2011 was a big year for Theophilus London; with the new year, he keeps up the momentum releasing not only a new mixtape, Prince TL, but also releasing a remix album of his debut Timez Are Weird These Days. In anticipation of his return to DC tonight at 930club, Theophilus allowed us to pick his brain about the importance of branding, criticisms of him selling out, and Beyonce (well, sort of).
BYT: Of your new music, “Big Spender” is hands down my favorite—when that beat drops, all hell breaks loose—how was working with A$AP Rocky?
Theophilus London: It’s been cool man, he’s been kinda like a good friend; we just [be] chillin’, when we have some time. I’m thinking of dropping “Big Spender” in like March, around springtime, when people start seeing more live shows. I know people want it right now, but they gotta wait.
BYT: You are a master collaborator musically, but what some fail to recognize are your skills as a businessman and brand builder—from Cole Haan to maintaining a blog on Hypebeast; what function does the brand have for you?
TL: I just want to be a lifestyle brand that just can be relatable to any age, any race—making the music and the culture a lifestyle.
BYT: It may confuse some as to why you would go the corporate promotional route, despite your history with Mountain Dew early on, and considering you’re talented enough to self-promote—how do you respond to criticisms of selling out?
TL: You know, if somebody like Pepsi sees your talent, and they want to sit down with you, and work on a contest for like a new single you want to put out… you work with them and market with them. You then got your posters up in the hood where kids are going to school, they’re checking you out on MTV, put out a video, etc. These things were taught to me early on, so now I’m not gonna be foolish and think that my only work ethic is for a label to sign me and figure out what they are gonna do with me. So when a label signs me now, now I’m working directly with the label to put out things and come up with creative decisions, and to market myself as an artist and to know who I am.
Working with brands has helped me to discover how to sit down and run a meeting, or how to lead a marketing plan, or go on tour and do all that; so working with brands is not selling out. There’s nothing wrong with selling out—my mom’s liking my shit, my family’s happy for me, I got a commercial coming out—selling out doesn’t mean anything. But if you wanna stay underground for the rest of your life, that’s cool, but selling out doesn’t mean anything.
You know if I’m doing a commercial for McDonald’s and shit but I don’t eat pork, like selling out, I’d never do a commercial for McDonald’s, I don’t believe in that outskirt or that brand. But working with Microsoft Bing, and them bringing awareness to the world and different things… just like making exciting things for people to feel related to.
BYT: I’m constantly impressed by the pathways your career has taken—it’s a long way from that initial mixtape on MySpace—can you briefly tell us about your most recent Bing partnership and Fan Remix contest?
TL: It was kind of both of our ideas, but I put the idea more into Bing’s hands; but it was definitely both of our ideas. When I attempted to reach out to Bing, we sat down together—I talked about my upcoming projects and shit, they told me about their company, and we discussed how we could work together on things. I don’t like meeting people, and like just giving them a pat on the back, “Good Job so far”—I’m about always working, being hands on. For this remix album, I wanted the dance remixes to play with that alternative sound and bring it to the club, like straight up big records. You know, kids like DJs like Skrillex, it’s a whole other realm.
BYT: A year ago it was Cannes Film Festival, this year it was Sundance (as part of that Bing partnership)—how was that experience in comparison to other festivals and concerts you’ve done?
TL: It was great man.
BYT: Of note, I’m really anxious for Common’s new film LUV—it got great reviews at Sundance if I’m not mistaken. Did you get a chance to check out any of the films presented?
TL: Unfortunately not, I was just there for a short period of time. I did run into Spike Lee, said what’s up to him.
BYT: Being a man about your brand—do you see TV or Film roles, or cameos, as a part of your plans?
TL: A lot of people are reaching out, telling me I have a nice look and body and all that, but I’m a fucking rapper man, so I’m here to rap—I’m not gonna be acting on a camera and all that. If that is gonna happen, I gotta take time off to do that, to study, to become a good thing.
BYT: Speaking of cameos, you weren’t too loud about this, but that Beyonce “Party” video was a good look. You and Solange were getting it!
TL: Yeah, that’s my homie, Solange. Some dude was like, they want you in the video, they’ve been looking at your photos, they want you as an extra. We came, they showed us love, we showed them love.
BYT: This time last year, I asked you what you were listening to on tour. Sorry I had to bomb you out for name dropping Katy Perry, but I have faith in you that the response has changed—what’s good on the iPod?
TL: Katy Perry.
BYT: Anything you want to say the fans ready and set to groove when you come back to DC?
TL: It could be my biggest show yet, you know what, cause I’m really excited. I’ve been on the circuit for four years just grinding hard, still staying fresh every year, staying fresh with new ideas. This will be my first time looking out for someone else musically; we have these kids opening for me called Phony Ppl, it’s my favorite shit out right now. I’m so happy to be giving them this opportunity to fuck with me on this tour. It’s gonna be so smooth, it’s so good for the culture. At my show, it’s gonna be a lot of new songs, and putting out some of the oldies; it’s gonna be a good—everybody’s going to come out looking fresh serving their neighborhoods.