Idris Elba Talks Inspiration Behind Debut Album, Mi Mandela

James Bond hopeful/DJ says he uses music for character development, looks to score soundtracks.

Onscreen, Idris Elba has proven that there is no role he’s scared to take on. In fact, if the leaked Sony emails are true, we might even be talking about the first Black "James Bond," but when it came to his debut studio album, Mi Mandela, the U.K. heartthrob admitted he was a little nervous to release it to the public.

“Any time an artist sets out to do something else other than what they’re known for, you face the possibility that people won’t like it or take it seriously. That’s part of the reason I waited until I’m 42 to put out a music project,” Idris told in an exclusive interview. “I’m confident and secure in the idea that the music I’m doing is from the heart so I don’t worry about what people think as much. 

Idris was inspired to create Mi Mandela after playing the part of the anti-apartheid revolutionary in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Like the album’s namesake, Idris sees music as the voice of change.

“Even though music has become more commercial than ever in recent years, I truly believe that when the world is going through s**t it’s going to show up in the music, and in art and creativity,” he noted. “I suspect that there is about to be an increase in music that deals with some of these more recent issues and that really moves people when people listen to music they want to feel something and that is the something I want to be a part of.”

Even before delving into his first album, Idris made a name for himself deejaying at clubs overseas under the name DJ Driis. It was something he says was inspired by some of the greats of hip hop.

“When I was in New York in the early years I used to go hear Funkmaster Flex play. He’s one of the greatest deejays in the world. I was influenced by him, Kid Capri, Biz Markie. And then there were guys that you wouldn’t know like Firing Squad and Karl ‘Tuff Enuff’ Brown,” said Idris. 

His latest project is more of a worldly sound and features appearances by Maverick Sabre, Audra Mae and George the Poet, but the collaboration that perhaps stood out the most was the elusive Cody Chestnutt, who contributed vocals to Idris’s tribute to his father, “Tree.”

“I was very lucky to get Cody. He’s an incredible musician and he’d never worked with me before so there was no reason he should want to, but he liked the music, he liked the message and he went for it,” Idris exclaimed. “I thought we made a beautiful song together but also he was such a gentleman and complimented me on my music and it was just a very good collaboration."  

With these experiences added to his repertoire, if the No Good Deed actor does wind up gracing the screen as Agent 007, don’t be surprised if you see his name in the iconic franchise’s music credits as well.

“Scoring films is definitely something I’m interested in. I guess that’s something that could happen in the future. It’s a happy medium to get to apply music with images,” he said. “With the content of this album, I wanted to sort of express musically what the film and the character in the film is about. It’s something you’re definitely going to see more of from me,” he added. 

Idris’s former cast mate from The Wire, Tristan “Mack” Wilds, has also ventured into the world of music, releasing his Grammy-nominated debut album, New York: A Love Story, this past year. The Pacific Rim star says he could see the two of them teaming up for a track if the feel is copacetic. 

“If the project was right, it would be great to work with him,” Idris noted, also adding, “I didn’t know he was that musically talented. A friend of mine produced some of his work and he told me to listen to his stuff. I was blown away, man. He’s super talented. We had never really talked about music like that [on set].” 

One of the more challenging and potentially rewarding tasks for an actor to take on is to portray a musician in a biopic. From Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles to Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. As for Idris, he already has his dream role in mind. 

“I would want to play Thelonious Monk, who I’ve also been told several times that I sort of resemble,” Idris said of the legendary yet troubled jazz pianist. “There’s a tumultuous story of his life that inspired the musical genius, some psychological issues, but it’s a story that’s really deep and rich and I’d definitely love to play him. And to just think of the opportunity to musically express Thelonious’s work in the form of a character album of him is just mind boggling.” 

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(Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Screen Gems)

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