CULTED SOUNDS: THEODOR BLACK TALKS GENRE FLUIDITY, SUMMER & THE HIDDEN COSTS OF ARTISTRY
Theodor Black didn’t come to play – unless that’s playing his music, of course. Having established himself as one of the most exciting names in underground UK rap at the moment, the London creative is at the forefront of music and fashion.
Incorporating multiple musical references and twisting it into his unique and distinct sound, Theodor’s ability to deliver a frank portrayal of his experience as a young black male in the UK has captured the industry’s attention: signing to Friends of the New for his new project PARADISE FM. From the genre bending lyricism of ‘TOP DOWN’, the latest single that saw a video released last week, to the monotony-breaking beats in ‘LOOP’, Theodor has managed to carve an exciting and promising path for himself.
We caught up with the artist himself to talk through how he got started, his favourite of his tracks, and the highs and lows that come with the territory.
Yes Theodor! Talk us through your background – how did you get started with music?
I grew up in Charlton in South East London, just a little bit outside of Greenwich. My parents moved to this country in the 90’s from Sierra Leone.
Music has always been a part of my life, whether it’s being played at home or whether it’s me and the mandem sharing songs via bluetooth in the school playground during lunch times when I had a Sony Ericsson Walkman. I eventually just fell in love with music and at a certain point in time I knew it was something I wanted to do, I just needed that spark. But that wouldn’t come till later in life, when I was 15.
Who are your greatest creative influences, and have they changed over the years?
King Krule is definitely up there as one of my favourite artists, his music triggered something in my head that made me wanna get up and start making music. Around that period of time I was also really heavy into Pro Era, Sub luna city, Odd future and a lot of other smaller rap groups coming up at the time.
With time all things grow, flourish or die and most of these things happened to or within these groups, but the nuances of that era will always remain nostalgic for me and will always be something I can go back and reconnect with even though so much has changed within the past decade.
How would you describe your sound in your own words?
My music is definitely unique, I don’t believe that there’s anyone out there making music that sounds like mine, and that’s because of my influences and how they all merge together in my mind. My music is a melting pot of different genres. Sometimes I find it hard to pinpoint my own sound, but I’ve grown to learn that genre doesn’t matter. I guess I could say I’m genre fluid.
I focus more on tones and textures as opposed to notes and scales, I’m not really a theory based musician. I never had that training which is why my music has so many loose ends, there’s really no defining it.
A bit of a tough one – do you have a favourite track of yours, and why?
Loop is probably one of my favourite songs. I made the beat a year before I even started writing and recording it, and when I drafted my first demo I was completely obsessed. For me Loop marks the start of a new era for me and my music, it sounds more whole and mature and it provides a space for me to release a lot of pain. You can feel all the emotion, you can hear the frustration, you can hear it all.
That’s the beauty of expression, that’s the beauty of what we do as musicians. Loop really felt like I was breaking a cycle of torment, and a lot of good has come since I released that track so for me it signifies something special.
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I saw that your favourite season is Summer – us too. Do you think this influences your sound?
It’s ironic because I really do love Summer- I’m a Leo so naturally I love the sun. But I’m not productive during summer, I am just outside lounging in the heat smoking fat zoots back to back.
There’s something about the winters in London… it’s dark and it puts you inside of yourself. I tend to make my best music in the winter because of that swell of emotion, and because of the lack of sun. You feel charged but not in the same way the you’d feel when it’s summer.
That being said though, I’m trying to move to a warm country in the next year or two, and I’ll come back to London during winter so I can wear my puffer jackets and write, but only for months at a time. This seasonal depression shit is no joke.
What are the biggest challenges in doing what you do?
Bruh! Music is rewarding, but the financial aspects of that reward don’t come till much later. I’ve been broke for as long as I can remember and that’s the truth. Now I do okay, but I remember certain times just struggling, never having any money to do shit.
I never had any handouts, any support, even my family were sceptical when I first started. They’d slander me for making music, or tell me that I’m throwing my life away over a childish dream. I was always told success takes luck, and I always used to think that that was bullshit. Everything I’ve attained has been all me, some real ground up shit.
The hardest thing is convincing yourself that it’ll all be worth it in the end, because sometimes the end just seems so out of reach, you just have to constantly believe in yourself and believe in the process. If you believe hard enough eventually that shit will pay off and that is exactly where I’m at right now. More time I just say alhamdulillah for where I am today.
And your favourite parts?
Being able to live my reality because it’s no longer a dream!
Lastly, name 5 tracks you’re loving right now?
Pharoah Sanders – Harvest Time
Pierre Barouh – Samba Saravah
Earth Eater – Preservation
Roy Ayers – Chicago
Lonnie Liston Smith – Inner beauty
Sometimes I get bored of listening to lyrics all the time.