Theo’s art is featured in Gossamer Volume Six: the Garbage issue, which you can order here.
My love for walking came from my grandmother.
She wasn’t my birth grandma, but she was someone who I met when I was young. Her name was Myra, and when my parents were working or busy, she would take care of my sister and I. My mother met her through church, and she was truly like a grandmother to us because our actual grandmother was in Nigeria.
Myra was an incredible older Irish woman who thought cartoons were the devil and never had a TV at her house. But we’d have such a ball because she played music and taught us watercolor and painting. A lot of exchange students from Japan who went to Brown would stay at her house. They’d sketch us, and we’d sketch them.
When you’re walking, you’re seeing things—you’re seeing the sun, you’re looking at buildings.
We were immersed in a lot of outdoor activities, and one of those things was walking. As a child, I hated it. I hated it because I was like, She doesn’t look like us. Do people think we’re adopted, walking with this woman? I was so concerned. But she would take us on adventures all throughout Rhode Island. It really just turned on my awareness because when you’re walking, you’re seeing things—you’re seeing the sun, you’re looking at buildings.
When you’re in a car, you can just lay off. You can be in your head, and find things to dwell on. Whereas with walking, I got to lose that sort of feverish anxiety. I was more able to just take part in the environment.
I loved walking in New York, obviously. But I carried that with me to L.A., too. It’s the perfect environment for walking. However, no one walks there.
People would see me walking and text me asking me if I was okay. It’s the funniest thing, but I enjoyed it.
It was something that friends found strange at first. I would be like, “It’s just a mile, let’s walk.” People would see me walking and text me asking me if I was okay. It’s the funniest thing, but I enjoyed it. Especially at the top of the pandemic.
I was partaking in a very un-busy city. I’d go for a long walk and just enjoy it, seeing beautiful street signs and cars and homes. And so the early beginnings of the Walking Club was just me thinking, It’d be cool if I had a walking club, like a running club or hockey club.
I reached out to Jason Markk to see if they wanted to collaborate on some shoe insoles. I was like, “Yo, I’m doing a Walking Club. The idea is everyone can start exactly where you are. If you’re in your house, walking to the fridge and back, you’re part of the club. We don’t have to walk together. It’s not a running club, you don’t have to run seven miles in order to prove your worth. You can really walk to what your level is. You don’t have to do anything—you’re already in.”
If there's COVID, if the world explodes, if anything happens, it doesn't matter, because we still have to walk.
I thought it’d be cool to make a soundtrack, too, and make it a true synthesized experience. The beauty is that it’s rooted in reality. It’s not the “space club,” it’s not anything that anyone has to aspire to. It’s something that we’re all actually doing without noticing. If there’s COVID, if the world explodes, if anything happens, it doesn’t matter, because we still have to walk.
I love sharing rich experiences. It can be as small as going for a walk, or grabbing a cup of tea with someone, or sitting in a park—those moments. I love them with cannabis, as well. I started with it late, but it’s amazing.
I credit Rose and the folks there because I love the subtleties of something that I can ingest and experience on my own and without calling attention to myself.
I come from a background in art, acting, and cartoons. My mother is an artist and my father was an artist, he played instruments. But it was less about what they did, and more about the space they allowed us to have at home. I am the second of five siblings, so it was a very full house, and it was fun. Everyone had their flow, and it was all accepted.
I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, but my family’s from Lagos, Nigeria. It was really interesting having a first generation experience in Providence because inside our four walls, it felt like Nigeria: the food we ate, the customs, the language that we understood and spoke. But immediately outside those walls, it was very much a small state. It was just the weirdest contrast.
I was raised in the church. My mom had converted from her Islam upbringing to a sort of northeast Christian lifestyle. We were some of the first Black people in our church but there were a lot of youth there and we had a great community. So to go from being ridiculed at school for being African to going to a church where you were almost celebrated, to then going home—it was a lot.
I was pretty sheltered until I was 12 or 13. I wasn’t allowed to listen to rap music or anything on the radio. My parents were very protective as to what our influences were. It was a lot of Disney and AMC. Boring television, for sure, but something I now value very much and love.
When my father first moved to the U.S., he came straight to Houston, Texas. I feel like every Nigerian in the world has roots in Houston. There are direct flights from there to Nigeria, and it’s warm, so I think they love it.
When I was in fourth grade, we went down to see family there. We took a bus from Rhode Island all the way. It was like a four-day trip and we’d stop in cities in between—it was wild. That was one of the first times I heard rap.
To go from being ridiculed at school for being African to going to a church where you were almost celebrated, to then going home—it was a lot.
I remember hearing Pete Rock, and Lawrence and the Underground—they were so foreign to me at the time. I remember stopping in cities like New York with cars whizzing by being like, “What is that song? What is that?” I kept hearing the same song, the same artists. There was an entire visual set to the music already. Someone’s driving, they have huge rims on their car, their hair is a certain style, and there’s a smell that I’m smelling, which I didn’t know at the time was weed. There was an entire world to it.
