Unfiltered and Unapologetic: Delving Into The Ingenious Art Of Theodor Black
With his Spotify streams totalling well over 150,000, these hazy and artistically fruitful tracks have planted South-East Londoner Theodor Black right in the middle of the underground scene, where his fan base have eagerly been waiting for the drop of his next project. With his next endeavour, the EP Garçon, being released on November 5th, it’s expected that we will hear a range of textures and sounds, as said by Theodor himself. From taking inspiration from anything and everything that he experiences through life, Theodor Black’s music is a reflection of himself by showing an inner-perceptive and raw emotion to his listeners.
As Theodor Black has been on a steady come-up in the UK’s alternative hip-hop scene within the past few years, the success of his debut EP ‘Black Boy Blues’ which was released back on 2018, has not gone unnoticed as he has not only proved that he is someone with an exceptional ability to mould poetic late night rap and oozing jazz sounds together but also, that fact that he is somebody who knows exactly what kind of musician he wants to be. From moving beyond The Reservoir Music collective that he used to be a part of, Theodor Black invites us into the depths of his mind for a few moments at a time to understand his vision of what life is like.
Theodor Black grew up in a small town called Charlton in South-East London. It was a small area that was predominantly white and described as a bubble where not many residents would travel into the city, which kept the community in many ways, separated from the many cultures and experiences. When he decided to move more into the city of London, his perspective changed as he indulged in the variety of people, culture and opportunity around him, which was a pivotal moment within his life.
Theodor was influenced by many different artists whilst he was growing up, and most of the time it came from his parents. With his father being a big Lovers Rock fan, a style of Reggae music, he reminisces listening to lots of Lovers Rock on an old school turn table in his youth. He also has a deep love for the Alternative genre, alongside Jazz and Hip-Hop, with his biggest influences being musicians such as HOMESHAKE, King Krule, MF DOOM, Nas, Haich Ber Na but also Miles Davies, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Although Theodor is someone who draws inspiration from life experiences, he creates his music with these sounds in mind and sometimes relates them to current issues such as in his track ‘SUB CULTURE’ which speaks on police brutality and systematic racism. As someone who wants to evoke raw thoughts and feelings throughout his craft, he fuses other aesthetics from cinema within his visuals which give his music a more refined and impactful effect on us all.
Theodor tends to be selective when it comes to collaborations. With his previous features including Kish! and Osquello, he moves on instinct and imagines certain people on his beats which usually comes together perfectly. With dream collaborations one day being from musicians such as Kaytranada or Sango he is always on the lookout for someone who is on the same wavelength as he is and sure enough he is someone who try at all lengths to make it a reality. With his top advice that he would pass onto someone would be to just go out and pursue what you want to do in life, he feels blessed that he was able to find a true inspiration in music and not let anything hold him back.
Read the full interview below.
Creative Direction Shenead Poroosotum and Matilda Sandi
Stylist Vero Jacobs
Interviewer Shenead Poroosotum
How did you come up with the name 'Theodor Black'?
So it was around the time when I just started dropping music. I was talking to my friend one day after school and I said “Yo, I have this name, I wanna start dropping music.” And at the time it was ‘Black Sam’, and he was like “Nah, that can’t run”. *laughs* and I was so pressed about it when he told me and I was like, “Okay, I have this other name in mind. Theodor Black.” And he said “Yeah, that’s calm.” And that was it. I just took that and ran with it.
In terms of the creation of Black Boy Blues, it’s an EP that has been described as having Jazz and Neo-Soul influences. With that in mind, who would you say are your influences when it comes to making music?
Ooh, there are loads of influences, like countless influences. For example some of my earliest encounters with music from when I was young, Lovers Rock, my dad was a big Lovers Rock fan. We had a turntable at home and he used to bang loads of that. I remember listening to loads of that when I was younger. But more recently it’s more of a mix of like, I don’t know. One day I’ll be listening to HOMESHAKE…
Oh, I love HOMESHAKE.
