London O’Connor is sitting on the floor of his friend Olivia’s loft in Bushwick, booting up a video game that he commissioned to accompany his 2014 debut single, “Oatmeal.” The song is a stomping slacker anthem about feeling bored and restless in the sleepy suburban town where he grew up, narrated by the small-framed, dreadlocked rapper, singer, and producer in a documentary tone: This crusty-ass nigga on the couch again/ He don’t do nothing but watch the TV. Soon to be released as an iPhone app, the game plays out like a literal demonstration of his lyrics, with the player steering a spaceship through a cartoon rendition of his childhood living room, dodging couches and fighting giant TV screens with tentacles. “The goal of this is, like, escaping San Marcos,” O’Connor says of his sunny California hometown. “There are no seasons there. Nothing changes. People are close-minded.”
For the 24-year-old, skating, video games, and recording homemade mixtapes offered a preliminary break from the monotony, as did an idiosyncratic habit: carrying around a hand-held recorder, taking the odd field recording and narrating his adventures like an explorer making a travelogue. “I would be like, ‘Captain’s log: I’m in a parking lot, again,’” he says. “‘We don’t know what we want to do today, again.’”
Since he graduated high school in 2009, O’Connor’s life has come to incarnate that spirit of adventure. His travels include moving to New York to study music at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute, working on a vacation island for a summer, and even taking a mostly nude, cross-country road trip for a Ryan McGinley photo project. These days, he’s settled into a mostly New York-based, semi-nomadic existence, crashing and recording at friends’ houses, skating as primary transportation, and living pretty much entirely out of one backpack. He’s got a fondness for wearing patterned kitchen dresses. “I was determined to never live in a suburb again, and I started dressing like a suburban housewife,” he quips. He speaks candidly to journalists about his lack of success with girls in high school. Asked to name the influences on his cinematic blend of homegrown beats, wayward crooning, and economical raps, O’Connor unblinkingly cites Pixar, Dr. Seuss, and Koji Kondo, composer of the Zelda soundtrack.
His forthcoming debut album, O∆ (pronounced “circle triangle”), chronicles a single day in his life as a teen, leading up to—and then coming down from—an ill-fated, almost-sexual encounter with a high school crush, on “Love Song.” Studded with the odd entry from his Captain’s log, the album is a testament to how trapped San Marcos made him feel and an exercise in making the town his own. Fittingly, when he self-releases O∆ this month, the record will be accompanied by another online game, where fans can navigate that re-imagined suburban terrain first-hand. “A lot of people feel displaced,” O’Connor says. “A lot of the stuff I’m doing is to give people that space, so they can inhabit it and they can explore it.”
Though he’s only released “Oatmeal” and “Love Song” so far, O’Connor may have some surprises up his sleeve for his small but growing fan base. On the day we meet up, he invites me along on a mysterious “errand” to pick up an unidentified object from his “friend’s shop” on the other side of Bushwick before it closes. Getting there kind of feels like a video game:
a lot of running, several false-starts, and a few thwarted car collisions. When he retrieves the enigmatic object—an iPod-sized blue box with a dial on it called Exploration Device 1—he won’t tell me what it is, other than some vague allusions to the projects he’s been working on adding up to a “world.” Out of breath, I ask him if he’s being deliberately confusing. “No,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “I’m trying to make people feel psyched when they finally understand.”