Leon Thomas is a man of many talents, and he continues to grace the world with his good energy and humility. You may recognize him as Andre on the hit Nickelodeon show Victorious, or maybe you saw him open up for Ella Mai on tour.

Regardless, the New York-bred, Los Angeles-based creative is the true definition of a multi-hyphenate, someone who can sing his ass off, produce timeless records time and time again, and of course, slay any role on the big or small screen. Playing Simba in the broadway play The Lion King, Leon Thomas has been entertaining the masses since 10 years old.

But what he’s most excited for is his forthcoming album titled Electric Dusk, slated to arrive in July of this year. Clocking in at 11 tracks, the project is spearheaded by lead singles “Breaking Point,” “Crash & Burn,” “Love Jones” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, and “X-Rated’ featuring Benny The Butcher.

On the 54th episode of Shirley’s Temple, I sat with Leon Thomas to discuss being in the studio with Ty Dolla $ign, love for Griselda, Drake inspiring his creative process, favorite song with Ariana Grande, how he met Drake and the “Drake effect,” how he stays grounded as a childhood actor, producing for Snoh Aalegra, looking up to Babyface, how he remains humble, and more!

Ty Dolla $ign goes crazy in the studio, what is the vibe in the studio?

You know what’s really cool about Ty$, there’s 3 different modes in the studio with him. There’s rapid fire song writing mode, where he’ll literally do 6 songs in a night. He’ll go in the headphones and knock them out, we’ll listen to them for a bit then it’s on to the next. Sometimes there’s elements of it mimicking what it’d be like at a club, so we’ll have people around. Same thing, he’ll go back into the headphones and knock out a song, but we can party and vibe to the records we do. This is one of my favorite modes, is when we get to go from scratch and make a beat. Because he also produces as well. Me being a producer and a songwriter, it’s fun to be in there from the beginning of the process of making the song until the end. Seeing it vibe out.

Someone said Ty$ made everyone leave the studio so he could perfect his vocals.

Oh yeah. Honestly me as an artist, I’m usually in a room by myself. I’m an engineer as well, so I like to be by myself. 

You produce and you engineer…?

Yeah, I mixed my whole new project that’s coming out this summer. Electric Dusk, July 21st. For me, it’s definitely about being in a position to fail freely. You might have a take that’s not as good, and if you have 7 people staring at the back of your head, it can turn it into a different thing. 

Electric Dusk album coming, what can we expect? 

Honestly, we’ve been working on this project for a long time. It’s been something that’s been cooked up for a while. But the way my deal is set up, I’m doing 2 albums on my first cycle. I’m already working on the next album right now. But this first album has 11 songs and some really cool features. I’ma save some of the new features when we do that official release. But for right now, we got Benny The Butcher and Ty Dolla $ign, which is a beautiful vibe. We’re making a shake.

I love that you tapped in with Benny The Butcher, I have so much respect for Griselda.

Aw yeah, I love Griselda. Literally, I was listening to Westside Gunn on the way over. I’m a huge fan. 

He got the biggest chain out of all these rappers. 

Come on now, because they’re making independent money. That’s a little different, don’t gotta split it with everybody. 

You’re signed to Motown, right?

I’m signed to Motown, Capital also picked up the project for distribution. It’s been dope, having a machine behind what I’m doing. I’m building things out slowly. It feels good to have support, because independent can be a lot on your back.

Because you were signed super early!

Yeah, the first time I was ever signed I was 13 years old. But it was through a TV show, so it wasn’t really all about the music. This time around, it really feels focused on the music itself.

Are your vocals even in at 13? 

Yeah, I’d just hit puberty. It was cool, I was working with some amazing producers and songwriters at 13. I was working with Bob Power, he did “On & On” with Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, A Tribe Called Quest. I was working with him pretty early. 

Are you even aware of what’s going on at that point?

Pretty much. They were paying me, I said I might as well figure it out. [laughs] My parents are musicians too, so it’s really in my blood. Music’s been a part of it. I’ve been writing love songs before I even knew what love was. I definitely had to imagine a lot of things, but it was cool. When you’re younger, you have a good imagination anyway.

Is your more current music inspired by real females?

Yeah, the newer stuff is definitely me writing my life. There’s definitely aspects even with that, where I like to project a world I want to live in. I learned that from Drake, seeing him do that early in his process. If you listen to it, he was always talking about affluent things, even before he was really at that super millionaire level. That is genuinely a part of my process. I’m a big believer in manifestation, speaking your existence. A song, I’m singing it all over the country. Mad shows, listening to it. You’re projecting that into the world, I really feel like it’s gon’ happen for me fasho.

Did Drake ever hear your “Take Care” cover with Ariana Grande?

