Theon Cross Breaks Down Themes of Self-Empowerment on New Solo LP “Intra-I”

The Sons of Kemet tuba player’s genre-hopping sophomore album is out today via New Soil.

In a moment when modern collectives like Sons of Kemet, Irreversible Entanglements, and The Comet Is Coming are rewriting the rules of jazz by pulling in all sorts of outside genre and ideological influences as major tenets of each individual outfit, it’s only natural that we should start seeing solo offshoots of these projects (outside the vast realm of the Shabaka Hutchings extended universe) experimenting even further with these ideas. Theon Cross plays tuba in the first of those listed bands, though he also launched his own solo career back in 2015 with an EP which was followed up four years later by a proper debut and, today, a sophomore album entitled Intra-I which sees Cross opening up the project to heavy collaboration.

With the influence of guest vocalists, the LP weaves in and out of a broader range of genres, from hip-hop on the beat-heavy second track “We Go Again” to dub on late-album highlight “Forward Progression II”—influenced by and titled as a sequel to a track Cross’ father’s reggae band once put to tape—while remaining firmly rooted in the traditions of jazz. The main concept that binds these tracks together, though, is ideological, with Cross explaining how ideas of self-empowerment and self-actualization inspired the record. 

For more on that, as well as the record’s ancestral roots and notes on its many collaborations, read through Cross’ track-by-track breakdown below.

1. “Intro” (feat. Remi Graves)

This track features the incredible Remi Graves, and is an intro at the top of the album to introduce the themes that will come up throughout the rest of the record, including self-actualization, self-empowerment, self-love, and the journey of knowing oneself to gain peace of mind.

2. “We Go Again”

“We Go Again” is a mantra that signifies that one of the first steps to becoming the greatest version of ourselves is to forgive ourselves for past mistakes in life and to make the conscious decision to treat each new day as an opportunity for growth and reinvention.

3. “Roots” (feat. Shumba Maasai)

This song represents the philosophy that knowledge of self comes from understanding the journey of those that came before us in various different senses. In order to create meaningful change you must stay connected to the roots. This is something that Shumba and I bonded on and we both had an affinity for the words and teachings of Marcus Garvey, which he used as a lyrical basis as well as bringing in his own personal story. “A people without the knowledge of their past history is like a tree without root.” — Marcus Garvey 

4. “The Spiral” (feat. Afronaut Zu & Ahnanse)

The spiral is a metaphor for the winding journey into self from which we return with more power and wisdom. It also represents moments of unease and discomfort that come up in our lives that, although they can be difficult obstacles, make us stronger as people once overcome.

5. “Trust the Journey”

“Trust the Journey” is about having the foresight to realize that challenging and difficult situations will work themselves out eventually. Not always in the way we anticipate them to, but  often in ways we can learn from.

 

6. “40tude”

My grandparents and many Caribbean immigrants that came to London were initially sold a dream and told that the wealth they could accumulate by coming to Britain to work for five years would mean that they could return to the West as much wealthier people within that time. This was untrue for most, and my grandparents ended up staying for 40 years before moving back to build their home In Saint Lucia in 2000. This song celebrates the fortitude of the entire windrush generation and acknowledges that the hostile social environment they had to fight through has meant that their children and grandchildren are able to have more opportunities and live in a less hostile environment than they had to live through. “40tude” is also a reflection on the many different positive cultural changes that their mass migration had on the country to enrich it for the better culturally.

7. “Watching Over”

Whilst creating this album my dad unfortunately passed away—this song, for me, is about venting the emotions that comes from grief, but is also a track that acknowledges that though he may not be with me in physical form, I believe he is still present in another form watching over and sending support and blessings. This song celebrates him as well as my ancestors who are no longer living, but is also a track I hope others that have lost loved ones can relate to.

8. “Forward Progression II”

This track is a continuation of a concept of self-empowerment and progress that I was able to rediscover when I came across some of my dad’s old tapes of his reggae band from the ’80s. The tune I heard of his was called “Forward Progression,” and the lyrics for the chorus were, “Forward progression, you got to know yourself first.” This was really significant to me because I felt that it very much summed up the concept that I was trying to present with Intra-I and made me realize that through my music I am continuing to spread some of the messages that he wanted to leave behind through his own music. 

9. “Play to Win”

“Play to Win” conceptually is about seeing the system as a game, and if the system is a game we have to acknowledge that we have oppositional opponents on the board. The only way to beat the game is to understand the rules and play to win through gaining knowledge and making wise decisions in many various different senses and meanings. 

10. “Universal Alignment”

“Universal Alignment” is the closer for the album and conceptually is about the times when we put the right energy and intentions out into the world, sometimes the universe will reward us by aligning our lives with things of good fortune and the things we claim to hope to receive.

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