We connected with Theodor Black, the South London rapper with a penchant for spoken-word like verses lacing minimal, ambient tracks to talk about his music, inspirations and what’s in store for him in the near future.
Can you talk to me about the inspiration behind your track, ‘Swoon’.
TB: Swoon is a bit of a, I don’t know, a romantic tragedy.
And was it inspired from something that happened in your real life or was this entirely fiction?
TB: I kind of adapt in a way in which it sounds more alluding? You know, more like a feeling. The definition of the word swoon is “overcome with admiration” and the tracks just come up as a representation of that. Sort of like…admiration for the artistic process.
What do you think your song writing really speaks of? What moves you?
TB: Love is something I like to write about a lot. And also, the space that I’ve grown up in, London. That’s shaped me as a person and shaped my outlook in life and career as well. I like to write about the things that I’ve experienced in the city. The hardships and also all the romance. It’s tied into all of that. Almost like an audio journal.
How does London inspire your work? Does it propel you to do more?
TB: Being an ethnic minority in a white dominated place can be hard sometimes. Just some of the things you witness, it can play on your mind. I’m trying to get to a point where I can talk about it in my music. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the city because while, it’s a space which allows me to do as I please, it is the land of opportunity, but there’s also a lot of other struggles that come with it. It’s a densely populated place.
I find that to be the case with a lot of big cities. They have so much to offer but then you also have to give back a lot in return. They ask a lot of you.
TB: Exactly, yeah.
Have you ever considered moving across the pond? Somewhere you think you’d be inspired?
TB: Yeah, I mean definitely but I would say I’m still quite young and really early on in my career and what I’m doing. The opportunity will definitely arise when I’ll be able to go travel and see other places. I definitely want to try living in Berlin. Somewhere more liberal. It would be quite inspiring to see how other people live in other places. Paris is also one of the places I would really, really like to live in as well.
One of the most romantic places. Literally and otherwise.
I hope it works out in the future. And, perhaps we’ll see tinges of it in your music as well.
TB: It’s important to see different places. It’s a life experience and it’s important to have that.
You’re currently pursuing graphic design at UCL. How did the journey to making music professionally happen?
TB: Yeah, I finished uni though.
TB: Thank you! In all honesty, like, I’ve been writing for a long time and making music just kind of came along with. I come from a first-generation immigrant family. There was an expectation to go to university. Your parents come in and work really hard. That was the main reason why I went. I was studying an Arts degree which is cool. Through finishing the degree, I realized I wish to pursue music for as long as possible.
Do you think it affected your music in anyway? Or was it just something that you had to do?
TB: Uhm, no. It was a good experience. I mean, I chat a lot of shit about school but at the end of the day it’s helped me. I’ve met a lot of cool people who’re creatives as well. That’s helped my creative taste evolve.
And, I think that reflects a lot in your videos. Are you involved in the conceptualization of your videos? TB: Absolutely, I direct them. For example, the video for ‘Art’, how did you find yourself attracted to almost a pop-art aesthetic?
TB: I don’t know. It’s weird. The way my mind works is interesting. I’ll see something and subconsciously implement into what I’m doing. I kind of like the idea of the whole dramatic aspect of music videos. How you create this whole little world of your own and draw people into that. The best way to communicate with an audience is video. You’re saying more than just words.
The word ‘blue’ comes up a lot in your songs. What does it mean for you?
TB: I’ve always been drawn to the color blue. I think it’s just beautiful. On a sunny day, if you look up at the sky, it’s the first thing you see. I feel like blue is the kind of color that you can almost just get lost within. Even the ocean’s blue; all the things that provoke, you know? Your thoughts and imaginations seem to be blue for some reason.
There’s something about it that makes you feel very limitless. Do you know what I mean?
TB: Yeah, it makes you feel infinite.
Would you say that you find yourself inspired by the earth a lot?
TB: Yeah, definitely. Growing up, I spent a lot of time being outdoors. Where I live currently, there’s a lot of greenery and open space since it’s at the outskirts of the city. It helps you to process your thoughts, gives you time to think, it’s quiet.
What is a regular day for you in terms of your songwriting. What’s your process? Do you have one?
TB: Everything I do is super spontaneous. It’s just about whatever feels right. On an average day, I will be making music like any other day, whether it’s mixing beats or writing. Most of the time, the stuff I really like or want to put out just happens.
It’s a lot more subconscious?
TB: Yeah, I like that aspect of the process. Your mind is telling you something that you don’t know and then you just go over what you’ve written or made and it’s like “Oh, this gives me more clarity on how I feel about a certain situation.”
I noticed a distinct difference between your EP and the sound of ‘Weekends.’ Is this a time for a newer sound for you?
