OMFG. I can’t even begin to tell you how impatiently I have been waiting for the official release of this song. Hearing it for the first time in Philadelphia at the superb Union Transfer venue as Theophilus opened (perfectly for me, perhaps bafflingly) for Friendly Fires (fans) back in October last year, I was blown away. With whatever A&R nous I have going on upstairs, I was convinced with the whole of my being that this would be an absolutely explosive track. Striding on stage in cowboy boots (to be replaced by extremely rare Nike Air Mags – reproductions of Marty McFly’s kicks in Back To The Future – later that week when he performed at Penn) and skinny jeans and boasting the kind of awkward, gangly dance moves that might’ve got him shot a couple of decades ago, Theophilus was the visual epitome of hipster rap. His clothing line and personal style has often garnered more attention than his music (fashion-based appearances in Vogue and GQ to boot) and in person, he acted accordingly – artistically involved – and about as far from crunk as you could get. But ‘Big Spender’ was different.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with London’s debut. In fact, as an introduction to the name, ‘Timez Are Weird These Days’ was one of the best debuts of 2011 and among the most enterprising in rap for a while. Pushing back against mainstream conceptions of rap, Theophilus captured my attention in the same way British outfit Django Django did earlier this year, by so evocatively combining his influences in the creation of something totally unique. Singing alongside Tegan and Sara’s Sara, amidst distinctly electro-pop beats and about concepts as foreign to the genre as love, wine and chocolates, London was at once a serious trailblazer and anathema to its conventional raison detre. Where were the bitches? Where were the Lambos? Why was this guy wearing girls jeans and a ten-gallon hat? As if he could hear the doubters (barely audible over the swish of flailing limbs), Theophilus welcomed a hype-man ‘cousin’ to the stage to launch into a new joint. I can’t exactly recall how he introduced it but the opening had to be along the lines of ‘And now for something completely fucking nuts…’
There’s a few blog posts in what I could say about appropriating jazz standards for hip-hop tunes (suffice to say Nas’ ‘Hip Hop Is Dead‘ had a few transformed gems, Kanye doesn’t do a bad job himself) but it appears that you really can’t go wrong with updating Shirley Bassey. Where she previously lent her pipes to the spectacular ‘Diamonds Are Forever‘, here ‘Big Spender‘ gets revamped for what is sure to form the centrepiece of London’s live shows from now on. While the recording (live from Sydney, Australia no less) doesn’t really do justice to just how immense this track is in person, the bass line erupting so that you can’t manage the whole crossed-arms-bored-support-act look even if you want to, it demonstrates that Theophilus shouldn’t be written off as a fad, nor as a one-trick pony. Enlisting Harlem up-and-comer A$AP Rocky to lend some street cred to his own alternate Brooklyn background, I don’t really care what Theophilus or his guest have say about Givenchy, rolexes or bitches getting saucy or if it’s fundamentally an exercise in irony for the eternally off-beat artiste. It might be narrow-minded but all I know is that that beat is enough to make even the hardest thug forgive a penchant for leather boots and vests.
Theophilus London – Big Spender Ft. A$AP Rocky