In just two years, multi-talented musician Labrinth has experienced an extraordinary career trajectory. As the producer, writer and vocalist behind Tinie Tempah’s massive hits, Pass Out and Frisky, and future hits for Professor Green, JLS and Devlin. This September sees the release of Labrinth’s debut single, Let The Sunshine.
Labrinth’s prodigious talents as a vocalist, writer and musician, and his ability to be a star in his own right was spotted by Simon Cowell who signed Labrinth to his Syco label. As well as an artist deal, Labrinth also has an imprint under the Syco umbrella. ‘Odd Child’ gives Syco a first look at new, underground acts, while offering both Labrinth and Odd Child a multi-media, global platform to help nurture new talent. “Simon has given me a wider landscape to work in and a scope of opportunities that I didn’t have access to before,” says Labrinth. “I really trust Syco and believe in how they work; they’re behind me all the way.”
Despite having yet to release a solo single, interest in Labrinth is already exceptionally high. He is one of the most talked about emerging artists in the press, and has won rave reviews for his performances with Tinie at Glastonbury and Wireless. His own website, Labrinth.co.uk, has seen a huge rise in traffic following his Transmissions series, a collection of short films created and edited by the 21 year-old. One of the most promising, exciting and accomplished acts working in the UK music scene, Labrinth has mastered a wide realm of creative entities. “The Transmissions are similar to my music; it’s showing people what I’m about, but showing the abstract side of me. It’s almost like showing the pages of the book before you see the cover.”
Born Timothy McKenzie in Hackney in 1989, Labrinth is the youngest son from a family of nine gifted siblings. His brother Josh is an established drummer, his other brother Mac1 a producer, while his sisters, Shezar and Sharrelle are internationally renowned backing vocalists. The McKenzie children were raised in church and bought up almost solely to the sounds of gospel music. The young progeny began making beats in his brother’s home studio as a teen, before picking up the lead guitar at the age of 15. Entirely self-taught after studying musicians at his local church, and by listening to songs and “envisioning their mood”, he is a naturally gifted, multi-talented instrumentalist who is as comfortable playing bass, drums and keyboards as he is working a studio desk. “I was actually a rapper first,” Lab points out. “I had to make beats for myself because I needed something to compliment the lyrics. But I love every aspect of music and every aspect of making it. It doesn’t matter which category I’m performing or playing, I’m ready for it.”
Labrinth’s first big break came after meeting Master Shortie at a house party, Labrinth began work on the rappers critically acclaimed debut album, ADHD. The sound he created for ADHD was ahead of its time in many respects; other urban artists began to switch their sound in favour of a more rock-edged, 1980s tinged aesthetic. Shortie recently signed a deal with Jive in the US, and Labrinth has been instrumental in the signing of a number of other artists; underground hits like I Know helped Bluey Robinson sign to Sony, while Loick Essien and Tanya Lace also signed with the same label based on the tracks they made with Lab.
It was of course Pass Out’s genre-defying, tempo-twisting smash hit that saw Labrinth rise above the realms of other UK producers; it also became another defining moment in UK urban music, propelling it in an entirely different sonic direction to the ‘electro-pop-grime’ sound in which it had become stuck. “I made Pass Out at the end of the 2009. I was fed up back then, I didn’t feel like I was fully expressing myself musically,” he remembers. “When I met Tinie, I decided to be myself, and be like, ‘Here’s the truth; lets forget about being a pop producer, or giving the labels what they think they need, I’m just going to give them what I believe should be out there.’ Everything I learnt musically, creatively, sonically, it all went into Pass Out and people saw the truth in it. I didn’t expect it to go as far as it did, but I just let go and as soon as I did, it soared off in a totally unexpected direction.”
Now fully established as a producer, Labrinth began concentrating on creating his own material earlier this year. Although he was aware of secular artists like Michael Jackson and James Brown, his musical upbringing was steeped in the likes of Kim Burrell and Kirk Franklin. Lab has spent the last six years discovering and intently studying sounds from The Beatles to Bob Dylan, T-Rex to Jungle, Drum & Bass and Grime. Like the compositions he crafts for others, Labrinth’s solo material embodies a credible, commercial sound that retains a musically experimental edge.
The lead single, Let The Sunshine is the perfect showcase for Labrinth’s rich, emotive, scale-sliding vocal. Boasting a slight tinge of trance with a hip hop chorus and Michael Jackson-inspired bridge, Let The Sunshine is true to Lab form; unusual, unexpected yet effortlessly universally appealing. Another track, about “an alien coming to earth for a party,” is an upbeat club smash, whilst a third boasts a Beatles sensibility. Ultimately, his sound can’t be subjected to definition; yet, somehow, there’s an undeniable Labrinth thread throughout all of his songs. “I’m a musical geek. It’s like there’s this big, wild universe in my head and I love to express it,” explains Labrinth of the diverse influences and kaleidoscopic sonics that his debut album encompasses. “It’s basically a collage about myself; everything I’ve experienced, every wild sound I’ve heard… I’m like a photographer taking pictures, and each song will be a snap-shot of my experience at that time.”
Put simply, we rarely see such an incredible amount of creative output emanate from one person. Gifted to the point of genius, Lab is also stylish, smart and, importantly, incredibly likeable. With an ability to think in a way that is truly, genuinely unique, his potential is limitless. He’s already created hits in the past and has others out presently, but for the future, it’s Labrinth the solo artist we should be most excited about. “I’m a perfectionist in every sense of the word, because I feel a responsibility to tell my story, and make it amazing. An amazing story is a real story, so I don’t want to be fake with anything I do. The story is me and my life in music.”