TB: I try to remain unpredictable. I don’t want to have like a consistent sound. I think that’s quite boring. I don’t want people to say, ah you’re a jazz/hip hop artist. I want that to be my main thing but then there’s also more to it since I’ve grown up listening so much music. I have so many different inspirations and I want to just represent all of that as much as possible.
Can you tell me two inspirations you find yourself going back to?
I always find myself going back to King Krule’s music. He’s super sick. I really like his songs. Very deep and like expressive. That’s more of an alternative thing and I really do love like Nas, MF Doom
What are the highs and lows in this process for you?
TB: I would say that there’s definitely a lot of anxiety. Especially among young artists. Each show, there’s a lot of pressure on you to do well. You’ve got the whole world watching and waiting for you. But realistically, nobody is actually waiting for you. And sometimes it can be hard, you know? You get writer’s block. But, I’ve been living life with the philosophy to just live without expecting anything out of anything, you know? It just makes it a lot easier to just accept the process because when you have your mind set on one thing or one particular outcome and that doesn’t happen, it can just send you into a very depressive state. Have a goal in mind and you know, just let the process unravel itself.
If you could put your finger on the map, where would you want to perform at?
TB: I definitely would love to tour South America and also Africa would be awesome. I feel like a lot of artists don’t really tend to go to Africa except maybe South Africa. But, there’s a lot of creative stuff happening out there – it’s just that it doesn’t get much attention.
You’re inspired a lot by that sound?
TB: I mean I grew up around it. My mom is of west African heritage. She’s from Guinea. My Dad’s from Australia. And, the music they listen to definitely has an impact on the way I’ve listened to music. Would you say that you come from a slightly musical family? TB: Not musicians or anything. But my mom used to listen to lots of Madingo music which is from the Guinean region. My dad listens to a lot reggae and soul. And, my sister would listen to a lot of hip hop. I grew up in a household where music was constantly playing, it was engraved in our minds.
Your favorite track on black boy blues and why?
TB: Black Boy blues will be my favorite track. I really like the second half of the track which is the switch up. During the time I was working on the project, it was a dark phase but at the same time It was a period of growth. I was learning a lot about myself. It was like the last few years of being a teenager.
Do you get inspired to write by your dark times?
TB: Yeah, definitely! That’s the time I write my best stuff. Actually, nah I take that back. Like those emotions can be overwhelming. It helps you overcome those emotions. Those emotions can end up feeling really small. In retrospect, I look at how much I’ve grown. Like, a point in time where you feel a certain way and now you’ve like overcome that and it just helps you become more whole as a person, you know?
What would your dream collaboration be?
TB: I would love to work with Kaytranada, Sango, Goldlink, Saba as well.
Who would you say is the most exciting artist you’ve played with so far?
TB: I would say Osquello. He’s like a very close friend of mine. His music is very sporadic. It’s unexpected. He can be making like really soulful alternative rock and the next day he’s making a trap/hip hop song.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Reservoir collective?
TB: It was something I was a part of between the ages of 16 and 18. And, it was my first insight into London’s music scene. I met Virgil Hawkins when I was 16 and I was rapping in an American accent. He just kind of took me under his wing and introduced me to a lot of people and from there on out, things really started. I just got more involved with the scene as a whole. That was definitely a good period of progress for me.
And, why were you rapping in an American accent?
TB: I don’t know. I didn’t want to get mistaken as a grime artist. All the music I used to listen to was American hip hop. Now, I realize that it was super corny because I’m not from the states
Can you tell us a bit about a gig you had the most fun at?
TB: That would be when I opened for Mylo. That was super sick. The show was sold out and I performed in front of 300-400 people.
Was that your biggest audience so far, live?
TB: My biggest audience so far is 400, I think.
Do you not have any stage fright?
TB: I just get on stage and be myself. I focus on being myself as much as I possibly can.
What can we look forward to in the future?
TB: I’ve got two EPs ready to be released. I’m releasing a single this summer with a music video which will follow up.
How would you describe your upcoming music?
TB: Definitely more upbeat. A lot more uplifting.
Do you have any advice for kids that want to break into hip-hop?
TB: I mean, I’m still trying to figure out shit so I would say, do it for the fun of it. Don’t care about what anyone else is doing because whatever they’re doing is so different from you. Don’t get into it to be famous, you won’t enjoy it. Do it with genuine intention.
Anything else you’d want to talk to us about?
TB: Um, for the whole duration of the interview, I’ve been in Ikea eating meatballs.
I could hear cutlery the entire time.
Theodor Black erupts in laughter that’s both mischievous and warm.
Thanks for speaking us, Theodor.
TB: Thank you.
Words by Alina Gufran