When Nicki Minaj released Queen on Friday, the album included a predictable cast of A-list guest vocalists — acts like Future, the Weeknd, Ariana Grande and Lil Wayne. But one singer on Queen is less well-known to American listeners: Labrinth, who co-wrote, co-produced and sang on “Majesty,” a schizophrenic, hard-hitting record with an astoundingly fast verse from Eminem.
Labrinth is a singer-songwriter-producer with a long resume that includes previous placements with Rihanna (“Lost in Paradise” from Unapologetic), the Weeknd (“Stargirl Interlude” from Starboy) and Ed Sheeran (“Save Myself” from ÷). In the U.K., Labrinth has also reached the Top 20 several times as a featured vocalist with Tinie Tempah and Sigma.
This year, the triple-threat is starting to raise his profile Stateside: In addition to appearing on one of Queen‘s keystone tracks, Labrinth recently started LSD, a collaborative project with Diplo and Sia. The group’s first two singles have amassed over 100 million combined views on YouTube. Labrinth took a break from working in the studio to discus the creation of “Majesty” and why LSD is an ideal collaboration.
How did “Majesty” initially come together?
I was making wild records in the studio. That’s basically where I live. I call musicians Gollums. We’re all Smeagols, working on our precious. I sung the “Majesty” chorus — it sounds like a sample, but I play piano and four instruments. I wanted it to feel like a Beatles record or a classic late Sixties-, early Seventies-style record. But then I wanted to switch from that into a crazy hip-hop drop. I missed classic hip-hop. I wanted to make an upgrade of that energy.
What’s classic hip-hop for you?
I remember listening to Big Pun. They used this diminished cluster chord — a lot of hip-hop records in the Nineties would have this crazy piano sample and then throw in an odd jazz diminished chord in the middle of the beat. I wanted to make an electronic energy that had some of those elements. And I wanted to make it feel like there were all these samples going on, but everything on the record was either me making noises with my mouth or just playing piano and synths in my studio.
What do you like about that Nineties effect?
You’d listen to old-school Red Garland records, classic jazz, and hip-hop would cut in pieces of magic from genius musicians and records from way before. You can borrow so many different genres. I think of music like that. Even with my intro, I’m going, I grew up with the Beatles, Bowie, gospel, and I want to mesh everything into my own thing. Hopefully people got that — let’s go Electric Light Orchestra into some head-banging beat with modern day electronics.
That funny “boom shang-a-lang” bit was you as well?
Yeah, it was my idea. I love weird shit on records! I sampled my own voice and tried to sound like maybe 1950s shit. It brings comedy into a hard beat.
Did you add the outro which have more of a dancehall feel?
Nicki came up with the idea. It’s got my drum feel in it. They wanted to extend the record a little bit.
How did the record get to Nicki’s ears?
I heard about the Queen album, and I was like, this beat is perfect for that energy, that message. So I sent a few records over. With a lot of these artists, you send records, you don’t know if it’s gonna make it. But it went with her theme, Nicki really loved it, and before you know it, she put this crazy-ass verse on [“Majesty”]. Her A&R played it for me and I was like, “this shit is wild.” I didn’t know about Eminem on the record. When I heard it, my head just blew up.
Had you worked with her camp before?
I’ve worked on Rihanna’s album, the Weeknd’s album, Ed Sheeran’s as well; a lot of these artists have known about me for a while. The Weeknd I ended up working with because he heard a record that was going to be on my upcoming solo album; then we ended up creating “Losers” [from Beauty Behind the Madness]. A lot of my encounters have come from us kind of being fans of each other’s art. Same with LSD, my project with Sia and Diplo. “We’re fans — let’s do something.”
Eminem raps wildly fast over your beat.
Nicki wouldn’t let out that information, but she said she got a massive act to jump on the record. When I heard it was Eminem, nostalgia came back: what a legend. My whole family, all my friends, were like, “what the fuck!? “That’s one of the best verses I’ve heard from Eminem in a long time.
Did you listen to the rest of the album?
I really enjoy “Barbie Dreams.” She went for everyone. I love that.
What’s it like to be a featured vocalist next to someone like Eminem?
I know, it’s like, who’s this Labrinth guy? A lot of the music industry knows about me. It’s just taking time for the world to get to know what I do. Mad respect to Nicki — she can see potential in me before the world does. That’s why she is where she is; she’s ready to help artists make their way as well as using people that are already massively known around the world.
So in addition to your writing and production work, you’re also working on both a solo record and this LSD record?
Yeah, I’m producing my own record, and we decided to make this LSD band as well.
How did you meet Sia and Diplo?
Me and Sia were writing for my album a few years ago. I’m a massive fan of her voice and creatively she’s a beast. I’ve known Diplo for quite a few years as well. I saw him at the Brit Awards, and we had talked about working for so long. When we got the chance to do LSD, we jumped at it, and it’s one of the most creative projects I’ve been involved in. We dress up in crazy outfits, mess around with Sgt. Pepper’s-esque visuals; we’ve created animations for the band. You can be ballsy and be out there. It feels like you’re not the frontman, so it allows us to go as crazy and as fucked up as we want to go. And that works for us.