Even amid a hectic day of meetings, Labrinth can’t stop making music. As he ambles around the courtyard of Los Angeles’ Sunset Marquis hotel in search of a shady spot to relax, he’s constantly humming, his Sam Cooke-esque falsetto, working out melodies over the acoustic guitar he’s strumming. “Oh, sorry, sorry,” says the 30-year-old singer-songwriter-producer, catching himself. “The thing is, it’s like an endless song in my head just going. When I wake up, I hear an idea, and another idea, so I just try and get them out.”
The guitar isn’t even the London native’s primary instrument -- that would be piano -- but lately, it has become his default companion. In the past year alone, he has gone from producing with Sia and Diplo as one-third of the supergroup LSD; to composing and performing songs for HBO’s buzzy, Drake-produced drama Euphoria, then duetting with its star, Zendaya, on the hit “All for Us”; to writing with Beyoncé for The Lion King: The Gift. Somehow, the polymath also has found time to work on his upcoming second studio album, Imagination & the Misfit Kid. (New music will arrive by the end of the year, and Syco Music/RCA Records will ultimately release the album.)
“It was about me getting out of the spider’s web of confusion, trying to live up to expectations that I never made for myself,” says Labrinth of making Imagination. Since breaking out in 2010, the artist born Timothy Lee McKenzie has established himself as something of a household name in the United Kingdom. His BRIT Award-winning work with Tinie Tempah, along with a slate of U.K. chart-topping singles from his debut, brought Labrinth fast success, but he was put off by the touring and marketing demands that came with it. Instead, he focused on crafting hits for others. A greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts production style straddling electronica, hip-hop and R&B earned him a reputation as an artist’s artist and pop secret weapon, leading to collaborations with the likes of The Weeknd, Noah Cyrus, Kygo, Eminem and Nicki Minaj.
“Producers, writers, anyone that has worked with him thinks he’s one of the biggest innovators in the industry,” says Syco Music managing director Tyler Brown, who has worked with Labrinth for the past nine years. “Now the general public is starting to realize that.” So, too, is Labrinth himself. On Imagination, he’s channeling his talents toward bottling the very pop lightning he long helped forge for other artists. Employing a sound he describes as “Nina Simone and Ray Charles on Kraftwerk, with trap,” it’s also a concept album of sorts, relating the semiautobiographical journey of a kid selling his imagination to a businessman. That such a record, which includes three of the songs featured in Euphoria, could finally position him for mainstream success is a possibility he’s ready to embrace.
“The biggest challenge for me is to not get distracted by success,” says Labrinth. “Every pothole that I’ve put a seed in, it’s moving into its own experience, and somehow they’re all growing into one garden that’s eventually looking beautiful to me.”