From the studio to the streets of Oxford Circus, at 28 years of age, Theo already holds a tangible sound to his music style.
The living embodiment of old school realness and flow, his sound defines him as someone to keep a close eye out for in the industry.
His lyrical genius makes rapping look so effortless, with a self-styled approach to his lyrics, Theo uses his music to reflect his growth, wisdom and his journey of everyday life.
Bringing back a sound reminiscent of old school legends, Theo’s voice holds confidence and passion. He unapologetically refuses to conform to mainstream music today, carrying his sound on his back to the high streets in order to make a name for himself.
One character that Theo sees himself to embody is “Wile E. Coyote” from the Road Runner cartoons, “because he is a great role model and sets the same example for kids as he did in my life”.
He explains in three points why: “Firstly, choosing the Road Runner, probably the hardest prey to catch which means he dreams big,” something he highly promotes. “Secondly, he is creative and constantly coming up with new elaborate schemes to achieve his goal which he then acts upon, like I try to do and preach about. Thirdly, although he fails miserably again and again while everyone watching thinks he’s mad, he never ever gives up and even after getting blown up by a crate of TNT you will still find him back out there next episode trying to get it. He epitomises the type of person I strive to be.”
Friends would describe Theo as the “grown up”, as being a Dad only really gives Theo time for family, his music and as much as he hates this “capitalist financial slavery” as he calls it, he spends most of his time working for it. Being young, he didn’t mind the broke lifestyle, however now it’s all about putting a roof over his child’s head.
“We’ve been taught from a young age to believe that making it means everyone knowing your name, loads of money, cars, clothes, but the truth is that’s all bullshit,” he told us.
“The hardest part of the struggle for an upcoming artist in my opinion is letting go of that childish mentality, being honest with yourself and deciding whether you truly love making music or just want to be famous. If it is fame you what, there are millions more ways to get famous but if you realise it’s about the music and nothing else the struggle to make it just evaporates. That’s when you’re just doing what you love, growing with every tune, enjoying the journey wherever it takes you.”The Tottenham-based artist reflects the opposite of mainstream artists today. They call him TheoTheReal.
Moving around a lot as a kid, Theo spent most of his childhood in Tottenham. Surrounded by a family of creatives, with a mother that wasvery “artsy-crafty” and a father that made house music and put on raves, he started rapping from around the age of 10 and even at that age was what some would call a storyteller.
It all really began after his father bought him a cassette tape of Will Smith’s Miami: “He made me learn all the words and my sister and I would perform for him and his mates.”
After then obsessing over artists such as Eminem and Busta Rhymes and listening to the likes of Missy Elliot, 50 Cent, Nas and Jay Z, Theo started writing his own bars which he described as “still lame in the scheme of things but ‘pretty good’ for his age.”
After getting kicked out in year 11, Theo missed his GCSE’s and got referred to a Music Production short course where he met some producers and started trying to make it as an artist: “Still, the stuff was pretty lame in my opinion, partly because I was still trying to mimic what was on the radio and partly because I was still too busy being young to ever actually focus and finish a project.”
He decided to take a step back and research the roots of hip hop. This led him to discover the type of sound that really resonated with him.
“New York 90s hip hop,” he explains “something about the crunchiness of the beats from that era, the jazz, funk, disco samples with real instruments as opposed to the synthetic computerised instruments that so much of today’s music is made with.”
Even down to the cracking of the vinyl: “I love that old school sound and I feel like I’m in my element rap-wise when on those sort of beats.”
Ultimately Theo walks a different path than many rappers in the field today and holds a different vision on what it is to be an artist.
“When I was young I could rhyme but I had nothing to say. I needed to work a few jobs, find my wife, settle down, have my first child. Only after countless man in the mirror moments and growing up did I finally feel like had something real to say and started writing lyrics that meant something.”
The path of being ‘real’ allows him to sit high on the pedestal wearing his statement proudly through his words. He embodies a completely new approach to how he injects lyrics into his sound and tries not to be to influenced by the artists he adores as he never goes into writing a song trying to sound like anyone other than himself, “I think the minute you start trying to make what’s ‘hot right now’ you’ve already flopped because it’s imitation from the get go.”
Theo moulds his music and style through conversations he has with individuals, his thoughts, feelings and the new things he has learnt through values, pride, guilt, anger, humour, self-reflection and life lessons, “these are the things I’m inspired to write about. For me writing is therapy and getting that stuff off my chest in a creative way is a form of release.”
He does his music not solely for the benefit of himself but for others, living the words is where music lies, “to think that my words might help them get through it makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful with my life.”
In today’s music industry, it is very hard to be heard over the trends that lay within the crowds and
a lot of great talents are going unheard because of this evolving hip hop rap era. Sadly, Theo entered the hip hop scene in the beginning of the “money, cars, clothes and hoes” era: “That era of million-dollar music videos and MTV cribs.”
This era provided young people with a whole new look on fame and fortune imagining one day that would be them. Growing up in the time where record deal meant you had made it, “at least that’s what it looked like” explained Theo.
Today he explains how record labels don’t really mean much: “The irony is that this is the independent artist era where you can potentially make more money without a deal than with one. It’s those artists that set the trends and who the labels chase after so really there’s never been a better time to stand out and be different.”
Hip hop has always had a political edge to it, something quite prevalent in Theo’s sound. Most rap songs released in early hip hop were deeper more positive with their lyrics that uplifted and educated individuals such as Flash and the Furious 5, Public Enemy, Rakim, KRS1, Nas, Common, The Roots; “these guys had positive messages,” Theo says “and with the state the worlds in nowadays, I’m shocked that modern music isn’t way more political”
Aiming for his audience to question the status quo and question themselves, he inevitably wants his music to help people grow in some way, “I know I’m no Malcolm X and it does bother me when people think I’m trying to be some sort of preacher because really I’m just keeping it real.”
