There are some people who just have an affect on you. They are brilliant, yes, but there is something more. It’s something about them: they inspire you, have a kind of aura, a resonance you can’t help but crave. There is no immunity from them, from what they do, no matter who you are.
For Theophilus London – the Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-raised rapper – that person is Karl Lagerfeld. London has watched “tonnes” of DVDs featuring Lagerfeld with the closed-captions on (to make sure no words are missed), and through a stroke of fate found himself on set with Lagerfeld early last year. Sure, he admits the Kaiser is an almost-cliché, an obvious choice, “everyone’s choice ... But still”.
“Every time he opens his mouth I just want to take down notes,” London tells us. The first time London met Lagerfeld – in real life – was on set. “I was there to do a shoot for a magazine, I didn’t know we were going to collaborate together and he walked in the room. I was almost frozen, I was like WOAH! He came up to me and said ‘hey’. It was like HEY and WOAH. It took me a little while to get over it.”
It’s Lagerfeld’s relentlessness, London says, that cements his admiration. “(He’s) just worked every day of his life – whether he’s on a shoot, whether he’s designing, whether he is flying over here, always working, it’s just incredible.”
It’s this perpetual movement, this unending energy that London identifies with, takes heart from. In this business, he tells us, “You have to wake up a businessman sometimes. Actually maybe like 95 per cent of the time you have to wake up a businessman – a rapper last, a musician or a poet last; it’s like kind of uninspiring.”
It’s a lazy “It’s Theophilus, how YOU doing?” that opens our conversation with London. Last time we saw him, he was in Sydney to play at Chanel’s Little Black Jacket party. Our skin was thick with sweat, front row and dancing like tomorrow didn’t matter. He was long, lean and moved in bursts: in a Chanel jacket, black ksubis.
Down the line this time, there’s small talk – when he was over here, he tells us, he picked up a “really bad arse leather jacket” – “I look like Wolverine with this jacket on” – and another with world flags stitched all over it (“It’s int-ter-national”). Style, he says, “has to feel right”. “It’s like a prayer. You don’t think about your prayer too much – you’re just trying to pray.” He puts his own down to “coming from the streets, being urban”. It’s “a lot of low end meets high end. I don’t like to be too tailored up you know. Rough. As is.”
“Staying true to yourself,” he says, is the hardest thing. “People want to pull you in so many directions once they get a hold of you. Make sure you know who you are and why you’re really doing this in the first place.”
London finds inspiration not in the studio but in “movement, in life” in whatever happens at 3am. (When he was in Sydney, he had some “really, really late nights”.)
His rhymes, his beats, his creative energy, he puts it down to a lightening strike, a gift from somewhere unknown. It’s “a spirit: a higher energy, a higher power. I can not take credit”. Riding the Charles De Gaulle, “as I get off the train, my mind is racing with ideas out of nowhere.
It’s the way creative energy flows”.
“I can feel it coming, I can’t make it come. I can definitely host it. You can try to force it but it’s not the same.” It’s not predictable, he says, and there is no way to herald it.
But song writing isn’t just that. It’s production and mixing and studio time and touring and all those distractions that go with it. That 95 per cent. “Sometimes it’s very discouraging, like MAN, what’s going on? I’m not inspired, everything I’m trying to say doesn’t flow. As a writer you can have some kind of spiritual block, when you just can’t really, you know, come up with things. You come up with things but they’re not the things that make you the most happy, the most wild. Sometimes you just get that, and then sometimes, I’m like WOAH I’m in my living room and it just comes to me.”
Then it came more than now: riding the train, it would “run through” his veins, he’d move his hands, and people looking at me (like I’m) crazy.”
“I think anything that’s God-like shouldn’t take more than five minutes. Really good songs that you write? They don’t take more than five, ten minutes to get it down.” It the “energy”, he says, of “something being good like that”.
It’s almost like it’s more pure when it happens easily, when it comes naturally, just affects you. “Right,” he says.