I don’t think he ever heard that. I definitely wasn’t about to play it for him, for sure. That’s a super fan moment I don’t think either of us needed. [laughs] “Get this guy out of here. Security!” But I definitely put Ariana Grande on that, early Ariana. We were in a studio, I didn’t have an original song to do. You know what, we both like Drake. Let’s make it happen. Let’s vibe out.

What’s your favorite song you’ve done with Ariana Grande? 

It’s a fight between two songs. There was a song on her first album, the first track called “Honeymoon Avenue.” Shout out to Tommy Brown, Victoria Monet. We’ve been in this thing for a long time. That was one of those records that Wendy over at Universal said “Yo, we want you and your production partner Khris Tynes to mess around with it. See if you can maybe elevate the production a little bit.” We got a 12 piece orchestra to come in and do strings. That was my first time feeling like a Quincy Jones level producer. Because to have the string section going in and playing parts that we put together, it was so cool. It was really tight.

What was it like seeing her career take off?

It was a vibe. First off, we used to sit in rooms just like this. We did school together so on our breaks, we’d talk about music a lot and the dreams that we had. We both spoke it into existence, exactly what we wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. Seeing those words turn into reality was a beautiful thing. She’s a real friend of mine. It’s not just we work together, we really hung out a lot. I’m so proud of her, to this day. Seeing what she was able to create, what all of us were able to create. The odds are definitely stacked against you coming from a children’s network, so I’m proud of all of us for elevating.

Talk about those conversations on set of Victorious. What was your dream?

At that time, I was obsessed with Ryan Leslie. He’s a dope producer/artist. Seeing him be able to cook up for other people, and also be an artist at the same time was really refreshing. That’s definitely somebody I used to mention a lot. Jermaine Dupri, same thing. I always used to be watching their YouTube videos, because they had really good content around that time. It was even before people were really doing a lot of content. It was really cool being able to live the dream that I was telling her I would do. 

She was really into music from the beginning. But prior to Victorious, I was already doing a lot of records and working with a lot of producers. She’d always ask questions really about management and how to really level up out of everything we were going through at Nickelodeon. I really respect her for staying true to her word.

What was your best piece of advice for her?

Early on, I’d always tell her that it was smart to learn how to engineer. That’s something she ended up doing, she’s nasty on Pro Tools now. She doesn’t need an engineer for nothing, she could just tap in. Obviously, she has great people around her, but it’s a really cool thing. I’m glad she ended up locking in.

I want to get into the Drake stuff. How did y’all meet initially? 

It was such a crazy process. My production partner Khris, we started our production duo The Rascals. We’ve been in the field doing our thing for a minute, but there’s certain artists you don’t necessarily try to chase placements for. Because everybody and their mama is trying to do records for them. A couple of people like Rihanna, Beyonce, and Drake. You know for a fact there’s gonna be thousands to almost a million people all at the same time, trying to get records to them. If you don’t really have an in, it gets weird. 

For us, we finally got an in. Khris was out at Nobu on a double date. Met Boi-1da, we started working with Boi-1da. Shout out to Simon. They’re sweet, good, genuine people. They’ve been in the industry a minute, but not long enough to lose their soul. I really genuinely love the fact they care about the people they work with. They really looked out for me, got me into a really great publishing deal. Shout out to Boi-1da, they literally changed my life. Working with Drake was an amazing stepping stone, it did so many things for me.

I saw you say somewhere that it changed your trajectory as an artist? 

Absolutely. There’s something called the Drake effect. You’ve seen it with major artists who are starting their career. There’s companies that may have known about you for a while, but seeing that Drake is associating with you creatively, gives them a little bit more confidence. Because they know as much as Drake’s an amazing artist, he’s also a curator for the culture. It was really cool seeing that labels were definitely more receptive to making things happen with me as an artist after that. It’s definitely an interesting journey.

How’d it feel getting nominated for Best Rap Song at the Grammys on Drake’s “Gold Roses”?

It was amazing, because that whole record came together in such a cool way. They rented out this mansion. They had 10 to 15 producers all connected to the OVO camp. We were sitting there creating, sending around ideas. That was one of the beats they sent upstairs. We added some things to it, they sent it back. Next thing we knew, there was a Drake idea written to it, which was crazy. When he came out to LA, he sat down with me and Khris and talked to us about what he wanted to do for Certified Lover Boy.

And you have 3 songs on there!

Yeah, so that really worked out. Just made it happen.

Best memory from the Bahamas? You said it was like research for you.

