The video for "Last Name London," the first single from Theophilus London's debut album, "Timez Are Weird These Days," bears a striking resemblance to the video for Michael Jackson's "Jam." The biggest difference between the two clips is that London -- clearly the better ballplayer than his opponent in the video, Zeb Malik, of noise-rock act Popo (and the song's co-producer) -- appears equal parts athlete and entertainer. He's everything to all worlds.
Video: "Last Name London," Theophilus London
It's a fitting performance. London, who can still be considered an MC thanks to his technical rhyming ability, has crushed the boundaries of his own beginnings as a Brooklyn battle rapper, borrowing melody and affectation from countless genres, continents and even the opposite sex. Once lumped in with the electro-rap craze of the late aughts, London makes no secret of his adoration for Prince and former Smiths frontman Morrissey. "Timez," due July 19 through Warner Bros., is a wholly pop-leaning effort.
London's singing voice sounds more polished and warmer than it was when he released a cover of Nat "King" Cole's "Calypso Blues" with the Dap-Kings last summer. To record the album, London set up camp in Stockholm and Los Angeles and worked with acclaimed rock producers John Hill, Ariel Rechtshaid and TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek.
"It's nothing like I've done before," London says of the album. "It's all my new influences, my new story, my new point of view. All my new ideas from the last year are all right here."The album's title, in fact, is a reference to the tidal wave of fame London has ridden on the strength of only his mixtape catalog.
"My last tour I was in Italy," he says. "We were in Cannes for like two weeks playing shows, just wilding around a whole new part of the world. Yachts in those places were playing our music and the people were enjoying it."
Video: "Girls Girls $," Theophilus London
London's label doesn't take his international appeal for granted. "Theophilus is touching a lot of different worlds, but he's also generating a ton of opportunities," Warner Bros. co-president/CEO Todd Moscowitz says. "The fact that he will get the biggest TV show in France just because he has his own sound and people are in love with the music. ["Le Grand Journal" is] difficult for us to book the biggest artist in the world on, and yet, they fell in love with him."
Stateside, the album's second single, "I Stand Alone," premiered during the trailer for the upcoming season of HBO's "How to Make It in America," and London is scheduled to perform the song on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" the night of the album's release. The late-night TV appearance will be London's second-he appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" in February. "The song is like post-Osama [bin Laden] freedom," London says of "I Stand Alone." "It's about not joining no group. It's walking into a room, brave, by yourself."
If anyone knows about flying solo, it's London. He's already stepped well beyond the rap mold -- he designed a pair of penny loafers for Sebago with Ronny Fieg this spring and he was the only rapper tapped to appear in Bushmills' recent "Since Way Back" campaign.
Already touring to support the album's release, London is looking forward to seeing more of the world. "I call it an 'exotic' tour," he says of his summer schedule, which features stops in Montreal and Berlin. "We haven't put a name to it [but] there's an international demand for this. I mean, I hate planes at this point in my life, but I'm very privileged and happy to be on them."