Theophilus London was born in Trinidad and raised in New York, and he raps in a vaguely Cockney accent, often about his globetrotting lifestyle, all of which gives his debut full-length Timez Are Weird These Days a misleading worldly air. For all its escapes to France, Mexico, Sweden and the tropics, the album’s allegiances lie with only the most fashion-forward corners of Brooklyn, a hotbed of ’80s nostalgia that informs London’s chic, retro aesthetic. Timez’s beats draw largely from the pure-pleasure boogie-funk spirit of the early ’80s, but also share the artier sensibilities of Brooklyn trendsetters like TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, who produces two tracks here.
London isn’t a naturally gifted rapper. Words that should glide out of his mouth instead catch in his throat; his flow is halting and graceless. That would be a deal-breaker if Timez didn’t lean on such propulsive pop hooks and sharp production, but on those fronts, the record delivers. For those who can look past the shallowness of London’s re-imagining of the rap fantasy for the American Apparel set, there are some real party-starters here, including two that make clever use of guest singers. Indie songwriter Holly Miranda handles the comely hook on the disco-freaked “Love Is Real,” while Sara Quin of Tegan And Sara brightens the chorus of “Why Even Try.”
The latter song flips the heaving bass riff from Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”—the same one that’s instantly recognizable from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy”—and though it’s presumptuous for a rapper of London’s modest talents to invite comparisons to a figure so towering, London is so far removed from traditional rap circles that it barely matters. He lives in his own bubble, a lotus land where women strip for him over Skype, reservations to the hippest bistros come easy, and vacation time is an infinite resource. In this world of privilege, style trumps everything else.