It was research, because I was studying. Every artist has a brand, and that brand is a machine. You gotta study the gears that make that machine, as successful as that artist is. For Drake, what I noticed is he has amazing people in every field surrounding him. That’s a really important factor, because you want to have good parts for your machine. Sometimes people want to just put the homies on. “Yeah bro, we grew up together. You over here…” 

For him, I noticed he really had a solid team of people that genuinely care about whatever they have to focus on for his specific brand. I’m not on Drake’s level yet, but I definitely wanted to make sure that when I got home, I really employed the best people I could for everything I personally needed. It’s been great to see the success that I have been able to create, utilizing what I studied. 

Was that someone you wanted to work with?

Drake? Hell yeah! What you mean? [laughs] It’s a goal. I’m big on manifesting, but sometimes you be thinking alright, how am I gon’ get to Drake? This guy has everybody trying to work with him, but it worked out.

I’m so happy for you.

Thank you, I appreciate that. Because you really seen a lot of my grind, the hustle. But it doesn’t stop. I’m really thankful, and grateful.

What was your reaction when you heard Jay Z on “Love All”?

Amazing. Being from Brooklyn, Jay Z has always been a huge part of my life. It was definitely a bucket list moment. Didn’t get to meet him yet, but that’s coming. 

How much is a Leon Thomas beat?

It varies. If I know you, we can work something out. But if I don’t, I don’t even want to say my price, because I want people to approach me properly. You never know, It might increase in a couple of weeks.

Back to the early days, how did you end up producing? 

Even during Victorious, I was co-producing and writing a lot of the songs I was performing. From age 14 to 16 was where my production journey started. Those are some of my first placements on a major network, being streamed in a show in so many different countries. It was cool to even perform in Germany, Italy, London, see people respond to my music. 

Shirley’s Temple has a focus on mental health. How are you doing?

I’m really good. I had a breakup that definitely put me in a bit of a tailspin, but it’s good to go through those journeys. Life is an ebb and flow, meaning there’s ups and downs. For me, having a process: affirmations, meditation, yoga, writing songs. You gotta find your tools and use them! It’s cool to do it when everything’s all good, but when you go through those storms is when you really get to test if this stuff works. I can definitely say I’m a testament, the fact that it works.

What happened with the, with the relationship?

We both were at a point in our lives where the pandemic just happened. We were glued to each other for both very positive reasons, then there was the world stopping at that time. Post pandemic, she was growing, I was growing. We’re still friends to this day. It’s no bad blood, but it’s definitely a tough goodbye.

Because of the nature of show business. child actors are often exposed to drugs, alcohol and sex at an early age. At the same time, young actors must constantly cope with rejection, jealousy, self scrutiny, obsessive thoughts, and the nonstop need to be perfect. Being in the limelight since you were 10 years old, everyone that knows you knows how kind and humble and sweet you are. How did you turn out this way? Because the majority of people don’t.

I’m gonna talk about another tool I didn’t talk about before, but God is a huge part of my life. Regardless of whatever religion you serve, having some discipline, having some process attached to the way you live your life is a really huge part of what kept me grounded. Because it doesn’t matter how high I climb, who I meet, who I work for, how many people know me, there’s no level bigger than God. 

I always feel there’s more to do. There’s more I could be doing as a son, as a brother, to be a better human being. We put so much focus on how much money do you make, but for me, how good of a human being can I be? Looking back in my 80’s, even after making a bunch of money, was I an asshole this entire time? That process is the thing I chase, as much as trying to win. It’s definitely an ebb and flow, balance. 

They came out with the documentary on Aaron Carter. I swear, it broke my heart. 

It’s tough. I can’t sit here and tell you my journey was perfect. I really pray for a lot of homies I did come up with, from both Nick and Disney. Because you’re making so much money, sometimes even have family members relying on the money that you make. If you can’t continue to support, you feel horrible. So there’s that journey. The people that really rooted themselves in something bigger than the industry itself, are usually able to journey out of it. 

This blew my mind, there’s something called the Coogan Act where you’re only required to 15% of the child’s warnings in trust. So that means 85% is fair game. Additionally, if the law was breached, you have to sue your parents. Who created this shit where you have to sue your parents?

Yeah, that’s horrible. I’m never suing my parents. If anything, here’s how I felt about it. My mom had a really successful business and stopped focusing on that as much, especially once my career started blossoming. She had a really successful club dayband. Her and my stepfather ran a club day band. They were opening up for Chaka Khan. They were doing really cool, big weddings for super millionaires. They had a club they used to work out of called Lola’s. 

She took a lot of time off from that to be able to travel with me. I was 13, going on tours. The way I felt about it, everything that came from that time period in my life was owed to them. That’s what I did, just handed it off. I had to start from scratch when I was 21, which is interesting, because people would think I’d be super breaded up. But nah, I had to go from scratch. Build up again after that, make it happen. It’s so cool that after all of that, I was able to work my way up to double what I had at that time. If not triple. Once again, that journey through operating from a humble place, understanding that money at that time wouldn’t last forever. I really never bought crazy chains or anything, it was always chill.

