'I CAN'T SPEAK ON THINGS I DON'T KNOW' Theo.
If the first quarter of '09 is an indicator of things to come for Theo Martins (myspace.com/imjusttheo) the Providence-based lyricist had better buckle up for what should be the biggest year in his budding hip-hop career. Do You Know Theo?, his official full-length debut, is slated for a "third-quarter release with a big college tour to follow." With no "MC this-or-that" moniker and clearly too self-confident to feel the need to hide behind sexist tirades or profanity-laced lyrics, Martins makes his mark with gifted wordplay, as evidenced on the mixtapes 85 Till Infinity and the Okayplayer-endorsed breakthrough The Birth. Founded by ?uestlove of the Roots, Okayplayer is an online homebase for the Coup, Little Brother, Dilated Peoples, and Common, among many others.
"The situation with Okayplayer was odd because everyone thinks that I ran up on their door with a CD, but honestly I received an email from them saying they enjoyed my music and such, so it worked out really well," Martins told me a few weeks before his four-night stand at South By Southwest in Austin.
The March issue of The Source dished props to The Birth in the Unsigned Hype column: "With a mix of introspection and braggadocio, Theo gets busy over dope production." Martins was also mentioned in the April issue of UK magazine Blag in their "Introducing" section.
Do You Know Theo? will include his latest single, "Say It Right," a bouncy, kinetic cut that cleverly loops the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," a mantra Theo has trademarked in '09. "Oh it's magic, baby," he confidently declares in the opening, as if you can almost hear him smiling in the booth, and the old adage "kill 'em with kindness" takes on new meaning when Theo fires it off. "There's Meaning" builds on MIA's "Paper Planes," while Martins proclaims, "My name is Thee-yo the Rhode Island hee-ro." He also quips and coasts over "Ridin' Down the Freeway" and Kanye's "Grammy Family." It's hard to deny the Lupe Fiasco comparison, and you're more likely to see him in a pair of P-Rod Dunks and matching flannel, shouting out his affinity for cardigans and North Face backpacks on "Hola Oh Theo." But the centerpiece is "Dillagence," where he drops a few sharp quotables: "I'm Stewie, a family guy, so only some comprehend me/I'm straight — don't bend me/The Fendi scarf I took it from my mother/Malik Yoba how I straight ran up under covers." Even better is his buttery delivery here: "And no I don't kick the flow like David Robert Beckham/I'm sorry, I'm more like a Freddy Adu, my wordplay soufflé serve it for two."
So if it ain't guns, blunts, and bitches, just what exactly motivates his lyrical approach?
"My environment, my dreams, and my aspirations all combine into forming my writing style," he said. "Simply put, I can't speak on things I don't know of.
"Art imitates life, and a lot of people get that order mixed up."
Martins graduated from URI last year with a degree in communications and minored in music composition. He was born and raised on the south side of Providence.