received by critics and fans. Add Vibes to that list as well.

What is Vibes? It’s a culmination of every lesson Brooklyn-based rapper Theophilus London learned over the past two years. It’s a representation of every teaching and experiment the 27-year-old has taken on. To understand Vibes, you have to understand the players who created the album. One of those is Kanye West.

You see, Kanye didn’t feel inspired and call Theo into his studio immediately. It took a lot longer for Theophilus to work with one of his heroes. It all began when West was cruising the streets of Paris. “Neu Law,” the most prevalent single London released at the time, was echoing through the system of ‘Ye’s whip. It was then that Kanye knew he wanted to become creatively involved in Vibes but it would be long after when the two would have their inaugural sit down and work on music. First, Theo had to learn though experiencing a slice of West’s life.

“We didn’t work on music right away,” Theophilus said in describing his initial encounters with Kanye. “We just did lifestyle like shop for things or like when I was supposed to go to L.A. to work with him for his verse for ‘Can’t Stop’ and he’d be like, ‘Yo, I’m going to an Opera with Kim and I want you to come.’ And I’m like, ‘Why do you want me to come to an opera?! I’m trying to write with this guy, why are we going to an opera?’” Theo admits spending time with Kanye and experiencing his lifestyle helped make working with him more seamless. The same goes for Leon Ware–another player on the album. Ware may not have the current pop culture relevance of a Kanye West but his contribution to music history is no less. Ware has worked with a slew of luminaries in the business. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Tina Turner has called on Ware for his services.

“He’s like real spiritual man,” Theo said regarding his relationship with Leon Ware. “I’ve never met a more spiritual guy than Leon. So beautiful, great family and he treats me like I’m his family.”

The two-year process that is Vibes and the culmination of learning, experiencing and improving finds its official release on Tuesday (November 4). Nah Right recently talked with Theophilus London about the album, his relationship with both Kanye West and Leon Ware and how his creativity shined through on his sophomore release.

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What’s been going on with you recently? 

Man, what’s been up with me… I just moved to Los Angeles. I’ve got this new album out called Vibes and I worked with my brother Kanye on his new record, man just a lot of shit.

It’s been a few years since you’ve dropped a retail album. You’ve dropped some mixtapes and EPs since Timez Are Weird These Days but what is it like to release another full body of work again and how excited are you for fans to be able to hear it and get it?

I’m really excited for everyone to hear it. I think a lot of people have heard it, not everyone. A lot of people have heard it on the stream. I’ve been taking care of putting it together for a few years. I know I’ve been like talked about every two minutes for the last 48 hours by some people you know? [laughs]. I’m just taking it in and just enjoying this shit because before, I’m hidden in a house, no one’s talking about me, nobody cared about me, invited me nowhere. So that whole thing has changed up and that’s cool. I’m going to see films a lot more, things like that.

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On the song “Smoke Dancehall” you say “I ain’t tryna school you, just spitting game / Make my country proud every time they hear my name.” How often do you think of Trinidad when you make music and how much of an influence do your roots have on your musical output?

They don’t care about me. Ima come clean, they don’t care about me like that. Shoutout to A$AP Ferg, he’s Trinidadian too but he’s had more success on the radio and stuff like that. I’m like Young Thug to these Trinidadian people; you know what I’m saying? I’ve been out here since 2009; I’ve been making waves. I had the most fashionable man of the year 2011/2012. I’ve got a little bit of accolades that they got to be happy that I’m from there or something like that. But I know the time’s going to be right when they’re going to be like, “Oh word, you is going to be successful.” You have to say that, they have to be like, “Oh, he’s from the home and we gotta support him.” I guess ‘cause people don’t understand what I’m doing. I’m going to have an album come out. I’m such a creative director; I’m such a social director. I’m making all these projects happen. I’m not just going to put out an album and be cool with it. I’m like a cultural kid. I’m going to give you some unorthodox shit, weird shit. You know what I’m saying?

Every time I have an album come out I’m going to grow and do something different and I’m just thinking like, “What the fuck? Who this kid think he is?” Yo, shout out to my homeland. Even the biggest artist from my homeland reached out and wanted to do a song and stuff but… I think people just be cheesy you know ‘cause I’m American. I mean, I’m Trinidadian too and I’m American too ‘cause I live here. So it’s like if I do something that relates to Trinidad it’s going to be through an American mind state, It’s going to be through everything I learned as an American and I’m going to apply it to what I know as a Trinidadian. I’m never going to make a full focus Trinidadian song, you know? [laughs]. This shit got to be in context with Thriller, it’s got to be in context with Ready To Die, it’s got to be in context with Eminem’s first album, it’s got to be in context with Ma$e’s first album, things like that.