How did it feel to see the music income come in, as opposed to the acting money?

It was different. The acting space, you make good money. There’s a certain time period where if I got a network show, close to $75K an episode. Say you got a 12 episode season, I was about to do alright. For me, I left a lot of that to chase something I was really passionate about, which was music. And it took time, but money came in at the right time.

You don’t understand how much I love “DO 4 LOVE” by Snoh Aalegra. Bobby Caldwell had just passed away, right?

He passed away a couple of months after that, but it’s cool that maybe he was able to see his song get some more love once again.

Can you tell me the story behind that? 

I had worked with Snoh Aalegra 5 months before that, on a song called “On My Mind.” Her team reached out and asked if I wanted to produce her new Spotify single, which I thought was really cool. We got a chance to do two songs. Iit was exclusive to Spotify for 6 months, now they dropped it on all the other platforms. It was crazy. My boy Ali and my boy Peter, both of them very talented musicians and producers, we all came together. She didn’t want to have any drums, because she used to do that song live at all of her concerts. We worked around the chord progressions. Peter came in and laid some strings, I added some bass and my boy did keys. We formed a cool superband for that one record. Snoh sang her ass off, I’m such a fan of her tone. It’s a real record, she really killed it.

What is it like hearing the end product back? 

Being a part of the process is the closest thing to magic. Because I went in there having no clue what that song was gonna sound like, whether it was gonna be good or bad. Not on Snoh’s part, but more so as a producer, I’m definitely a perfectionist., so I want it to be great. It worked out. It was cool, I let go and had fun. Listened to Snoh, she really guided us to something that was very special. 

Where did The Rascals come from?

The Rascals came from us being the youngest producers at this really dope studio. Babyface opened his doors to us, it’s crazy. We’d be around Toni Braxton, Lionel Richiem Aretha Franklin before she died, Stevie Wonder. I’m talking real life legends. We were very young, but we really felt like kids because they were all literal legends. I felt we were The Rascals, running around trying to make shit happen. One thing I always loved about the Little Rascals, they always tried to be adults. Always trying to be grown. That’s how we felt at 18, 19. Being in those hallways, surrounded by greatness. 

How did it feel winning a Grammy for Toni Braxton and Babyface’s Love, Marriage & Divorce?

Crazy. I was just at the crib. When you’re a producer and the album is nominated, you don’t get tickets. I was checking Twitter every 2 seconds to see who won. I remember I was making spaghetti and looking out, there was some people walking by my balcony. I’m yelling, I just won a Grammy! They’re like, “we don’t care!” [laughs] it’s all good! Y’all stay blessed. I had a little party at the house, fuck it. It was a vibe. I just turned 21, moved out into my own crib. I definitely had a good 2 months off losing myself, having a great time.

Babyface deserves all his flowers.

Absolutely. I always tell him when I see him, but I look up to him so much. I really appreciate him opening his doors creatively, because it taught me a lot. Not just about being a producer or an artist, but also being an executive. He was making plays and real moves. We had label presidents pop by to listen to stuff and kick it. I really respect that. It definitely gave me something to look up to, and something to grow into. 

The advice he told you was to just have fun, right? 

Yeah, have a good time. You put a lot of pressure on yourself. That quote you had was really interesting. Being a child actor, you’re so focused on being perfect. But the second I started letting go of the reins a little bit and letting life happen, the better things went for sure.

How did you not let the fame phase you? You’re so humble. 

Thank you. You can’t chase #1 TV show success. You’re gonna be running fast and hard, and burn out a lot. We were the #1 show in the world. We’re beating out American Idol, that’s nuts. The way I look at it: listen, there’s gonna be people who know me for my music. There’s gonna be people who know me for being on Insecure with Issa Rae. There’s gonna be people who know me for different things, that I have to be comfortable with. I learned very early that a lot of famous people were projecting affluence and weren’t very affluent. For me, let’s get to this money. I read a book about passive income. 

How old were you when you read that book?

16, that’s what got me into production. Yo, hold up. Publishing? Alright so I can have a catalog. I can lease that out to a publishing company for 10 years, then get it back. I knew back then, because I was around Nipsey Hussle. He was doing crypto deals, people are making $200 million off of having great records. Because they’re selling off their publishing. When that catalog reverts back to you, there you go. They’re treating music like the stock market. If you got Beyonce credits, Drake credits.

Who do you sell the catalog to?

There’s different companies, different investors. There’s private investors, all kinds of ways to get that thing done. That has a certain amount of residual income. If you can find a way to collect that, it has a certain dollar amount attached to it.

Photo Credits: Shirley Ju