Call him London, but this artist bleeds Oakland: An interview with local R&B singer Londonland

Hannah Cooper/Senior Staff

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The Bay Area has long been considered a cultural melting pot, a blend of individuals who come from all walks of life condensed in a single sector to create one of the most diverse regions in the world. With such a unique combinations of races, colors and creeds, it should come as no surprise that the Bay is a place that prides itself on doing things a little different, and its music scene is an entity like no other, combining the aggressiveness of hyphy with the mellowness of R&B and soul.

These two completely different sounds have beautifully coexisted with one another for the past two decades, and while their powers together give the Bay an unparalleled flavor, there is seldom any stylistic overlap — artists typically side with one or the other. Hailing from Oakland, California, however, is an artist who is throwing his hat into the ring — Noel Franklin Jr., more commonly known as Londonland.

A combination of Tony! Toni! Toné! and Too $hort, of Adrian Marcel and E-40, of 3X Krazy and Netta Brielle — all of whom hail from the Bay — Londonland seamlessly combines the Bay’s “hyphy,” or hyperactive, nature and laid-back mentality in his first full-length album Unconditional.

Born in East Oakland and currently residing in North Oakland, Londonland doesn’t hesitate to wear his home on his sleeve. Throughout his 10-song, 39-minute album, not only does he allude to Vallejo’s own E-40 and his hit “Tell Me When to Go,” but he references the drink Hennessy several times — even titling two songs “Hennessy Straight” and “Hennessy on Ice” —  nods to his Bay Area roots that would induce a smile from any local.

“Everything that goes on here really influences me first and foremost,” Londonland said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I’ve been to other places, and I’ve lived in other places, so I’ve gotten different experiences — but then at the same time, I’m still Bay Area, you know what I’m sayin’. Oakland, California, all the way with the music. … Everybody drink Hennessy. Kids see their parents, growing up, drinking Hennessy.”

With a father from East Oakland and mother from West Oakland, Londonland sees “The Town” as his muse. Yet the start of his professional career lies a couple miles south at Hayward High School. As a teen, Londonland was inspired by his older sister to take to music; it was after winning second place at the school’s talent show — and the pocket change that came with it — that Londonland realized the potential of his music.

“Winning some money made me think about it as a career,” Londonland said. “I already liked doing it and it was fun doing it, and then at the same time I could actually make some money from doing what I love to do. Then, I started taking it serious a little bit more.”

After completing high school at Hayward, Londonland took his talents to Atlanta, where he attended Morehouse College. During this time, he would work with Janelle Monáe and sign with the now-defunct Universal Motown Records from 2007 to 2009. While with the record label, Londonland performed around the South, had his music broadcasted on the radio waves and worked with artists such as Lil Wayne, but he also discovered the negative aspects that came with signing to a label.

“Even though I could write the songs and do all the other stuff like that, they just put you in the mix with other songwriters and send you through the pipeline,” Londonland said. “I was on the radio but never dropped an album and never had the power to release music as often as I do now. The label situation was fun while it lasted.”

Upon returning to the Bay Area, Londonland effectively had to start from scratch, but hit the ground running once he settled in. From 2011 onward, Londonland released several projects including The Screener, 4:20 (EP), The Bedroom (EP), Period Point Blank, TRAPandB and Welcome to Londonland, in addition to singles sprinkled between the releases of full-length projects.

“The best part is being able to release music whenever you want,” Londonland said. “On your label, you can be dope and have a hundred records just sitting and nobody knows (any) of your stuff. Everyone wants an official team that can help them push their product to the next level, which is what a label does, but there’s also small entities that do the same thing.”

While Londonland’s main focus has been the music, he hasn’t shied away from venturing into the small business realm. Londonland and a few friends created the underground venue #RegularsOnly, a space consisting of four connecting backyards and used to host both parties and shows. In the space, there’s a garden with free-range chickens, a giant chessboard and a fire pit, among other attractions.

“It’s a community space a couple of friends came together and put together for ourselves and the community as well,” Londonland said. “People get kicked out of venue spaces or don’t have access to venue spaces. It’s not as easy to have a venue or book a venue, to do shows or to have events. We have our own space to where we’ve been rocking for a few years now.”

Despite the success Londonland has enjoyed upon returning to the Bay Area, he’s far from satisfied. Looking forward, he’s aiming to set himself up for a long career in the music industry and, should the opportunity present itself, collaborate with other artists. In the short-term, however, there’s only one thing on Londonland’s mind.

“Keep it lit, and keep slappin’.”

Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @jdelossantos510.