HOMESHAKE is sick. King Krule definitely. DEFINITELY. Big influence. And then yeah, hip hop wise. One that came up a lot was MF DOOM, Nas, I love Nas. So it’s like a mix of Indie and Hip Hop. I love Jazz as well. Miles Davies, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington… There’s loads.
Just to ask as well, Kojey Radical made a tweet saying that he thinks that the Alternative UK Hip-Hop scene is one of the best in the world, do you think you agree with that?
Yeah 100% the talent that comes out of the city is insane. They don’t gain enough credit or recognition. Because what I personally think is that the UK is just, not ready for that yet. Like it’s that simple. Like anywhere else in Europe or the states, there’s so many different sub-genres of music that are popping and getting the right attention. And that’s because the people are open-minded. But I don’t know, I just feel like people over here in the UK aren’t as open-minded to new things, you know? It usually takes a while for new trends to come in or go out. Right now what I would say is popping is drill. Like I love drill, can’t chat shit. You know that’s what’s popping right now. And that’s what people are going to consume. Until somebody somewhere goes “hey this is cool” and everybody else will go “Oh, this is cool.” But you know I think everything gets its time to shine, I’m not worried about the alternative scene because its time you know, and when it comes it’ll be long lasting because it’s authentic.
You’ve collaborated with a few artists here and there such as Kish! and Osquello who was on your latest track ‘STROLLING’ that came out a couple days ago. Would you say you’re quite selective with who you choose to collaborate with or is it anyone who just fits your vibe?
Nah, yeah I'm very picky with who I collaborate with. For example with Kish! That was when I first met Kish! which was in 2018 and we made that. And it was a case where I was like ‘I have this’ and he was like cool. And I only have two features on that EP, Kish! and Josif. Yeah those worked you know. I kind of move on instinct, like everything I do in life is out of pure instinct so if I'm working on something and I'm trying to think of someone who would be sick on it, okay “I feel like I was this person and that’s it. It isn’t like any deep thoughts it’s just instinct.
Along with that as well, your song ‘STROLLING’ was your second collaboration with Osquello as well as your other track ‘Swoon’. So what drew you to him in the first place?
Osquello’s sick. That’s it. Osquello’s hard fam. And also like we are friends aside from just music he’s my homie. So it’s never a question of asking him to be on a track it’s like he will always be down to collaborate.
Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with in the future?
I would love to work with Kaytranada. Kaytranada would be the one. And Sango.
Sango is really underrated because Kaytranada is really on the scene with the house and everything but, people don’t see Sango man.
It’s because Sango’s got that, obviously he’s Brazilian innit so he’s got that flavour to his music.
So who are your top artists on the scene at the moment or who do you really like or think are doing really well?
I really like what Amine’s doing right now, I think what he’s doing is really sick. I also really appreciate what Kojey Radical is doing as well. Just in terms of the UK alternative scene. His sound is obviously, like, I feel like it fits in a pocket that I can relate to. Also I'm really fucking with Ojerime, always. Also my homie Josif is sick. Favourite artist right now, just in general inspiration wise, influence wise Haich Ber Na. He’s obviously brothers with Josif, so it’s like, I remember when Joseph first introduced me to him in 2018 like his music was just like *explosion noise*.It opened up a whole different realm of sound to me at that age. So his music has definitely had a huge influence on me. I don’t even think he knows this.
He just released a song didn’t he?
Yeah yeah yeah, he’s just fucking sick. He’s so good and like, he’s better than James Blake. Fully, Fully.
So for the song ‘Sub Culture’ the video is entirely in black and white and you’ve said that it was inspired by the Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film ‘La Haine’. Why did you decide to adopt that particular style?
Because of the message behind ‘Sub Culture’ it’s all about police, brutality and systematic racism, institutionalised… and that film, I remember like first watching it and I think I saw it for the first time like two years ago and I was just like, “damn”. It’s all black and white you know, you can tell the budget wasn’t crazy or whatever but the way it was shot, it was just beautiful and it’s a nice film that talks about a lot in a very simple way. It’s not overdone or underdone it’s just perfect. Everything about it.
