(Tinie Tempah talks new album “Youth,” and his musical journey since Disc-Overy.)
Words Jack Collins
Tinie Tempah Stylist Moses Opiah & Design Butler
Fashion Sean Azeez
Art director Danny Walker
Photographer Assistant Olivier Barjoll
Photography Vincent Dolman
Hair Stylist Mark Maciver
Make Up Louise Dartford
Fashion Noemi Rudin & Eniola Vintarje
Set Designer Bryony Edwards
Anybody’s second album is widely believed to be the most difficult – ‘second album syndrome’ as it can be known if things don’t turn out too well.
“Youth” isn’t just a collection of songs. It’s a love letter to London,
It’s been six years since Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, better known as Tinie Tempah released his debut album Disc-Overy. It was a dream start for the London rapper, releasing two singles, debut “Pass Out” and “Written In The Stars,” each hitting the top spot in the UK Singles Chart, and the latter reaching Number 12 in the US Billboard Hot 100 and Number 7 in the US Mainstream Top 40. With “Pass Out,” Tinie picked up a Brit Award for Best British Single and also an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song in 2011.
Fast-forward six years, and Tinie Tempah is still no stranger to success. His latest single “Girls Like” which features Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson peaked at No. 5 in the UK singles chart, has gained 112 million streams on Spotify and is platinum in Sweden, Ireland and Holland. The single is certified gold in Australia, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark and the UK – a staggering achievement.
As I call him from London, he’s prepping for the release of his third studio album Youth with a trip across the pond, and seems to be enjoying the path that his career has taken him down. ‘’I’ve been out here loads and loads man, but the more you come back and the more experience you’ve had in the music industry, you just start to look at it differently,’’ he says from LA. ‘’The first time I came it was overwhelming, like the overwhelming land where you’ve heard dreams have come true. But now we go and we know a lot of people, we have a lot of connections here, a lot of genuine friends here, genuine fans.’’
Many UK artists believe that the greatest success comes with breaking America and many fall by the wayside trying to gain the support of our transatlantic cousins. But that’s not necessarily the case for Tinie – he’s optimistic in his approach to the States, but doesn’t take his focus away from home while trying to conquer it. ‘’I don’t look at America like, ‘Ah, I need to crack it’, I look at it as the biggest place for the kind of music I make, you know. So it would be good if I could do well here.’’ However, 2016 isn’t the first time that Tinie has tasted some success in America, with “Written In The Stars” doing well back in 2010. But as a young rapper who had not long since entered his twenties, he wanted to continue to grow as a performer and refine his artistry. ‘’When it happened the first time, I mean, it was great. If you’re a British artist and you’d had any form of success in America then that’s it for you, but that wasn’t the case. I came back to London and carried on consolidating my position there which I thought was really important.’’
Though America is the ‘’holy grail’’ in terms of hip-hop, Tinie felt it necessary to head home and hone his craft, which he seemingly mastered with ease, and strengthened his already gifted talent for song writing, a skill that not many are blessed with. ‘’I was still on my first album then, and now it feels like ‘Girls Like’ on this third album has presented that same opportunity again,’’ he says, through a crackling phone line. ‘’I’m a bit older now. I guess before we weren’t even in a comfortable position, you know. We’d literally just come out of a council estate, just come from living with our mum, had no money to our name and we were just trying to make something happen, and now, we’re in a different situation. I feel like we can afford to be out here a bit more and you know, if you’ve got a song that’s doing really well in a different country then it kind of helps if you’re there doesn’t it? Out of sight, out of mind.’’
Anybody’s second album is widely believed to be the most difficult – “second album syndrome” as it can be known if things don’t turn out too well. But that notion was shunned by Tinie, whose second album Demonstration, entered the UK Albums Chart at number three and was also certified gold. The album also charted in the Top 40 in a number of other countries across the globe, exceeding the position of his previous record in several of those countries. His success continues to grow and shows no sign of slowing down, putting him in prime position to release album number three. As always, artists from all over jump at the chance to collaborate with him. Over the course of his career, Tinie has worked with a number of accomplished artists, including 2 Chainz, Calvin Harris, Katy B, Swedish House Mafia, Jess Glynne, Ellie Goulding, Wiz Khalifa and many more.
