Release Date: Jul 19, 2011
Record label: Reprise
If you made a hipster-rap bonus baby in a laboratory, you couldn't do much better than Theophilus London. The 23-year-old Trinidad- born Brooklyn MC's neo-retro hip-hop mashes up TV on the Radio's vocal cadences, old-school break-dance beats and the forlorn melodic tug of a Smiths fan (he dropped This Charming Mixtape in 2009). "Why Even Try" recalls Tom Tom Club's electro-bubblegum classic "Genius of Love," but place-holder lyrics—“ "Back on the road again/Hitting Paris on a 10," from "All Around the World"—show that even in hipster rap, you need to rock the words, too.
The Brooklyn MC has been refining his lo-fi hip-pop on the mixtape circuit for years now. His debut full-length has a distinctly downtown vibe to it — as if made to soundtrack the lives of cool kids who pair fitted slacks and Air Jordans with felt-brim hats. London possesses a rich set of gifts: songs like the bass-bumping ”Love Is Real” showcase his penchant for poignant rhymes, goofball puns, and Kid Cudi-like melodic moans.
Inspired by vanguards Leon Ware (Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are”) and Morrissey (The Smiths’ “William, It Was Really Nothing”), subterranean hybrid Theophilus London’s debut captures the capriciousness of the day with a sort of lightheartedness: “She got drunk, showed her pussy on World Star,” he rhymes on “Girls Girls $.” It’s a soul-pumping moment in time, a testament to all that is right, wrong and weird in our world. And by album’s end, the anthems will have you romping well into the next decade. .
It feels like it’s been longer than a year since Theophilus London’s last big release, 2011’s Timez Are Weird These Days. At the time, I remember hearing a lot of talk about how ahead of the curve he was, how his sound was the future, where hip-hop was going. Hot on the heels of genre-obliterating releases like This Charming Mixtape, which had established him as a Stetson-wearing iconoclast who fluidly covered the whole spectrum from singing to rapping on an almost-absurdly-eclectic range of samples, it offered a blend of hip-hop and dance grooves that, more straightforward though it may have been, remained a treat—far from the highlight of the year, but still a highlight.
Theophilus London has a name begging to be changed, one that in a different era, in a different subset of rap, might have suffered the same fate that turned Cordozar Broadus into Snoop Dogg or Carlton Ridenhour into Chuck D. But the geeky eccentricity of this namesake fits perfectly into the musician’s faux-cerebral image, shaped from chunky-chic glasses, leather biker jackets, and throwback caps. It’s an asset that sets him apart both from harsher rappers and less-modish purveyors of the smooth, dance-influenced electronica he mines, something he acknowledges on opener “Last Name London,” an ‘80s-style intro track that’s equally about his name and the cool signifiers that shape his image.
Brooklyn-raised [a]Theophilus London[/a] is a fountain of Tumblr bloggability. Alongside a hipster-in-skinny-jeans image, he’s put out cool-catnip like his Smiths-worshipping, synth-heavy ‘[b]This Charming Mixtape[/b]’, which even had a [a]Kraftwerk[/a] sample thrown in for extra brownie points. He’s worked with Solange Knowles and Dev Hynes.
In the lead-up to the release of this debut LP, Theophilus London was profiled by GQ, Esquire and the New York Times, not so much for his music as for his fashion sense. Then again, with music as stylized as this, it's hard to separate the two. Like Kid Cudi, London is as likely to croon as to rap, and his flow owes more to TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe than to Common.
What’s in an album title? Is the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds really the equivalent of a bizarre noise fest of primitive experimentation? Is Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. the absolute story of life as a working man in America? In any case, an album’s title informs the listener of what to expect, even in the most minimalist of senses. In the case of Brooklyn MC Theophilus London and his debut album, Timez Are Weird These Days, things may not be that weird, but London is skilled at capturing a particular sensibility that could leave him labeled as odd by some and revolutionary by others.
Back in September 2008, the British author and former MI6 agent John Le Carré wrote an article entitled ‘The Madness of Spies’ for The New Yorker. He described working for the British intelligence agency during the Cold War as surprisingly banal work, so lacking in adventure that spies would create their own imaginary missions just to stave off the incredible boredom that the job brought about. He talks of an ostensibly perilous covert operation with an older intelligence officer, only to discover that the mission was the officer’s own work of fiction.
Who is Theophilus London? He has an unduly rococo name and dresses like a Harlem gallerist from 1983. It's a strong look. But he's a rapper who doesn't rap much, and on his debut album, the New Yorker dabbles in sounds. Some songs sound like Fleetwood Mac, others could have fallen off the back of a Basement Jaxx album, while hints of David Guetta and Mark Ronson appear throughout.
One of the mixtapes from this Brooklyn MC/singer, I Want You, featured a title track that took almost as many liberties with Marvin Gaye as a Hennessy ad campaign. Here, with his debut for Reprise, Theophilus London playfully swipes imagery from the man who wrote “I Want You,” Leon Ware; the cover of Timez Are Weird These Days mirrors that of Ware’s self-titled album from 1982, just as his other releases referenced older album covers. It indicates that Timez might not be that much different from those releases, rather than the crossover-aiming overhaul one might expect from major-label involvement.
Rapper’s new album has staying power way beyond any flavour-of-the-month fascination. Al Fox 2011 Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-based rapper Theophilus London has very much been his own warm-up act. A string of buzz-building mixtapes followed by a well-received EP have had the music press and the hipster massive alike clamouring for his every note. With his first full-length album, Timez Are Weird These Days, it’ll no doubt be interesting to see how things translate in the full glare of the mainstream.
In the closing hook to "All Around the World," Brooklyn's Theophilus London sings, "We're back to making music like it's 1964. " That's a head-scratcher in the context of London's major label debut, Timez Are Weird These Days, which has an aesthetic so firmly wired in modern electro-pop that 1964 seems the furthest thing from London's mind. So does artistic depth, though London attests, "You're now listening to the world-renowned international/International player.