Have you been feeling backlash from Trinidad like, “This isn’t really representing us, this is American music.” Have you been getting that from people you have had contact with from your home country?

I mean man, I don’t know, people saying that but I feel sorry for them ‘cause it’s all about a progressive people. You just going to get old and wrinkly and your kids going to like me so it’s like how I think about it.

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Vibes is dedicated to your aunt who passed away. Why did you decide to do that?

She connects with me spiritually, helped me with the whole album. She just passed away but she came back into the studio with me and never left. Hopefully she can see a little bit now but yeah, I like her man, she’s cool. I dedicate the album to her.

How long did it take you to make the album?

Two years. The first six months I would say I started the early production meetings with the people I wanted to work with. This album is like my very first album because nobody from the label or nobody said, “Yo, go write with this person.” This is all pre-thought like, “Who do I want to pick and start the ideas with?” When it comes to making music I’m very timid. I’m not nervous but I’m very timid. I know that I have to do good. Without Kanye’s name attached to it, trust me I would have put out a raw as fuck album and people would be like, “Yo let’s go, let’s do this!” That’s me, I’m going to build a vibe and go. So the people I got to work with really shaped the album.

But yeah it took me two years to write and the last six months of it, the last eight months of it was just like mixing the motherfucker, going back and fourth traveling to see where Kanye is in the world and then finding him and getting him to talk to me for 20 minutes ‘cause that’s all he needs. He’ll be like, “Alright, go to the next song, alright, go to three minutes in that song, alright go to the next song in the first chorus,” shit like that and then he’ll be like, “Change this, change this, change this.” I’ll go home and change it, come back and be like, “Hey bro, got the new results for you.” He’ll look at the results and be like, “Go change it, go change it, go change it, don’t do this, take off this song, just make your album eight songs,” all this weird shit he would say and I would go back and think about it and be like, “Alright this really works.” I don’t know how he works ‘cause I’ll go back and change it and then he’ll be like, “Oh yeah, it was supposed to be like that.”

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The story goes that Kanye decided to help out on the album and subsequently executive produce it after hearing “Neu Law.” What does it mean to you to have his guidance on Vibes?

It’s super special. He doesn’t executive produce nobody’s album. He just do features. And in the next few years he’s just focused on Yeezy season and nobody’s going to drop an album when he does [laughs] and I’m going to be super irrelevant. I’m glad my album came out right now and not when his album is about to come out. It’s dope though. It’s like sometimes I want to pinch myself. It’s one of those moments man. It’s like if I were to work with Michael Jackson and shit. I’m happy I get to do business with people, I know people can’t listen to my album in one day and have 700+ replies to me saying, “This is the most incredible album of the year, 10/10.” I get more people excited that one of the highest brow artists and one of the lowest brow artists meet up. People are excited about that, that’s dope for me–that Kanye would work with a kid like me, that’s a great message.

He doesn’t even have to talk or say nothing on Twitter or say nothing to the media about working with me ‘cause it’s even stronger. It’s so strong. I’m about to go meet up with him right now, I’m kind of late for the meeting. [I’m going] after I talk to you but like when he calls you, you better jump man just ‘cause he knows what the fuck he’s talking about. Just like if [Michael] Jordan said, “Hit the three, take it!” You better take that fucking three. And that’s Vibes I guess.

He’s also featured on the song “Can’t Stop.” Someone on my Twitter timeline today said that verse was the closest to vintage Kanye in a long time. You played the song for him and Kim [Kardashian] before he hopped on it and it was just the three of you for that mini session or whatever. You’ve also remarked that he took two months to write that verse…

Yeah he fucking killed it man. Like you said and to keep it surreal, ‘cause no one should ever ask Kanye to be on a track. He’s definitely not going to respond [laughs]. He wants to do what he wants to do. He likes pop culture, he knows what’s going on. Me and him have watched MTV Awards together, he peeped it out. And I’m like damn this is crazy. I used to joke around with one of my good friends and watch the MTV Awards and be like, “Aw, this sucks, this is something that I would never maybe do–try to go up and win an award or something and lets just make fun of it as much as we can.” So to sit down and make fun of it with [Kanye] was cool.

His verse on “Can’t Stop” was phenomenal. Every two weeks he would call me and be like, “I got eight lines done, I need eight more lines.” He puts that much time into each line and you can hear it. And he gave it to me on my birthday. I was supposed to turn in my album to my label in September for it to come out in February [laughs] but with Kanye not finishing this verse it’s like man it’s worthy to wait a year. It’s like if it takes a year, we’re going to wait a year. I know my label didn’t want me to tell them that but like I said I keep it rare, I keep it special and my label was happy too. It’s a special kind of collaboration to work with someone like this because it’s only good for music. It’s not just about being good for me with ‘Ye. When I get to that level, I’m going to do that for a kid so it’s just good for music.