In Theo’s opinion “if you are wise enough to see the game, blessed enough to be granted that platform and creative enough to write about those topics in a way that appeals to people and inspires them to learn about those things themselves but you choose not to include that in your work because it might not be seen as cool, not only are you holding out on your audience massively, you are also completely passing on the rare opportunity we get in life to actually do something to change those negative things,” he said.
“I’m not saying that every music artist should preach or be an activist but with the size of some artists followings if every artist used their voices to say something that really matters, even with just 1 song per album, the world would be a better place.”
Music has continued to evolve in a space where it affects everyone, everybody raps nowadays and social media continues to be flooded with new mixtapes. Theo believes it is a good thing that all these people are making music but feels like before the internet a lot of those people would have been advised to go back to the workshop with their stuff.
“The fact that everyone is free to release what they want when they want, people are constantly bombarded with ‘Yo, check my video, check my mixtape’ and if most of the stuff is not at a standard, then by the time it’s your turn they’ve already developed a resistance to it. The same applies to mixtape street promotion.”
With family being the first and foremost important aspect in his life and the main source of motivation, Theo pushes himself everyday to be a role model to his daughter and siblings and even though he doesn’t spend a lot of quality time with them as he would like to, they are all his first priority.
“If that makes me less appealing to the standard hip hop customer it really says something about our culture nowadays and with all due respect they can piss off, I don’t need them in my camp.”
With a self-styled approach, Theo came to the conclusion that if he rapped about what everyone else rapped about and dressed the way everyone else dressed, chances are he would be more famous and richer than he is now.
“I just have a big problem with faking it. I can’t be a sell-out, I respect myself and I respect the craft too much for that. A lot of these styles and trends in the mainstream just ain’t me.”
Occasionally he might rock some new styles but only if its generally a style he likes not because it’s what he need to do to “make it”.
His whole motto is to just keep it real and be true to himself: “I want the music to be the thing you notice and the lyrics to be what you remember me by.“
To make movement happen you’ve got to go out and do what you must do to get noticed. Watching Theo out there promoting his work and the struggle it can be was an eye opener “Obviously nobody likes getting ignored or rejected and even though I did work as a fundraiser and have training in direct sales, it’s 100 times harder when it’s your own creative work that you are presenting.
“I sometimes need to really psych myself up before going out there, something I never had to do when I was selling someone else’s product.”
Theo has learnt that not everyone will like his music and that it’s not necessarily a reflection on you or the music, it’s just their taste.
He has also grown to understand the difference between the support from friends and audiences, realising that with most of the people he knew, friends and family alike, there will always an underlying streak of competitiveness.
“Deep down nobody wants to see their friends doing better than them. It makes them feel threatened. It’s a totally normal and sad part of human nature and it doesn’t mean they don’t like you it’s just life.”
“You just need to keep laughing, keep hitting them streets, keep stopping people, keep moving because when someone does give you the time and they absolutely love it makes it all worth it. When they are excited about it, enough to put their hand in their pocket and invest in you there and then, it makes you feel invincible.”Coming through with his first EP where he introduced himself with his first complete project, it was called REAL because he wanted to point out that unlike a lot of music today, everything he is talking about was real.
“I even decided to go with my real first name, Theo. It was after people started trying to find me on google and youtube that I realised just having Theo as my name wasn’t going to work and people had started linking the two already which is where TheoTheReal came from.”
With his new project Sparx & Ashes, the two-part mixtape embodies Theo’s deeper self: “With ‘The Ashes’ which is the yin side of my personality, the darker, more introverted songs – and then ‘The Sparx’ which will come later in the year and is more the yang side, the more positive, uplifting songs. I’ve really delved deep with this one and really poured my heart out on it.”
In entering a more experimental aspect to his music in his new project with the added old school elements on certain tracks, Theo draws a lot of his interest to “The Sparx” section of his mixtape, “There is one song in particular that will be on the Sparx, I’ve only recorded this one recently but I feel that’s the one that really signifies everything I stand for as an artist.”
With “The Ashes” section of the mixtape, Theo describes the song Eye for an Eye which promotes the whole idea of seeing past all the mess of propaganda that the media uses to divide and uniting together as one.
On the song Facebook he describes some of his biggest regrets as a kid growing up telling a story that he hopes will “inspire young people in the same situation not to make the same mistakes.”
In some way Theo has learnt a lot over his years emerging as the artist he wants to be, switching between styles has left Theo something of an enigma. With constant belief in himself and his music, it’s clear Theo’s time is now.
“I have a few quotes I live by” he says “Enjoy the journey is one of them: It’s not a result, it’s a lifestyle is another. I just try to remind myself that living the dream is a perspective and “success” doesn’t always equal happiness.
“Make music because you love to do it and if you ‘make it big’ that’s great but don’t expect or even strive for it too much because success is itch that can never be scratched. There are times when I struggle with anxieties and pressures telling me I aint shit because I haven’t “made it” yet,” he says.
“It can be hard to stay motivated when you’re putting in work and all your getting is older but I try to break away from the idea of what “making it” is, try to forget the time limit we give ourselves and realise that small as my audience is right now they love my shit so just strive to keep making better and better music for them – that’s it.
“I look at my wife and daughter, the love in our home and try to realise that they are the real treasures that fame and fortune can’t buy so in the grand scheme of things I have already made it in life and music is already a victory lap,” he told us.
“This helps me keep going regardless of how hard it gets.”
Featured Image by Zenab Bukkar