Concert review: Theophilus London

Alternative hip-hop artist Theophilus London performs at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC.

VIENNA, Va., February, 15, 2012—The term “Alternative Hip-hop” was coined primarily to describe acts like Theophilus London. He fully inhabits the concept behind alternative hip-hop, focusing more eclectic beats and different vocal dynamics than traditional loops and straight rapping that inhabit most of hip-hop today. London’s live performance at the 9:30 Club kept crossing the lines of traditional hip-hop/rap and the alternative style he’s been cultivating for a few years now.

The 9:30 Club was essentially packed for London’s show, which isn’t surprising. There’s major crossover appeal to London’s sound. The easy kind of feel to Theophoplis London in every aspect of his sounds makes him that much more engaging to the audience.

The reason for him appealing to the broadest of audiences is two-fold. The first is directly related to him and how he performs. London’s lyrical flow is soft and never forceful. Where most lyricists might become aggressive, London seems to take a step back with a sort of cool detachment.

Another example of his vocal talents is how effortlessly he’s able to switch between rapping and singing. It fits in perfectly in the seams of the electro-pop and drum beats, where it could easily overpower his songs. Not because it’s brash but because the change can be inherently jarring. London is always able to keep it smooth.

This can be a bit of a double edge sword for someone in London’s position. There’s a chance his credibility within certain circles could be hurt by embracing this kind of vocal dynamic, but it doesn’t seems to bother London in the least. Of course, he comes off so idiosyncratic in his stage presence compared to other rappers. He seems to be inviting those differences by the virtue of being comfortable in his own skin and embracing his odd quirks.

His offbeat nature builds from his dual vocal identities and continues to bleed into his backing sound. The synth-pop sound that was so popular in the 1980s seems to have a major influence on him. It’s the kind of sound which was popular with the new wave revival in rock years ago, but it’s something that feels unique within a hip-hop context. London’s best and most original moments occur when he involves this style as much as possible.

Although there are still aspects of London that suggest he’s still trying settle on what his identity is. He’s clearly at his best when he’s embracing ‘80s synth-pop or integrating more quirky guitar riffs. It works so well because London himself fits so well within these groves and they suit him perfectly.

He’s not a traditional lyricist, or vocalist for that matter, and his performance falls apart a little when he attempts something a bit more generic. During his set, there are times when he pulls out some clichéd rap and hip-hop antics to disappointing effects. It’s not so much that lyrics tend to fall more on the crass side but compared to other side of the Theophilus London coin, it just seems forced. The beats become rather uninteresting and his lyrics just become rather boring.

Still, even at the few low points during the show he’s almost able to pull them off based purely on his own energy. It’s impressive he’s able to keep up the same pace throughout the whole show despite sounding a slightly winded the whole time, although that might be intentional. His genuine excitement to playing in front of a crowd, any crowd it seems, is a key factor to his performance.

Hopefully as London pushes forward with his career, he embraces the less traditional aspects of his musical instincts. It’s in those places rooted outside the normal hip-hop world where he seems to bring something unique to the table and really brings out the best in his lyricism and vocal ability.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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