Gen-Z’s childhood television crush and the penman behind popular modern R&B hits is moving out from behind the scenes and taking his rightful place at center stage. Leon Thomas III, a musical multi-hyphenate, serenaded a crowd of R&B lovers during his first Brooklyn show on Nov. 29 at Baby’s All Right, just a few neighborhoods over from where he grew up.
The self-proclaimed lover-boy who started his career acting on Broadway and playing the goofy, musically-inclined Andre Harris on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, now spends his days writing romantic tunes drawn from real-life highs and lows.
“Hearing people sing these lyrics back to me that I wrote coming from a therapeutic place. Things I wasn’t sure if the world would resonate with, resonated with 400 people packed in there and it means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s a really interesting art form that gives me an opportunity to document my life in a way that can be time stamped through sound and that’s special.”
Osa Edo, a fan who attended the Brooklyn show, said he found Thomas from the song Snooze, a Grammy nominated track Thomas worked on with singer-songwriter SZA.
“He’s somebody that we need. He’s definitely going to be one of those people that brings R&B back to the fullest,” Edo said. “I think he’s still working on his music and people are just discovering like this is his tipping point. He’s just in the right place at the right time.”
Born in Park Slope to musician parents, Thomas grew up attending Prospect Park’s free summer concerts that he said shaped his vision of what a live show should be.
“For Prospect Park to do that for the community. It really helped shape my viewpoint of what’s possible. It’s a big part of my journey,” he said.
Shortly after his run on Nickelodeon, he transitioned from spending his days on the screen to being an “un-sung hero” behind pop, hip-hop and RNB projects with other musical big-names including fellow co-star Ariana Grande’s debut album Yours Truly, Drake’s Certified Lover Boy and artists including Giveon and SZA.
“Production is the story of an unsung hero but you have to be comfortable with that,” Thomas told Brooklyn Paper. “But people are figuring out that I’m a part of [this] like connecting the dots that this is a sound that I’ve been curating for a long time and now it’s in the marketplace in such a real and prominent way.”
He credits his growth and ability to adapt on various projects to his New York upbringing.
“New York is a melting pot and riding the train, you’ll bump shoulders with somebody from every corner of the world. I feel like that plays a huge part in my ability to blend into every session because I’m a fan of everything,” Thomas said.
The singer has been bringing a story-telling energy to his sold-out shows across the U.S. — shows he says he treats like an acting performance by embodying each lyric and guiding the audience through the storyline.
“I treat music like I treat acting and before we know what the film is gonna look like we have words and those words are poignant and they’re special and they paint a story and then everything from the score to the angles to even the set dressing is all based off of this script and that’s how I treat music,” he said. “It’s about the story and I feel like music should be the score, the script.”
Moving from the studio to the stage warrants new experiences but fans believe his tenure in show business prepared him for this position in the spotlight. They agree that despite an already extensive list of acting credits and collaborations with popular performers, the journey is only beginning for Thomas.
“Not being outworked isn’t something that I try to stress but it’s something that I just do naturally,” he said. “Like I’ve done a lot of work my whole life but now I’m being met with flowers.”