It’s 11AM, and Theodor Black’s phone is going straight to voicemail. I try again ten minutes later, and get the same thing. I try again after pouring a glass of water, but still no answer. Eventually, around lunchtime, he picks up. His voice is low, bleary-eyed, as if he’s been awoken from a deep slumber. It turns out he has. He puts his phone on aeroplane mode before he sleeps because it’s “too distracting” otherwise, which is why it went to voicemail. He’d prefer to read books, or else watch cartoons on Netflix.
As the conversation flows, Theo seems to slowly charge up with energy, like a phone regaining battery power. The south London artist / rapper, who is now just 20 years old, has an open, relaxed manner about him. You can easily imagine sitting in the garden and sharing a smoke or something. We chat about our favourite Quentin Tarantino and Larry Clarke films, and laugh about how weird the novel Of Mice and Men is, how we all had to read about main character Lenny crushing a puppy with his bare hands while we were at school. “Oh man I forgot about that,” he says, cackling.
The reason we’re speaking, of course, is because he’s got something new out – a woozy, blue-tinged ambient hip hop track called “WEEKENDS” – which we’re premiering alongside a video below. His voice is deep, drawling, far-away, as if you're hearing him under an ocean, or in a half-remembered dream. “People say I always make the same mistakes...” he half-sings, his voice lulling, before spidery beats clatter in over synths.
This isn't his first release. He came out with Black Boy Blues a few months back, a six-track EP of hip hop that almost sounds like spoken word, smoky electronics and spacey beats. But you might not have heard about him yet. So because we all like easily digestible information, here are 10 things you should know about Theodor Black. Who he is, what he's about, and why you should care:
1) Theodor learned how to play the drums aged nine...
“My primary school in Blackheath [south London] had a music room. You know when you’re a kid and you do little music sessions – we used to do those. Those are my earliest memories. I used to have so much fun, messing around with instruments. And then I eventually started playing the drums when I was in… year five? And that fed my love for music a little bit more. It developed into writing, and I started producing years later.”
2)... and got into poetry around the age of 13.
“I started writing poetry probably in year eight. That’s when I started taking it more seriously. It was a form of expression. I’ve always loved English Lit. It was one of my favourite subjects in school. I find it so amazing how you can convey emotion purely through the use of words. The fact I can create a whole scenario and invite people into that world is nice man. ”
3) He’s studying graphic design at UAL, but that doesn't define his output
“I’m doing graphic design at UAL. It’s alright... I don’t know, not really. It’s bare effort. The thing is about ‘art uni’ is that people go into it thinking ‘my creativity is going to flourish and blah blah blah’. But for me personally, I think it hinders your creative development in some way. I mean, I’ve learnt stuff. But I feel like I could do better on my own.”
4) South London is at the heart of his sound and energy
“It has a certain charm about it that I don't think other parts of London have. Especially in terms of the music scene. South London is isolated, in a way. When you hear something, you can tell it's from here. When you're in your early teens, you take in a lot more information, because that's when you're forming who you are. And I grew up listening to King Krule and Jesse James Solomon and all of those guys, and that really set me up for wanting to pursue music.”
5) He used to be part of a the Reservoir music collective
“I met [an artist called] Virgil when I was like 16, and he got me involved in Reservoir, then we started making music with them. But as of now, I'm independent. But it definitely helped me a lot. When I first met them, I was super awkward, man it was so bad... but they helped me grow into who I am, as an artist. There was Twin Crown, Virgil, Isaac and some artists, graphic designers, photographers. A little creative hub.”
6) He’s already put out an EP, Black Boy Blue, but he reckons his new music is better
“You know what's really weird? The progression is insane. You notice it, but you don't at the same time. With music, it just happens. The music I'm making now is really good. I'm so excited to start releasing more stuff.”
7) He’s kind of obsessed with the colour blue
“Blue is my favourite colour. I have a song on my old EP called “Blue is My Favourite Colour”. I love blue. I don't know why. It just resonates with me a lot whenever I see it. I associate all the nice things with blue... the ocean, the sky.”
8) “Weekends”, the track we're premiering, is about a romance that went sour
“There was this group of people and we'd live for the weekend, that was our escape from the mundane reality of our lives. We'd go to parties and get up to mischief and do dumb shit. And I used to see this girl, she was part of that group, and I guess we caught feels. But that didn't end too, too well. It kind of went really sour. So I wrote this song about her. But it's also about self-growth, letting go of certain things and learning how to move on.”
9) He’s a v chill person, just like his music
“I'm angry all the time – nah, I'm joking. People tell me I'm chill all the time. Hence why I'm in bed at 12PM on a Thursday. I have an outlook in life where it's like, there's no need to stress over anything. Anger is a very self-perpetuating energy and I feel like people who are angry are usually angry about themselves. I have nothing to be angry about.”
10) Oh, and he used to be bang into N-Dubz, which fair play
“I've grown up listening to so many genres. When I was in year nine I used to listen to The Wombats, but I also used to listen to N-Dubz and shit. That's just had such an impact on me. I've become so fluid which the music that I make. I can jump from any genre, which is fun. Being able to make music in so many different genres allows you to express yourself in so many different ways.”
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