Leon Thomas is a triple threat: a musician, actor, and party-throwing expert. And, Thomas has the proof to back up every one of his titles.
The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter took home the award in 2015 for his work on Toni Braxton and Babyface’s collaborative album Love, Marriage & Divorce and co-produced Post Malone’s Stoney. He played Darryl in 2017’s critically-acclaimed Detroit and might be familiar to some as Issa’s neighbor, Eddie, on Insecure.
In an interview with ESSENCE, Thomas opened up about his new music and what he has planned after the release of “Favorite,” how to plan the perfect party, and living in a castle in Los Angeles.
So, let’s jump right in. How are you feeling after the success of your new music?
I'm ecstatic. I've been telling all my family about it. It's one of those things where...I've never done this before. So to even have that opportunity is definitely...it's like a weighted responsibility. Now I've got this feeling, I got a little bite, a little taste, now I want number ones. I want to be able to bring home the big trophies to everyone who's shown that they believe in me. All it takes is one or two people to just give a shit. And, things have started flowing in the right direction, so I'm definitely excited to get on stage. That's what all this is for, it's to be able to play my guitar and tell my stories, empower women, empower my people and just keep it pushing.
What’s the story behind “Favorite”?
I had recently just broken up with the girl I wrote that about and I realized, rather than writing about what I was feeling in that moment about the separation, I wanted to focus on how she made me feel when we first got together. The honeymoon phase. That's what “Favorite” is all about.
You were writing for other people prior to this, so what does it feel like to take ownership of your music? It's just you and you get to do what you want to do.
Well, I mean, it's a natural progression. I've been signed and working on music my whole life. At 13-years-old I got signed to Columbia Records. They started developing me and putting me in the room with people like Bob Power, who worked with Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest, meeting people like Toby Gad and an array of different producers like Dre & Vidal.
I've been prepared for everything that I'm doing now in the music industry. But, it's just now feeling like less of a surprise, “Oh, you guys like my music.” Now it's, “Okay good, you guys like my music, cool.” Now it's like let's keep doing it, let's keep doing it. We're just going to keep grinding. I got six more songs to release this year, there's a lot more music to put out there.
Having been in the industry since you were 13, how does that change your perspective on things?
Well, I mean, I've seen a lot of people come and go. I've seen egos get in the way of the creative process. I've seen it get in the way of really good business. With that being said, I knew for a fact that being independent with a distribution partner would be better than dealing with a major label. Straight out the gate.
I'm really excited that I can kind of be my own boss, but still really take heed to all of the different information I'm getting from all of my O.G.'s.
What are other songs you're excited for people to hear?
I have some features that I'm really excited for people to hear. I don't want to mention it until it's like all the way solidified.
I got a chance to work with Elle Varner. She was actually my roommate. We both stayed in this awesome crib, which was a castle. It was a castle in L.A. I was down in the guest house and she had a nice space up at the top of the castle. I would always blast my music, I'm always just vibing. One day I got a knock at my door and she was like, “I love what you're playing, what is this?” I told her to come through and vibe, we ended up being really good friends and making music. Then I got this distribution deal and wanted to do one of the records that we did together. So, we went to Paramount and recorded it. I'm really excited about that duet. It's such an awesome song.
That’s such a natural thing. A very chill, natural connection.
Yeah, like, let's go. Let's just make music. And, most of the project was made either at a friend's house or my house.
I’ve got some really cool records. I have a women’s empowerment song called “Pretty Little Weapon” that's cool. It's about dating a smart woman. I feel like a lot of men are intimidated by women who graduated with a masters or who can figure out how to do a deal a little bit better than they can, but I'm not afraid of that.
It’s cool to know that there was a real chemistry and connection with Elle and, just to touch back for a minute, you both lived in a castle?
The dude who owns it just recently sold it. This guy was AirBnB-ing at the place—some Bitcoin billionaire—staying there for a week or two and told the owner he wanted to buy the place. The owner just sold it to him.
So, I recently moved near The Grove, it’s a really cool area. I like to cook and the farmer’s market is nearby. I go get fresh ingredients for my meals. You know I'm locking it in, I'm chef-ing it up at the house.
What's your signature dish?
I do a leg of lamb. I roast it for two and a half to three hours, a slow roast. I do chopped sweet potatoes, baked the right way, amazing. And, just a green of some sort.
So, what's on your bucket list for this year? Is there anywhere you want to go after you finish everything?
Maybe touring for my birthday. I'm turning 25 and I was going to do a nice, big party in L.A. I'm known for throwing some really nice parties.
Oh, okay. What are the three basic rules for throwing a good party?
Time, you need to prepare for it. A lot of people try to throw a party in a week and expect it to be amazing. What are you doing? Take a month and a half of your life and just get the logistics together. Who's doing what? Do we need a mic? Do we need this? All that.
Two, a good DJ. Music is the universal language, but not everybody's going to like the same thing. You got to know who you're inviting and have good audio. If you've got a good DJ who does reggae stuff, but everyone likes Southern rap, there's going to be a disconnect.
And, three, in L.A. it's about the right kind of people. You got to have the right kind of people at your party. If the right people show up and you get the right vibe, people will talk about it for months on end.
Anything else on your bucket list?
I want to go to Bali or swag out in Asia somewhere. And, to tour with my friends and musicians I really mess with. I want to meet some of my fans who hit me up. I got people all over the country, all over the world, really, that are die-hard and support everything I do. I want to give them a hug, do meet and greets. I'm playing this new music and want to see where it goes.