It’s a Goldielocks movie.
'Sub Culture' is also a track, as you’ve just said about systematic racism and police brutality which is quite relevant to a lot of things that have happened this year. I mean, it’s always been relevant so to shed a little bit of positivity, what kind of advice would you give to young black creatives who might feel a little bit disheartened with the events that have gone down?
Just keep moving. That’s all you can really do now. The best way to move forward in situations like this is not to allow it to kind of bring you to a state where you’re so fucked up about it that it holds you back from doing what you wanna do. Nah, flip that shit on its head and use it as a motivational tool to try and take you to where you wanna go. I mean, It’s still fucked up but things are at least changing like, you see more coloured people on television, you see more young black creatives doing their thing and getting recognition from that. It’s like, we’re going through a lot right now, humanity or whatever. Things can only get better, I think personally. You just need to bring that group, that synergy into play and everyone will be good, community and community love, definitely.
So what was growing up like for you?
I grew up in south east London in a little place called Charlton. And that was bizarre. It’s like a little bubble out there. It’s so close to the city but it’s also far out enough that people tend to not go to the city from where I live. Some people had never really been past New Cross or Deptford. So it’s one of those types of neighbourhoods with loads of white people obviously. I went to school and I was one of three black kids in my class, actually no, four. But stepping out of that was good for me, like it woke me up. Because living there the whole time…I feel like, you know, you’re kind of separated from what’s happening in the city and then you come into the city and see all these different things. And now I live in East London.
It’s a completely different place.
Completely. So I'm like “oh shit” I grew up in this neighbourhood and I understand now why certain people have certain perspectives because it’s like I see where you’ve grown up and that’s crazy. Where I grew up, it wasn’t fucked, shit was still happening in the area all of that gangs and blah blah blah. But then those areas patterned up quite quickly isn’t it. Whereas most of these areas here are patterning up but it feels like people from these areas are being left out. All the gentrification. It’s good, gentrification is calm but it’s all the people who are being left out of that, it’s kind of deep.
Yeah, it kind of just pushes them further out.
Exactly, and it bring people from the outside in, fuck that.
Yeah, because a lot of gentrified places as well are going cashless and stuff like that, which can be detrimental to a lot of poorer people.
So I’ve noticed your style is very original and quite distinct, so do you have any favourite designers and if one day you could release a line of clothing, who would you collaborate with?
I really like Daily Paper. Like black owned, their clothes are sick and super original. If I ever were to do a collaboration it would probably be with them. They’re sick, I like Daily Paper.
Is there a certain place you get your clothes from?
*laughs* I don’t really know where I’ve been shopping these days…
Is it a thrift shop thing?
Yeah. I just kind of pick up whatever and wear it on the way. I don’t really go out with the intention of buying stuff. The only time I do is when I go UNIQLO, I'm like ah okay.
If you could describe yourself in three words what would they be?
Ah, I hate this shit. I guess I would say laid-back, chilled and curious.
How would you describe your music to somebody who’s never heard it before and what would you want them to take away from it?
My music is a reflection of me. It’s very intuitive and raw. I guess what I would want someone to take away from all of that…I don’t really have anything specific. It’s whatever you want, you know, you can listen to a song that somebody wrote about one topic and see if from a completely different perspective. So I'm not the type of artist where I was someone to be like “this song is about that” particular topic. I mean, there’s always a topic in play throughout everything that I make, but it’s not like in your face. There are other things being spoken about as well, throughout all of it that you could take in. It’s whatever you want.
It’s like looking at an art installation, modern art stuff like that.
Exactly, you could listen to it and feel angry and I’d be like “Shit okay”, that’s not my intention but like…
That’s what it means to you.
That’s what I'm saying.
