Every trip needs a guide. Through the trumpet, THEO CROKER narrates a human story rooted in intimate experience yet cognizant of cosmic consciousness. The GRAMMY® Award-nominated artist, producer, composer, thought leader, influencer, and tastemaker unpacks moments of heroism, trials, tribulations, awakenings, and apotheosis within a musical pastiche. Brought to life by a myriad of fellow cultural renegades and threaded together by his playing, Theo’s journey unfolds in technicolor on his sixth full-length offering, BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST [Sony Music Masterworks].
“This record was composed like a film score,” Theo explains of the album. “I want the listener to feel like they are in the movie.” A contemporary oratorio, the 13 tracks encompassing BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST are inspired by the forgotten hero’s journey towards self-actualization within the universal origins of blackness. An affirmation of the hero’s creative identity, the narrative explores traditions of the past, their foundations in the present, and potential explorations into the future. A sonic celebration of Afro-origin, BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST is ultimately a reclamation of the culture, for the culture.
“Our hero receives a transmission from his ancestors while in meditation that sets him on a mission to raise the planet’s vibrations through music that defies the confines of a ‘genre’ and frees the culture from the imminent threat of commercial gentrification,” Theo clarifies. “BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST is both meant to be a deeply impactful, personal experience for the listener as well as one that you can dance to – it is Black music after all.”
Ironically, Theo embarked on his latest musical odyssey at home. After seven years of musical sojourning in Shanghai, Theo first crash-landed with his simmering original sound on 2014’s Dee Dee Bridgewater-assisted Afro Physicist. Following the sophomore success of 2016’s Escape Velocity, he ascended to a new stratosphere with Star People Nation in 2019, which garnered his first-ever GRAMMY® Award nomination and attracted widespread critical acclaim from Stereogum, Paste, and The New York Times. Along the way, Theo has lent his talents to albums by everyone from J. Cole to Common and performed to packed audiences worldwide. Immediately after the 2020 GRAMMY® Awards, Theo returned home to visit his mother in Leesburg, Florida, when the global pandemic canceled his impending tour dates. “I found myself in complete stillness for the first time in my adult life. No shows, tours, or sessions for the first time in 15 years,” Theo recalls. “I was in the childhood home where my dreams and journey in music first began. I decided to embrace the uncertainty by looking inward, focusing on who I am as a human being and what my value is to myself, my family, my friends, and my community without music. I imbibed into psilocybin meditations and astral travels, spent hours in nature in silence, faced the darkest parts of myself, reviewed my family’s library of ancient metaphysical texts, and opened the channel to my ancestors for guidance. The truths, peace, and love I found within myself are invaluable.”
That soul-searching brought Theo to the vision of BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST. “When I returned to the music, I felt a huge shift,” he remembers. “I was full of inspiration, grounded and connected to my origins. Home was now a place within me. My past now aligned with my future.” By retreating inward, Theo extracted a universal story with major implications and spiritual resonances. “In the beginning, the universe was birthed out of a black hole,” he says. “Everything came from blackness. Black is every color combined. So, all cultures are full of this rich blackness. It isn’t a racial statement; it’s about understanding and accepting that this is not a new cultural phenomenon or new science, that we can reclaim our origins, traditions, and culture to better the future. I’m making a statement with the title and project, ‘I can be an artist first before I am a black artist’. I can be a musician, creator, and producer without category.”
Armed with a busted Fender Rhodes Piano and his trumpet, he first composed the album’s 13 tracks on manuscript paper before producing the overall soundscape on his laptop. This process would ultimately serve as a sonic framework for the eventual five-day recording session with his band. “My band has been touring the globe together for years. As a unit, our synergy allows us to create spontaneously and effortlessly as one organism. We literally just breathed life into this music and framework.”
This synergy is on full display on the album’s lead single “HERO STOMP || A FUTURE PAST,” which finds Theo manipulating a crackling horn as samples are interwoven through an intense live band take. Eventually, it curls into a wave of 27 different horns. “We made it sound like we were with that tribe,” he explains. “The sound coming out of my horn is pure energy. Imagine the earth and all of its inhabitants transmuting into our shared cosmic blackness.”
