The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
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. The danger of being so far ahead of the curve, however, is that when the curve just swerves off in a completely different direction, what used to be the future can become simply an anomaly or, worse, dated.
I hesitate to call Timez Are Weird These Days “dated”, per se, and I still bump it fairly regularly, if less frequently than before. At worst it feels like a sort of alternate vision of where buzz-circuit rap could have gone, before the massive success of cloud rap (just when does a subgenre lose its quotation marks?), before people stopped talking about “rave rap” apart from the awesomely aggressive freakiness of Die Antwoord (who sound almost nothing like Theophilus London). And if “Big Spender”, the lead single from his forthcoming next release, is any indication, Theophilus London has no problem shifting to keep up with the times or even just push his own sound further. “Big Spender” is a fantastic song; it has one of those beats that makes you want to head-nod until your neck snaps, and manages to fit both London and current zeitgeist king A$AP Rocky on a beat that sounds fresh as hell and plays to both of their strengths without quite sounding how you’d expect a song from either of them to sound. It seems Theophilus London has, for now at least, nothing to worry about. Dude is going to do very well for himself, and I’m excited to see it and hear it.
This leaves Timez Are Weird These Nights, a track-by-track remixing of Timez Are Weird These Days, in a sort of tricky position. The list of remixers is solid, and people are definitely talking about London again, but it’s a reworking of an album that was never quite his strongest or best-loved work to begin with, unfair as it may seem to grade against the curve of his massive early successes. I’ll admit, my expectations were low, but Timez Are Weird These Nights holds up far better than I’d hoped.
It’s hard to find a song here that’s definitively better than its original counterpart, but similarly difficult to find one that’s definitively worse. Theophilus London has always had one foot firmly planted on each side of the hip-hop/dance divide, and this has served him well. Times Are Weird These Nights shifts the balance farther towards the “dance” side of things, but it does a remarkable job of keeping all the shades of his musical identity intact. At any given point, it’s pretty easy to tell which of the two albums you’re listening to, but at the end of each record, the overall feeling and impression left is remarkably similar. I’m sure a lot of fans will have their clear favorites between the two. The opening Brodinski remix of “Last Name London”, for example, with its relatively minimal and repetitively driving beat, will probably be the biggest turn-off for straight-up rap heads, but it certainly won’t be because of its quality, just the size of the stylistic gap (here at its largest). I doubt there are a ton of Theophilus London fans who genuinely dislike dance music. But for most listeners, I’m guessing, the remix album will provide what it has provided for me: initially, an entertainingly different reinterpretation of the 2011 release, and then later, an alternate, surprisingly comparable listening option. Some days I prefer the original version. Some days I prefer the remixed one. If you’re a huge fan of at least a few of the remixers—and given the profiles of acts like Crookers, Skream and Bloody Beetroots, there’s bound to be a lot—it’s most definitely worth the listen.
2012 is looking to be a pretty big year for Theophilus London, and Timez Are Weird These Nights may, by the year’s end, feel like a largely forgotten part of it, but come on, it’s a full-album remix, probably not meant to be a tentpole of London’s catalog. As far as remix albums go, however, it’s a very, very good one, and for London fans, that should be more than enough to warrant purchasing.