Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thursday, June 16
Better than: Being in a Williamsburg coffee shop.
Outside of the Music Hall of Williamsburg, a corner bakery advertised soy oatmeal muffins. A vendor looked to get rid of dusty Ja Rule vinyl and Junot Diaz novels. There were fixie bikes and aimless kids, coke-bottle glasses and paperback girls emerging from the Bedford L stop like ants from an anthill; a congregation of similar-minded outsiders.
And then there was Theophilus London.
I might have gotten the first inkling that I was watching something different during “Girls Girls $,” when the very-fashionable crowd reached over balconies to catch the t-shirts he threw, each emblazoned with a police sketch of his face. Or maybe when a six-foot Elmo joined him, legs kicking and hands waving, wearing a fool’s gold dookie rope alongside Telli of Ninjasonik.
No, it was way earlier, in his introduction as he took each step down onto a pitch-black stage, when the only thing catching any of the white strobe lights was the wide-brimmed silver-sequined Jackie O.-meets-Dr. Teeth cowboy hat that lounged on his head.
Yes, right from the beginning, I realized that there’s no one in hip-hop quite like Theophilus London. He’s an actual outsider.
He seemed like a star on a tiny stage, crazy for someone whose first album won’t be out for another month. He bigged-up Bed-Stuy, but then he shouted out Paris, saying that he was on his way there after the show. (His MTV debut, dropping Monday, inspired him to say, “New York, we in our prime! We in our fuckin’ prime right now!” to applause and white-girl woos.) Introducing “I Stand Alone,” he was brazen: “This is the theme to a certain HBO show you may know. So it’s gonna be super huge, haha.”
His music is a hybrid of Kid Cudi melodies and Tom Tom Club breakbeats that sounds like the radio dial got stuck between stations while driving around Grand Theft Auto‘s Vice City; it is a stop on the Being John Malkovich elevator. Moving around onstage, he’s at times Mick Jagger, all wrists and hips; others, he’s prowling like Eazy E, his shoulders doing the walking.
During a sexual call-to-arms, he name-checked Worldstar and Bossip before rapping, “I don’t want a kiss… or a hug. We love girls, money.” Moments and a number later, in “Sorry to Interrupt,” he points and snaps over a thumping bassline, smoothly singing, “There ain’t enough love in the world right now to fill my cup.” Standing on a stage drenched in sweat and bathed in adoration, there was nothing this guy couldn’t get away with.
Closing out the night, he somehow turned Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” an overwrought cliché, into something fresh and interesting: an Uncle Luke-inspired 808 booty-bass drop with three giggling white girls behind him, their knees spread as wide as their smiles. (A black girl in thick-rimmed glasses had also been called up to the stage, but she just wanted to rap his lyrics to the crowd, a chaste bull in a Chinese sex shop. Theophilus directed his full attention to her, summoning his inner Prince. Needless to say she immediately got low, practically scissoring him onstage. So much for her inhibitions/rap career.)
He’s all over the place, in person and on record, but Theophilus manages to make stripes and polka dots work together.
Critical bias: I referred to “Last Name London” as “Kid Cudi with better lyrics” on my Tumblr.
Overheard: “Y’all sound like the New York Philharmonic of ‘woop-woop’ing.” – Gordon Voidwell, before launching into “Party Song,” the most amazing herky-jerk sex dialogue I’ve heard put to music, and I’ve heard the Ying Yang Twinz’ “Wait (Whisper Song).”
Random notebook dump: The show was supposed to start at 9 p.m. It started at 9:02 p.m., a miracle in clockwork. (I did a double-take at my Blackberry.) Never has a hip-hop show started even somewhat close to on time, as advertised or otherwised. Maybe this guy isn’t hip-hop after all?
Wine and Chocolates
Why Even Try
Girls Girls $
Sorry to Interrupt
I Stand Alone
Last Name London
I Will Always Love You (Remix)