Last spring, Theophilus London leaked his Jam! mixtape onto the internet hoping to gain a little attention and set things up for his EP The Charming Man, coming out in winter, which, in true hip hop fashion, was originally slated to drop in late summer. Thousands of downloads and countless positive blog reviews later, Jam! has become an entity unto itself.
It certainly isn't your typical hip hop mixtape, and Brooklyn-bred Theophilus London isn't your typical rapper. Donning a pair of black, thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses and his patented oversized camera chain, he doesn't seem to care whether he looks the part, and his music reflects that.
The first thing that becomes apparent while listening to “Jam!” is how un-hip hop it sounds. Missing are the hollering DJs, soul samples, and endless guest spots. Instead, Theophilus and producer Machinedrum assemble a variety of 80s and early 90s pop music tracks, essentially remixing songs like Prince's “I Would Die 4 You” and, of course, Michael Jackson's “Jam”, that result in a retro-sounding, yet modern effort.
Concerning the uncommon music selection, Theophilus explains, “Most of Jam! was a complilation of our favorite all time songs, and songs I could imagine myself making if I was in that era. And a lot of it was our own material, which blended so well with the songs we chose”.
Lyrically, Theophilus is a hybrid, combining skill-boasting content with a more stylistically southern cadence. He employs the “rain man” method Jay-Z made famous, generally pumping out a song in a half hour without writing a word down. Despite this talent, he knows where to draw the line. “I definitely feel like words destroyed music” he says between laughs, “Seriously. That's why I give my music what it needs. If it doesn't need rap, I'm not gonna rap. Shit, If the song doesn't need me, then I won't give it me. I'm not just rapping over beats like these other guys. People respond to melodies. The old janitor cleaning the toilets is whistling your tune, not rapping it”.
It's understandable but not entirely sensible that traditional hip hop fans and artists could shy away from Theophilus' work. By using 80s dance and pop music as a backdrop for contemporary rhymes, Theophilus and Machinedrum are pushing the expectations of rap forward by allowing for a broader area of music to be sampled, the same way 60s and 70s soul music became the genre to pick from for the beat makers of the 90s. Any true schooler crying foul about the date of the music sampled shouldn't forget that bands like Kano are as old to Theophilus as James Brown was to Pete Rock during his golden years.
Keep an eye on Theophilus London as he helps usher in a new era of hip hop for his generation.