Leon Thomas Talks His Music Journey, Debut Album, New Single
Leon Thomas Says Producing Tracks For Drake and SZA Created the "Perfect Storm" For Him to Go Solo
Image Source: Renae Wootson ("IIRONIC")
Leon Thomas III will never be more ready to go solo. Since he was a kid, the actor, singer, songwriter, and producer has always been a piece of a bigger whole — whether he was starring in a Broadway play, ensemble cast on a Nickelodeon show, or in the studio cooking up hits for your favorite artist. But now, the 29-year-old tells POPSUGAR that it feels like the "perfect time" to break off as his own entity and "let people know what I can do as an artist."
"I was able to start hearing my voice for the first time and feeling connected to singing and music in a different way than I had ever been before."
Thomas is still primarily being recognized for his "Victorious" role, which he admits, at one point, "kind of bothered" him. "I had to really circle back and realize I used to do that, too," he says. "How you first meet somebody is how you'll usually grow to remember them. It's definitely a bittersweet thing from time to time, but I've grown to understand that people are still figuring it out and learning."
Thomas is hopeful that his solo music endeavors will clear a few things up for fans who only know him from his acting days, which included roles in HBO's "Insecure" and the 2017 drama film "Detroit." But truth be told, Thomas has been making major moves for himself for over a decade now — and they always connect right back to music.
The Brooklyn-born, Los Angeles-based artist says his musical roots were planted when he was just a kid watching his parents, also musicians, run an independent record label out of their house. "There was a constant stream of music surrounding me from a very early age," he says, noting that he grew up listening to everyone from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway to D'Angelo and Erykah Badu. By that point, Thomas was unknowingly studying all the music greats. However, his own dreams of being an entertainer didn't kick in until age 10, when he auditioned for a "really big Broadway play": "The Lion King."
"I was able to start hearing my voice for the first time and feeling connected to singing and music in a different way than I had ever been before," he explains. "And once I got the play, it was a constant obsession with making more music around that. I truly started diving into the world of music in a different way."
"There's no real regret being on Nickelodeon. If anything, it gave me advantages that I probably wouldn't have had at the beginning of my career."
Performing in three Broadway plays in three years gave Thomas a "crash course" in everything needed to catch the attention of a Viacom executive, who signed him to a developmental deal at age 13. This eventually put him on TV. For the next roughly seven years, Thomas patiently waited for the right opportunity to transition from acting to music. Though he admits it was challenging to balance both career paths at the same time, it gave him an "interesting advantage" when he decided to pursue the latter full-time.
"A lot of the artists I was working with grew up watching me on television, so it gave me a leg up in a lot of rooms, and I was able to use that in the time where I was waiting for a lot of the Nickelodeon shine to wear off," he says. "By the time I was ready to start putting out records, everything was set and laid out. I had already worked with all of the major labels with some of their biggest artists. It became a really great transition into what I wanted to do."
He continues, "There's no real regret being on Nickelodeon. If anything, it gave me advantages that I probably wouldn't have had at the beginning of my career that I was really blessed to work with. I used it as a tool more so than anything else. I never saw it as the end-all-be-all."
Image Source: Renae Wootson ("IIRONIC")
Despite his smooth transition, the beginning of Thomas's full-time music career still had a few bumps in the road. His biggest challenge? "Using my real name when I was working with rappers," he shares. "They weren't sure if I was capable [of] transferring into their world." As a solution, Thomas came up with an alias, The Rascals. The music production team, made up of Thomas and fellow songwriter Khris Riddick-Tynes, became a Grammy-nominated duo. Together, they worked with big names like Ariana Grande ("Positions"), Chris Brown ("Indigo"), Rick Ross ("Gold Roses), and more. The duo's success is a noteworthy chapter in the journey Thomas calls "an exercise in destiny."
"I feel like sometimes I'm really taking every opportunity seriously. I'm pulling up to the studio and people are hearing about what I'm doing, and it's created a snowball effect," he says — one that's put him in rooms with people like his good friend and producer Boi-1da and his mentor, music legend Babyface. But working with A-list artists like Drake ("Certified Lover Boy") and SZA ("SOS") and creating music alongside all-star producers is only half of Thomas's Hollywood voyage. Now, the EZMNY Records-signed artist is ready to let people hear the body of work he's been chipping away at for nearly three years: his forthcoming love-inspired debut album, "Electric Dusk."
"This album came from about eight months of solid work at a studio in Silver Lake, where we had a big TV where we would always play movies silently while we were creating," self-proclaimed film buff Thomas shares. "I decided the title should be 'Electric Dusk' because there's a drive-in movie theater out here that plays a lot of old-school films. I was watching nothing but old school [flicks] with Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee. Some of the cool films like 'Love Jones' and 'Brown Sugar' kind of inspired the feeling of love. I want people to really step into my mind as a creative."
"I've been on this journey for a really long time, but I feel like God has blessed me with all the right opportunities right now."
Thomas could've easily released his debut album and started his solo career years ago. Of the delay, he says, "I feel like I've had a lot of this music hanging in my computer for a long time." "[But] I really want the world to hear my perspective," he adds. "I feel like I was definitely destined for great stages and to be out there as an artist, as well as a creative behind the scenes. I've been on this journey for a really long time, but I feel like God has blessed me with all the right opportunities right now. I'm not letting any of them slip through my hands — now is the time."
He continues, "Seeing the perfect storm that's been created with records I've done for other artists, as well as the exposure that comes from that, it's the perfect time to let people know what I can do."
In December 2022, Thomas marked his new solo chapter with his latest single, a bluesy ballad titled "Breaking Point." The melancholy breakup track, featured in a Beats By Dre commercial starring LeBron James and his son Bronny James that same month, is actually the result of Thomas's last serious relationship, which recently ended after two years.
"Me and my ex were going through it a bit. That was really more so a journal entry, if anything. Me imagining what the end would look like," he explains of the song's origin. "I really wanted to tap into some of the emotions I was feeling at the time. It wasn't even a song I was sure was going to be on my album originally. It was literally musical therapy. But once I started playing it for people and I saw the reaction, we had to add it to the [track]list."
Thomas teases that "Electric Dusk" contains features from Ty Dolla $ign, Benny the Butcher, and one more he can't announce just yet, but notes it could potentially be for a "really nice remix of 'Breaking Point' coming very soon." He's also manifesting future collaborations with Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and a "rite of passage" feature from Beyoncé. But in the meantime, the multihyphenate just dropped the music video for "Breaking Point" in the lead-up to his debut album.
Of what fans can expect to hear on the project, Thomas says, "The main theme is really based on my experience, my dating life, falling in love, and breaking up and having to start again." "I feel like a lot of those songs were inspired by me trying and failing and getting back up and trying again," he adds. "That can even be equated to my experience in the industry as well, of trying things and maybe not always doing exactly what I wanted to do or getting the results I wanted, but still having the resilience to get up and do it again."