That was when the early seeds were planted. By the time I got to middle school, I was really focused on buying turntables. I was a shy child, but I was so obsessed. There was this show on BET called Rap City and I loved watching the guest DJs. I’d stay up and listen to the radio when everyone was asleep. The obsession just grew.
I would DJ high school basketball games and then a lot of Brown parties. Other friends hired me and I started to expand my network. I would go to Connecticut and New York. I was DJing 1,200-person parties.
When I was a kid, my mom was a bit of a “momager.” She’d take my eldest sister and I to different acting auditions. One of the films I got a role in was Amistad. It was a very small part—I don’t think it was even a speaking role—but there was camera time. It was an experience to be on set with Debbie Allen, Steven Spielberg and Matthew McConaughey. I was 12 and too shy for it at the time, but I knew I liked it. I enjoyed the attention and I knew that I was good at it. DJing—and being entertaining—brought me back in this way where I was like, Oh, I’m actually comfortable. I’m doing it in front of 1,200 people. I’m playing tracks, but I’m also cueing it. I’m talking to the audience. If I cut the music off, this is really just a stand up performance.
Providence is an incredible city, but didn’t have the infrastructure for what I needed. That was less about the city, and more about what I wanted. I wanted more. I ended up spending a great deal of time in New York where I was pursuing what was really the start of my music career. It was very typical: I had a manager, I was playing gigs, I was sorting through it. I went on tour with Warren G.
Some friends of mine at the time were in a band called You And I. They saw me DJ and asked me to open up for them on their tour. That brought me to every city and across the country. The last stop was in the Bay and it was such a great show. We were playing with Dam-Funk and all these incredible artists like Miguel, just having fun. California was incredible. I remember thinking, “Whoa, this city looks like Full House for real. This is amazing!” It was beautiful. I was just wide-eyed. New York was great, but I understood that I was going to go through a period of suffering where I’m just trying to figure everything out, and I asked myself, Do you want to do that where it’s cold, or do you want to do it where it’s warm?
I went to London for a bit, but in that time I was really trying to define myself, like “Okay, I make music” or “Okay, I’m a musician who DJs, too.” You’re talking to other people a lot when you’re doing stuff, but really, you’re talking to yourself, and you’re trying to come to some personal agreement, like, Here’s who I am. Let me set it down. So I moved to California in search of trying to understand exactly what I was doing.
I started a company called Good Posture. It was going to be the name of an album or something, but I felt like it embodied a lot of stuff I liked. I had a bunch of shirts that I wanted to make and I wanted to have someone shoot them. That was the beginning
One day I saw a random flyer for the opening of a store, Virgil Normal. I loved the design so I decided to walk over. It was packed, but the vibes were great. I met a guy there, Charlie, who happened to be the owner. That was the start of a great friendship.
I spent a lot of time at the store, and eventually it came up in conversation that I was trying to open up a cereal bar. I’m a big kid, and I love breakfast. Favorite meal of the day? Breakfast, 100%. I love anything savory, too. I mean, I grew up in Rhode Island—pasta heaven. But breakfast to me is always bright. It’s fun. It brings a lot of joy. But it’s only in the morning that we’re having these things, and I don’t want to just have fun in the morning—I want to have fun all day. So I was like, I love cereal, I’m having people at my house all the time, and I’m buying cereal and I’m eating it. If I open a cereal bar, people can come by and have it. I didn’t want to be lonely while I was hanging out.
I ended up setting up shop behind Virgil Normal, and it became an entire thing. People were getting glimpses of what I was making with Good Posture and it brought a bunch of people who are used to going to very L.A. things to a very non-L.A. environment. It wasn’t that deep: I just got these cereal containers from Walmart and bought cereal and put it in it. There were no frills, no one was looking to be cool there at all. So you had to be who you were.
We were getting too big for Virgil Normal. I felt like we were starting to interfere with their work. People were even coming down from Vegas. At the same time, I’m serving kids who come to this bar and it’s making me uncomfortable from a health standpoint, being aware of what they are eating. If they’re getting sick or getting disease from eating this, well, then I’m no good, and there’s no good in this. So I was like, “No, I have to make my own cereal.”
I started off by Googling, “How to make cereal.” I called manufacturers and just dove in. We used the cereal bar to taste test it with everyone there. Eventually I found a beautiful rhythm.
We launched the cereal with an album, and it’s been growing ever since. There’s a second flavor coming in mid-May. I got Alexis Jamet to design a box with me for it and it’s got more toys in those boxes.
My father still works at the same restaurant he did when he came to America. I loved going there in the morning and hanging out with him when they served breakfast. So I want to recreate that experience, but with an actual product, and a world around it.
When I look back at all the things I’ve been doing, I’m like, Oh, I’m just an artist who works across different spaces. I have the ability to bring myself into music and acting and cereal and clothes. In the end, it’s just all different rooms in one house, and the house is Theo.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Theo Martins photographed by Meghan Marin at his home in Brooklyn. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.