Having laid the foundation for his hero’s journey, follow-up single “State Of The Union 444 || BLK2THEFUTURE” arrives as a galactic production co-produced by Kassa Overall and featuring legendary Fugees co-founder Wyclef Jean. “First of all, Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival, is one of the first albums I ever owned back in middle school,” Theo smiles. “At some point, Wyclef was put onto my music in the fall of 2020. The fact he took to it really caught me off guard. He invited me into the studio, dubbed me ‘Young Miles,’ and brought me into his tribe.” The unexpected partnership was a symbiotic one for both artists, Wyclef himself admitting, “This might be my last rap on the planet…I don’t know what I’m going to say after this.” The result is a cosmic odyssey of sound punctuated by sci-fi squeals and sirens that pulsates in tandem with Wyclef’s tightly-woven, rapid-fire rhymes and is offset by spacey trumpet transmissions and a slapping 808 tribal chant.
Elsewhere, Theo’s latest effort is rife with contributors and collaborators. “I wanted to feature different voices as narrations to all of the different movements and colors I was presenting instrumentally,” he explains. On “Happy Feet (for dancers)” [feat. Malaya], Theo delivers a shuffling anthem meant to “capture the essence of the Detroit dance scene and give dancers everywhere something to move to.” Then, there’s “Lucid Dream” [feat. Charlotte Dos Santos]. Trumpet punctures a galloping beat as Charlotte’s soft timbre hovers above this percussive backdrop. Meanwhile, “Every Part of Me” [feat. Ari Lennox] is flush with evocative trumpet and otherworldly textures as finger-snaps and cymbals simmer beneath Lennox’s ethereal vocal delivery. The track’s momentum rises and falls with Lennox as she exhales on a fluttering refrain. “‘Every Part of Me’ was written to feature Ari Lennox. Lyrically, she’s asking why she can’t simply be who she is as a divine feminine being.”
On the album intro, “4KNOWLEDGE,” a lulling hum gives way to birds chirping as Theo’s voice warbles before bleeding into the lyrical trumpet of “Soul Call || Vibrate.” His instrumental phrasing hovers above an organic beat wrapped in warm piano. “‘4KNOWLEDGE’ is like a giant spaceship full of knowledge, information, and beauty,” he describes. “It lands in a remote area of the jungle and drops off four musicians or healers. It goes into ‘Soul Call’ where they learn to use the vibrations, tones, and music we’re familiar with in this dimension as a language to reach out to people.”
In the end, Theo isn’t just our guide on BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST — he’s also the story’s hero, his music continuing to reach people with its otherworldly, sonic magic.
“I’m reborn in 2021,” he leaves off. “I allowed the stillness to catch up to me. Instead of putting it aside, I really saw who I was as a human being, how I receive and treat people, and how I understand the world and how it understands me. I fully believe in myself as an artist, a creator, a friend, a family member, and a human being. I am who I am—and I like it. This music is me.”
Theo Croker is a storyteller who speaks through his trumpet. A creative who refuses boundaries, the GRAMMY®️ Award-nominated artist, composer, producer, thought leader, and influencer projects his voice through the music. After seven years of sojourn in Shanghai, Croker crash-landed with a simmering original sound on the 2014 Dee Dee Bridgewater-assisted album Afro Physicist. Following the success of Escape Velocity in 2016, he ascended to a new stratosphere with Star People Nation in 2019. The record garnered a nomination in the category of “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album” at the 62nd GRAMMY®️ Awards. It attracted widespread critical acclaim including Stereogum, Paste, and The New York Times who called it “an album that gallivants from swirling, left-field hip-hop beats to propellant swing to entrancing passages of African percussion. Through it all, Croker’s understated trumpet playing holds his small band together with swagger and poise.” Along the way, he also lent his sound to platinum-selling albums by everyone from J. Cole to Ari Lennox while touring his band across the globe many times over. In 2020, he hunkered down at his childhood home in the midst of the global pandemic and wrote his sixth full-length album, releasing fall 2021 [Sony Music Masterworks].