Believe it or not, there was a time when hip-hop was fun. In fact, at first it was almost entirely about fun. (What, you thought Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five dressed in fringed leather because they wanted to look hard?) It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when hip-hop became so allergic to having a good time, but the early ‘90s are as good of a guess as any. Like Nirvana and grunge had killed the Motley Crue hair metal bands, N.W.A. and gangsta rap killed MC Hammer and back-up dancer rap. Just like that, flashing … ...Read the full album review
DJBooth Album Review
Believe it or not, there was a time when hip-hop was fun. In fact, at first it was almost entirely about fun. (What, you thought Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five dressed in fringed leather because they wanted to look hard?) It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when hip-hop became so allergic to having a good time, but the early ‘90s are as good of a guess as any. Like Nirvana and grunge had killed the Motley Crue hair metal bands, N.W.A. and gangsta rap killed MC Hammer and back-up dancer rap. Just like that, flashing lights, flashing suits and unbridled fun, the kind you have dancing at a really good wedding, were looked at suspiciously, as if there was something inherently false about fun. Any expression of enjoyment had to be encased in stacks of cash, booming bass and enough booze to kill Charlie Sheen.
Theophilus London isn’t the only one unafraid of smiling, but he’s certainly at the forefront. A Brooklyn rapper/singer/emerging fashion icon/Olympic speedskating champion, London has catapulted into the spotlight over the last two years thanks to his hard to describe blend of hip-hop, pop , rock and dance. It’s like if Prince and Kid Cudi had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to a lot of Morrissey. Thankfully I’m far from the first writer to fail to accurately describe Theo’s music - can I call you Theo? Good, cause I’m lazy and it’s easier to type – so our only hope of coming away with any sort of understanding is to get into the actual music. Namely, his Lovers Holiday EP, the five track prelude to his eventual debut album and follow-up to his I Want You mixtape.
Love or hate it, there’s simply not too many people making music like Why Even Try. In fact, there may be almost none. Built around the kind of sparkling synths and bouncing live bass lines that even modern pop doesn’t use anymore, Why Even Try is an instantly infectious example of Theo’s appeal. While the record is undercut with somber tones, those aforementioned instruments and a melodic hook almost demand one of those full on “stuck in a traffic jam” car singing sessions. But it’s on Strange Love that he really cuts the strings loose, founding the song on a clapping drum line perfect for live shows and then building the hook into a restrained but still eminently singalongable (it’s a word now) chorus. By the time the second verse rolls around you find yourself dealing with a very unfamiliar sensation. Could that be? Yes, it is. Fun.
Just because London wanted to make sure I couldn’t so cleanly describe Lovers Holiday, I have to note that Girls Girls $ doesn’t fall in line with my “return of the fun” hypothesis. While the heavily electric Girls Girls is certainly a party record, it’s weighed down with a self-conscious cool. It’s notable exactly because it’s unexpectedly obscene after the universal appeal of Try and Strange Love, as is London included it primarily to prove a point. You can almost hear him thinking, and while that kind of introspective meta-analysis certainly gives me a lot to write about, I don’t particularly want to listen to it. (If you were going to throw the H word (hipster) at Theo, now would be the time to start warming up your arm. )
Just one song later we’re back to a more earnest approach on the simultaneously up-tempo and languorous Wine and Chocolates, a song that explores the meaning of love and lust in the digital age…if you want to think that much about it. If not, no worries, just relax and enjoy the ride. Ultimately, if we take the more traditional approach and consider the EP to be a sampling of what London will be capable of what we can expect on his full-length album, then London’s ceiling is somewhere in the neighborhood of messiah of the good times renaissance. And if that renaissance never happens, well, at least we’ll have had some fun on a Lovers Holiday.
Listen to More: Theophilus London Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"High Five ft. Theophilus London" (2008)
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