I saw that you used to be part of a collective called The Reservoir Music collective so who did it consist of and why did you decide to go solo?
It was Virgil Hawkins, Kish!, Isaac, we had Bill, Max, Jim, Niall, I know I'm missing someone I'm sorry whoever I missed out. I don’t know, I just wanted to do my own thing. I just wanted to have full control over everything that I'm doing and being in a collective didn’t really allow me to do that. I'm very selfish with my art. I just want everything to be in a particular way, so it’s kind of difficult doing that in a collective.
I guess you don’t always have the freedom because everyone needs to be happy with what’s going on as well.
Exactly. And also it’s like group commitments as well. You have to give time to the collective as a whole. And I’ll be ready to do that at some point in life but I’m not ready to do that right now, so yeah that’s the reason why but it’s always love, definitely like meeting Virgil and all of those guys boosted my confidence as an artist and what I do. They brought me into the London scene as a collective, they really went out to help each other to bring us to where we are now. So I’m always grateful.
Good sense of community.
So I’ve seen you perform before at Off The Cuff, so have there been any venues that you’ve really enjoyed being at?
I really enjoyed The Jazz Café. I think I performed there at the end of 2018 in September, and I was opening up for this group I don’t even remember what they were called but apparently they were bare big... People Under The Stairs! That’s what they were called. They were really big back in the 80s, this DIY Hip-Hop duo. And yeah, it was nice they treated us nice and got us food. I got burgers. I got a rider, riders are nice man because basically you get to choose what you want on a rider. If you want drinks you get drinks so I got like 6 bottles of Fiji water and like Maltesers. It was good. I was chilling *laughs*.
How did you keep busy during lockdown?
I’ve just been skating a lot. That’s basically what I’ve been doing, I haven’t really been making music like that because I have an EP coming out and I’m going to have to spend time after the release still pushing that. And plus I’m just not in the headspace to be making music right now so, skateboarding is always nice because it’s just there for me whenever I want to do it. I really love it.
So as you’ve just mentioned you have a new EP coming out; Garçon is out on the 5th of November. It’s a seven track EP, so what should we expect to hear from it?
You should expect to hear a range of sounds. The project is good! I’m really happy with how it came out. It’s very varied in different sounds and textures, there’s something for everyone. I don’t feel like there are any tracks in there that won’t resonate with somebody to a certain extent you know. I’m really excited for it to come out.
Me too! What actually inspired you to make this project and put it out?
I get inspired to make things going through life and experiencing things and being in different places like, that’s it. What I take in, is just through experience and how that makes me feel emotionally that’s the perpetuating force that helps me make stuff. So yeah it’s just life.
What’s the best piece of advice you think you could give to somebody?
I don’t want to say this and fuck someone’s life up… nah I’m joking. I feel like with whatever you do in life make sure you feel 100% about it. Even if you don’t feel 100% about something now, don’t ever sell yourself short.
That thing that you feel 100% about will come about eventually and it’s not even a case of finding it it’ll find you. I feel very blessed that I was able to find something that I enjoy doing and actually be good at it, and being able to pursue that. So I just feel like if you have something you want to do, and everyone know what they want to do, and either you’re too afraid to do it or there’s something in your life holding you back and stopping you from you from wanting to do that thing and it’s literally like do or die bruv, like do it, do it. You have one life. Why would you spend that one life doing something you don’t want to do? Even if you fucking end up broke like it doesn’t matter. You could be broke as fuck, as long as you're still doing the thing that you want to do and you can be happy doing it, its fine. People let money be the driving force of everything they want to do in life and that’s cool. If money makes you happy that’s cool but if the only reason that money makes you happy is because you can buy materialistic things and what’s really is making you happy is materialism, but what you’re actually doing is life isn’t making you happy. Instead the thing that you love to do is like a hobby like nah, fuck that make that shit your job. And even if not a job just do whatever you can to make sure that’s something you can do every day.
Theodor Black’s New EP GARÇON is out now