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TINIE TEMPAH: One Mighty Voice

UK native Tinie Tempah sets his mark on taking over the global music scene with his debut album, Disc-Overy.

Words: Kristie Bertucci
Images: Kristian Dowling/Picture Group

For followers of Tinie Tempah, the London hip-hop rap star who scored two No.1 hits in 2010 with his singles “Pass Out” and “Written in the Stars,” it came as no surprise when he won Best British Breakthrough Act and Best British Single at the 2011 Brit Awards, the UK equivalent to the Grammys. The 22-year-old was the most nominated artist at the show—other categories included British Male Solo Artist and British Album of the Year for Disc-Overy—where he paid tribute to his producer and collaborator, Labrinth, while dedicating his award to “UK music, peace and love.”

Hailing from South London, the emcee was only in his teens when he released his first instant underground hit “Wifey,” back in 2006. Tempah established the Disturbing London (aka DL) label a year later and released Hood Economics: Room 147: The 80 Minute Course, a well-rounded mixtape that sealed his fate as a whirlwind artist who literally garners universal claps from his pop-savvy peers worldwide.

His album already No.1 in the UK since its release last October, his US release date of May 3 is already stirring up some noise. For Tinie Tempah, better known by those close to him as Patrick Chukwuem Okogwu, Jr., his plans are simple: to bring his London sense of genre-bending Hip-Hop mash-up to every corner of the globe.

How did you first get interested in music?

I got interested in music specifically when I heard a group called So Solid Crew—

England’s equivalent to Wu-Tang at the time. I just related to what they were doing and started writing from there. I was 12 years old at the time, realized I wanted to make rap a career when I was 15 years old.

Your rap name Tinie Tempah… does it hold any significance?

Tinie Tempah is basically my interpretation of yin and yang. Two opposites that don’t go together. You got tiny and temper—that’s my theory and what I apply to my life. I like to do the opposite of what people expect me to do. I like to deviate from the norm and that always works out for me.

How does that work out in your music?

Take for example, my first single “Pass Out.” When you listen to it, you’ll notice [that] I go against the grain of what people normally expect for hip-hop. I like to go against the grain in all things. There are so many music genres in “Pass Out” and it’s a musical trait I always strive to exemplify. I like to do Hip-Hop, drum and bass, dubstep, ska—so many different types of things people usually don’t always mesh together.

Let’s say you had to categorize your music into one genre only, would it be purely Hip-Hop?

I wouldn’t put my music in a box. I call my music just popular music because it just represents popular culture. I use drum and bass, electro, ska, Hip-Hop, garage, grime… basically a little bit of everything.

Would you say your mash-up approach is what sets you apart from other rappers?

You know, I never really speak about other rappers. I just like to say that when it comes to me, I really take pride in what I do and always believe [that] I should put in 100% into whatever I do. And I always think a lot more laterally than other people… I believe that music is a global thing. Music is a universal language. So with everything I do, I make sure my product is refined and polished, and something I would feel proud to take to the rest of the world, which is why I am here.

Do you think your newfound success has changed you?

No, but if it has, I think it’s for the better. It made me a lot more open minded, a lot more cultured and has given me the opportunity to see the world a bit more. It’s also allowed me to understand a bit more of myself, how the world works and where I fit into it all. Other than that, it’s made me have a harder work ethic.

What can musical fans expect from your album?

This new album is really eclectic, and [it] definitely comes from a different place and perspective. A different mindset, really… I always say it’s like having your iPod on with some of your favorite songs and just pressing shuffle. It’s a really cool, fun project. It’s from the perspective of an innocent kid just trying to fulfill his potential, while discovering the world and the way things work in it. It’s just a real fresh record, is what I can say. I’m actually doing a couple of more tracks so that the stateside [in America] fans feel they are getting something different.

Who are your musical inspirations?

Currently, Kanye West is doing extremely well, and his new album is incredible. He’s transcended the stereotypical definition of what a Hip-Hop artist or rapper is. There are so many different elements to Kanye West, and I like that.

Would you say Hip-Hop is the same in the UK as it is in the US?

It’s very similar. You have your underground rappers. Rappers that sell albums and then your rappers that don’t sell albums. Rappers who can and can’t talk, and everything in between, so it’s basically the same thing. The only difference really, is that in England, it’s a cool thing to be able to embrace other genres of music and implement that into your own. Our biggest radio station in England plays a number of different music genres, such as dubstep, rap, indie, folk, rock and more, whereas in America, it’s not really the same. One station plays only one thing and another station focuses on something completely different.

Would you say that stateside music is behind that of European and the rest of the world in terms of what’s hot?

Actually, I’d say the states is definitely one of the biggest powers of the world musically and dictates what’s hot. At this time, a lot more different artists from different parts of the world like Adele and Florence and The Machine are huge. It’s just that in other countries, like England, fans are more vocal about liking different genres not of the norm and embrace it a bit more.

People have compared you to Dizzee Rascal, what do you say to that?

As a new artist there is going to be similarities and I’ll take that as a compliment. You know, Dizzee really managed to achieve a lot and has done extremely well for himself. He’s done really well in terms of allowing people to become more familiar with UK music. Yeah, he’s definitely an inspiration.

Who would you love to work with in the future?

I’d really love to work with Kanye West in the future. I just think he’s really cool, cutting-edge and avant-garde. He produces and he raps, so I can get a beat and get him on a verse. Never met him before, but it’s a goal for this year. I’m performing on the same day on at Coachella, so lets see what happens…

Rumors are that you’re working with Philly-based producer Drama and are set to collaborate with Usher. What other projects are in the works for 2011?

Yeah, we are definitely going to make a lot of those things happen. Just finished touring with Usher in Europe actually, and yeah, we’ve spoken about working together. I would definitely love to get him on my second album… Plans for 2011 include just wrapping up my stateside release. I’m also working on my second album as we speak, so I got that going on as well.

Are you hoping to get into other things besides music?

No. To be fair, I’ve got a brand coming out. But I want to really stay away from that “Hip-Hop mogul” cliché because it’s something I don’t really like. It’s like once someone becomes a rapper, then when he becomes successful, he starts doing other things without focusing on music first.

But I have this really cool line called Disturbing London, which is a clothing brand in the works. However, I really want it to stand aside from what I do. I’d like people to walk into a shop and not immediately think that it comes from “Tinie Tempah.” I’d like them to just walk in and buy it because they like it. Films and directing are interesting to me, too, so I’m interested in maybe doing that later on.

What type of legacy would you like to achieve?

I would like to be remembered as someone who broke boundaries, went against the grain of things and transcended that line of what a rapper is. In my opinion that definition has to do with someone who doesn’t have musical longevity. They might release one or two albums and be a trend that’s here one day and gone the next. However, there are a handful of those who have transcended that “line,” and I want to be remembered as one of those rappers who did it in a cool way. I’m just really about globalizing the music and having it embraced by the world. It’s all just music at the end of the day.

Images by Kristian Dowling/Picture Group.

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