Q&A: Rapper Theophilus London Gives Tips For Remaining Cool and Fashionable at HARD NYC This Weekend


“I was at M.I.A.’s secret birthday party two days ago when Drew Barrymore walked in,” says a smitten-sounding Theophilus London, the much-championed young M.C. who, contrary to his rap name, hails from Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. “M.I.A.’s brother invited all her friends, people like Spike Jonze, but when Drew Barrymore walked in the door everyone was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I said, ‘Hi.’ I wanted to say more, but thought it wasn’t appropriate. But I admire her and she’s beautiful.”‘

A tryst with Barrymore might have passed him by, but London’s ascent is underway, thanks to his ability to call on musical pals in hip places. Along with having his name on the guest-list at clandestine M.I.A. parties, he refers to Sleigh Bells as “mutual friends and fans,” and is set to feature as the lead vocalist on the first single from TV On The Radio member Dave Sitek’s upcoming solo project. This weekend, he performs at HARD NYC. In anticipation, we asked London–who, like his fashion-focused friends, has a foppish bent himself–for a list of fashion dos and don’ts, with an eye toward keeping everyone cool at the latest big show of New York’s long summer season.

Any tips for staying cool in New York during the summer?

Number one, you want to go with fabrics that are light against your skin. Sure, you want to express yourself and have patterns and colors going on, but you have to make sure you’re comfortable because summer in New York is a very sticky situation. You need to make sure you’re good to come out of your house for nine or ten hours.

How do you prevent sweat patches from accumulating under your armpits?

Actually, I don’t get that. My friend has a really bad case of that, so he mostly sticks to wearing tank-tops and carries paper-towels in his back pocket.

What are the biggest summer fashion mistakes you see?

Guys wearing capris. That’s a definite no-no. Capris are just bad, bro! And at the other end, wearing very, very, very baggy jeans that like four people could wear together is out.

A few years back, Jay-Z and Cam’ron engaged in a fashion dispute about whether it is okay for a guy to wear open-toed sandals. Where do you stand on the issue?

I’m kinda against them a little, but sometimes guys should have a pass. Say you’re with your girlfriend, at the beach, you can get away with it, it’s cool then. But if you’re hanging out with your bros at a bar, watching a football game or a soccer game, and you’re wearing flip-flops, it’s kinda tacky. Come on, no one wants to see your toes all out next to their food.

What’s the most common fashion mistake hip-hop fans make?

I think just being scared of being in their own skin. Those guys are not comfortable in their own skin–it’s like they’ve always got something to prove so that makes their look aggressive and not cool.

On the other side, what about indie rock kids?

Those kids are more cool cause they have a freer mentality where they can do what they want and won’t be criticized for it. They have a better creative life cause they can be free and creative every day–they’re not dressing a certain way because they’re forced to do it or someone else is doing it.

M.I.A. is headlining HARD NYC. What do you like best about her style?

You can tell she’s very creative, an innovator. She runs her whole camp very strategically. I also want to mention this other girl, Lady Gaga, who people are trying to give the backlash to. It’s not easy to be creative all the time and those girls run it all in-house, put their own natural ideas out there. They’re the creative forerunners of their generation. Whether it’s music, fashion or lifestyle, they’re doing a good job cause people are talking about them.

If you were to take M.I.A. shopping for clothes, where would you go?

I’d get her on a plane and go around the world thrift store shopping. I don’t like local thrift shopping–I like to take about three outfits on tour and come back with seven new shirts. I’m not mad if I lose stuff on the road because I know that some old guy from the ’70s wants to give up a shirt he wore to the thrift store. Me and M.I.A. have the same sense of style, so I’d take her to thrift stores in Texas, Canada, and San Francisco.

What about Sleigh Bells–they’re a group who you’ve tweeted about quite a bit.

I’m a fan and a friend. I did a promo tour with them in Europe; we met each other and became mutual friends and fans. But, I don’t know where I’d take them, man. I don’t want to come off like I know it all about fashion–I think they’d be disappointed if I took them out! I like to sneak shop, man, I don’t tell them where I’m going. I like seeing movies of different cultures, like, “Oh, man, here’s this western cowboy movie, now I want to hunt for cowboy shirts!”

So which musicians do you most admire for their dress sense and style?

Nobody recent that I haven’t mentioned. But I love David Byrne, from Talking Heads, and I love Grace Jones, who’s wild and eccentric. Really though, it’s often simple things that catch my eye. Right now, I’m into patterns…