For most musicians, global pop fame is a finish line that they hope to cross before their careers are finished. For singer/songwriter/producer Labrinth, it was only the start.
Labrinth’s story begins in the London borough of Hackney, where Timothy Lee McKenzie was born into a large family steeped in music and religion. Gospel music was the family business–which Labrinth joined as soon as he was old enough to get on stage–and it provided his early (and only) musical education until his older brothers introduced him to secular music.
Only a few short years after discovering hip-hop, pop, and dance music, Labrinth was at the top of the charts as producer and co-writer of British rap phenom Tinie Tempah’s breakout single “Pass Out.” More platinum hits, writing and recording deals with Simon Cowell’s Syco Music, and gigs working behind the boards for some of the world’s biggest pop names followed. In 2012 he released his first solo album, Electronic Earth, that put four singles onto the UK Top Ten (including the US Top 40 hit “Beneath Your Beautiful”).
Labrinth may have been successful, but he didn’t stop pushing himself to improve. Over the past few years he’s been refining his craft, writing and producing for pop royalty like Rihanna (“Lost In Paradise”), Ed Sheeran (“Save Myself”), and the Weeknd (“Losers”), while absorbing influences ranging from ELO to Nina Simone. A trip to Nashville to learn from country music’s songwriting greats led to the 2014 hit “Jealous,” a heartbreaking ballad about his absentee father that showcased a more tender side to his vocal skills and proved he’s as adept at working in vintage soul as the forward-looking hip-hop he made his name on. It’s a timeless sounding song, so it’s fitting that it’s become a long-tail sleeper hit, continuing to reach new listeners five years after its release.
Wowing a crowd–whether it’s churchgoers in London or an international pop audience–has never been difficult for Labrinth. These days the challenge lies in pushing his limits as an artist, while also pleasing the sizeable fan base he’s developed. In between attention-grabbing collaborations with Mike Posner (“Silence”), Kygo (“Fragile”), Noah Cyrus (“Make Me (Cry)”), and Sia (“To Be Human,” the end title track for the global blockbuster film Wonder Woman) he’s been quietly preparing a body of work–writing and recording every single day–that will relaunch him as a performer and shatter any remaining expectations about his talents that he hasn’t already upended.
First up, his reunion with Sia. Working on “To Be Human” together led to a deep collaboration that stretched out over months, and produced dozens of songs in the process. Recently they made their partnership official by recruiting Diplo and launching the electro-pop supergroup LSD. Back in May the trio released two singles–the tropically psychedelic “Audio” and baroque hip-hop pop “Genius”–that quickly racked up tens of millions of streams. They’ll keep the momentum going with a full length album to be released later this year.
He’s also preparing the follow up to Electronic Earth–although with the genre-hopping skills he’s developed, and the newfound freedom he’s found after accomplishing pretty much everything a young artist would want to accomplish, in some ways it feels like his actual proper debut. As of yet the album doesn’t have a name, but it does have a concept centered around an artistic kid facing off against a shadowy figure who wants to buy up his imagination. It’s about staying true to yourself, about how creativity’s the same thing as a soul, and about the folly of trying to gain the world when you can lose yourself in the process. They’re subjects Labrinth knows quite well.