You mention Kanye having you tweak things and make several changes on Vibes. How else did he guide you on this LP and what did you discuss when putting the project together?

He was first mentoring me as a human. Kanye’s so weird, he got like a dog eye like the technical shit that you don’t see so he’s not going to look at you first set, when you’re playing it weird. I caught onto him [laughs]. He will glance at my outfit, he glances at everyone’s outfit to make sure your outfit is acceptable for him to hang out with you [laughs]. I can do whatever I want when I’m around him. I’m never worried. But Kanye has mentored me in so many ways.

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The first time we were ever going to work with each other I was very nervous. I hit him and I’m like, “Hey man, I’m in town, working on my album.” I didn’t want to be like, “Can I write with you? Can we do something? We got a good friendship now, are you here?” or anything like that. He was like, “Yeah I think I’m going to go work on music in London.” So I go to meet up with him in London and I meet up with him. And he was like, “Meet me in front of Balenciaga.” And I’m like what? [laughs]. He was in front of Balenciaga and we go shopping for like seven hours, my computer’s in my hand, we’re going through a bunch of stores, Louis Vuitton, and they’ll be like, “We’re closed” but then they’d let ‘Ye in [laughs]. He kind of mentored me though like, “We’re not going to work on music right away. You got your computer but hold it.” We didn’t work on music right away. We just did lifestyle like shop for things or like when I was supposed to go to L.A. to work with him for his verse for “Can’t Stop” and he’d be like, “Yo, I’m going to an Opera with Kim and I want you to come.” And I’m like, “Why do you want me to come to an opera! I’m trying to write with this guy, why are we going to an opera?” I learned so much from going to the opera too. And like hanging around with his boys, having meetings or whatever. And now I’m in those meetings.

I know a lot of people, including myself, are asking you a lot about Kanye West, and it is a story. But to me, an equally big story about this album is Leon Ware’s involvement with it…

For real, I’m so happy you said that…

He’s also serving as a producer on Vibes. And he’s someone who has worked with Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, the list is long. He’s also featured on the song “Need Somebody.” What does his guidance and involvement mean to you?

[He’s] super spiritual, my godfather, my father. Like Kanye gives me the crazy, radical uncle-type and Leon Ware gives me the father advice and that’s the difference when it comes to music. Kanye’s like, “Yo, take out this crazy part.” Leon’s like, “Play G sharp for me [laughs].” You know what I’m saying? He’s like real spiritual man. I’ve never met a more spiritual guy than Leon. So beautiful, great family and he treats me like I’m his family so it’s cool.


What’s something he’s told you that has maybe stuck with you?

Everything that he told me [laughs].

You’re from Flatbush. Who are some of the artists from Brooklyn or even New York who you’ve always admired and taken inspiration from?

Jay Z, Ma$e, Puffy, Busta Rhymes even though he don’t like me, Missy Elliott and as the culture kept growing I was never really into Wu-Tang or stuff like that or, I wasn’t really into Nas like I am now. But I was about that Jay Z glamorous rap, talking ‘bout going to the Hamptons, wearing white tennis shoes with sexy light-skinned girls walking around, things like that. And that’s just my hip-hop background. I have a super Soul background. I tell everyone about it and it makes me sound like fucking, an idiot. I guess when I first came out, people [in] interviews would ask me what kind of music [I like] and I would be like, “Soul music, Marvin Gaye and all this shit.”


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How would you describe your own sound not just on Vibes but like if some one who didn’t know you asked “What kind of music do you do?” What would you tell them?

I’m just a voice man. I’m just a voice with a vision and direction and I could make African music if I wanted to but it’d just be through me, through this American mind. My sound is so abstract, I would never tell someone to go check me out. It’s like you got to go check it out yourself [laughs]. I can’t tell someone my music is this or that. We’re post genre right now. My music isn’t going to be in genre. If you think about it, genres are something that maybe will go with vinyl. Fuck a genre. If you’re making something old–I’m trying to be progressive. So it’s like I’m going to make it for the genre, this is my genre, but I’m just not that type of artist.

What’s coming up for you in the immediate future maybe not necessarily dealing with this album?

Man Vibes, Vibes, Vibes, Vibes and Vibes bro. I’m working on new Vibes right now. I’m about to go show ‘Ye the new Vibes I’m working on and the new album.

Photos via Theophilus London’s Instagram, Leon Ware’s Instagram

Videos via YouTube

Related: Theophilus London – Vibes (Album Stream) | Theophilus London – Do Girls

Previously: Made in Ohio: Stalley & Rashad on Ohio Culture and Music

Catch up on all NahRight interviews and features HERE.

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