He’s worked with a varied bunch over his time but enjoys working with artists that people wouldn’t expect and those whose work he’s a genuine fan of. ‘’Most music has a stereotype in the perception. When I think of rock, I think of someone maybe with some mascara on, biting a bats head off, drinking chicken blood. When I think of pop, I think of a really well put together, aesthetically pleasing girl, who’s maybe been assisted in her writing, assisted in her vocals,’’ he says. ‘’With the rap stereotype, it’s cool, but it’s always quite negative as well. You get what I mean? And these kids are like, impoverished kids, they live here, they’re trapped, they can’t get out and this is a result of what they’re talking about. However, I don’t want my rap to reflect that, that’s not necessarily my life. I didn’t grow up easy, I’m not privileged by any means. I have nothing to inherit or anything like that, however, life wasn’t that shit for me, I grew up in a council estate but I wasn’t like dodging bullets every single day. I wanted to make music that reflected my life a bit more’’.
London is a magical city. It’s the birthplace of many wonderfully talented artists, and though it can be argued, we’d probably be lost without it. For Tinie, Youth isn’t just a collection of songs. It’s a ‘’love letter’’ to London, the city he grew up in. The city that inspired his music, the city that helped him on his way to become the artist he is today. ‘’It’s basically saying thank you, thank you for raising me, thank you for giving me the foundation where I could take on the rest of the world,’’ he says. ‘’If I was born in a different country with less opportunity, or I was born in my parents’ motherland, who knows what may have been possible for me to achieve what I have?’’
As well as being an ode to London, the record is titled Youth in an almost reflective kind of way. Tinie was just the tender age of 21 when he released his debut single, and he believes that a lot of his fans are of a similar age to him, growing with him and the music that he releases. ‘’The fact that I’m 27, I feel a lot of fans are of a similar age therefore when they flick back through my music, my music will remind them of their youth.’’ Tinie likes to think that he’s grown up with his fans too, and it seems as though the music is for himself just as much as it’s for his fans.
Pop music and his three albums aren’t the only areas of music that Tinie has worked on, and unbeknown to some, he’s released ‘’loads’’ of mixtapes. Back in 2015, he released his ten track Junk Food mixtape, featuring a number of the hottest Grime artists around at the moment including Jme, Stormzy, Big Narstie, Wretch 32, Giggs and more. Recording with Grime artists is a ‘’lot less headache’’ compared to recording with mainstream pop artists according to Tinie. ‘’When you’re working with a massive pop artist, there’s so many lawyers involved, so much protocol, so much management and so many stages before you actually get to the process of creation,’’ he explains. ‘’Whereas with [Big] Narstie, it’s like, ‘Bro, I’m in South London, can you get here by 6pm?’ And he’s there, it’s done, no questions asked.’’ Over the past couple of years, Grime music has exploded, even making America take notice, something it’s struggled to do since its beginning. With the aid of US superstars Drake, Kanye West and Pharrell, the UK Grime scene has gained a whole load of fans not just in the UK, but Stateside as well. Junk Food is probably the most celebrated Tinie mixtape of them all with it being the most recent, and it being released into the world during Grime music’s biggest resurgence. ‘’When I was working with some of the rappers, they kind of reminded me of where I was at when I was still very much firmly in London. And I mean that in a good way, that kind of don’t give a fuck attitude, ‘this is what I know, so this is what I’m gonna do’. Where I think a little bit differently now, so it was nice to just be in a room, and I’m not saying every MC thought like that, but it’s nice to be in a room with some artists who still had that mentality because it definitely brings out something in the music.’’
Though the Junk food mixtape was championed by many, it was also met with some levels of unwarranted scepticism from a few. Why Tinie chose to work with Grime artists confused a number of people, who more than likely only know him from his chart-topping tunes. ‘’It’s such an amazing country where I’m from, but when you come from a small country there’s a kind of a small minded mentality as well, so I feel like a few people looked at that [mixtape] almost like ‘hmm, why are you working with these people all of a sudden?’ But why shouldn’t I?’’ he asks. ‘’If people can’t question me working with Ellie Goulding – and they weren’t questioning that – why would you question the fact I wanna work with Narstie, when he’s an MC and I’m an MC? I don’t get that; it was really weird. It was really weird to see a few people be like, ‘hmm, that’s a bit strange’. I’d be like, why is it strange?’’
No matter the genre Tinie Tempah decides to write within, it’s clear that success is in his blood and will continue to flow for as long as he wants it to. He shows no signs whatsoever of slowing down and looks set to make a real name for himself in the USA, whether that’s a top priority of his or not.
Check out our photo shoot of Tinie Tempah below: