Risking it for fame
It seems the future of this charismatic rapper, who always wanted fame, is Written In The Stars.
What are we to make of Tinie Tempah? As rapper and celeb, the honest truth is the 24- year-old doesn't quite fit the stereotype. He is polite and considered, a smart guy who knows where things are at. There's no supercharged ego; his patter is refreshingly free of the regulation self-aggrandisement. He's the Great British Bake Off of urban musicians: cuddly and approachable. The Pass Out star seems to have a healthy attitude towards the limelight too, his CV unblemished by inappropriate liaisons or punch-ups with paparazzi. It is unthinkable that he might submit to an unsightly tattoo or be caught in a public altercation – missteps increasingly du rigueur for British musicians from 'the street'.
Born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu he picked 'Tinie Tempah' as a nom-de-rhyme while idly flicking through a thesaurus, but the name speaks to his personality. He's a cool dude, burning low and steady.
That's not to say he hasn't had his troubles. Speaking to Day & Night ahead of the release of his greatly anticipated second long player, Demonstration, Tinie reveals that the recording of the album was an involved, often tortured process. Having arrived from almost literally nowhere – his home turf of Plumstead is the sort of neighbourhood you pass on a bus to someplace more interesting – with 2010's Pass Out he became hugely, instantly famous (the accompanying LP Disc-Overy was the year's top seller in the UK). Arranging for lightning to strike twice was not easy.
"If you aren't a musician you probably don't realise that putting together a collection of songs is hugely emotive. It is coming from a very personal place. You are trying to create something from your mind and then you are letting the world hear it. 'Doubt' isn't the right word for what you go through. You want it to connect with people. After the the first album, all of that was on my mind."
Three years in the planning, he is confident Demonstration is worth the sweat and tears. He went into the studio with ears still ringing from the impact of Disc-Overy. At first, ideas were slow to flow – really, all he knew was that he didn't want to write a facsimile of his debut. Far from making life easier, success put him under greater pressure than ever. First time out he was a plucky nobody. Now guys in suits – managers, booking agents, accountants – were wagering on him recording a smash. This was for real.
"I was determined to deliver a statement with the record," he nods. "I wanted to do a project that represented a strong body of work. It had to be sonically challenging – also, it had to excite me. I'm operating at an international level. However, it is my goal to create tracks that resonate with the individual listener. That's what drove me. I'm a different person from the guy who wrote Disc-Overy. I had to move it forward."
In his days as a teenage rhymer in south London, all Tinie wanted was to be famous. Surreally, when Pass Out became a smash he was still living at home. He'd return from shoots with big name photographers to find a post-it on the fridge reminding him to wash the dishes. Nowadays he lives in a blinged out apartment, has his own fashion label, has been romantically 'linked' with half the models and pop stars in London – and has discovered that fame isn't exactly what he had expected.
"It [fame] is something I try not to be conscious of," he nods. "It is a bit of a weird sensation at moments I guess. The kind of people who are around me treat me like a normal person so that helps. It's only if I'm in outside situations that it's an issue. It's not great on occasion – if you are maybe seeing a girl or whatever. Then it can be a pain. I'm not complaining. I always wanted to be famous."
One of Tinie's signatures is his preppy dress sense. Unless your first name is Kanye it's hard to carry off golf club bling without seeming to try too hard. Tinie, to his credit, makes wearing pastel dickie bows and vast spectacles feel like the most natural thing in the world. It was no accident that British GQ named him the UK's Best Dressed man a few years ago, ahead of Daniel Craig, Russell Brand and David Beckham. "Sometimes I think it means I can get away with throwing on a hoodie leaving the house – because people wouldn't recognise me. It was nice – especially considering the people they have honoured down the years [previous recipients include Peter O'Toole and Sean Connery]. I try not to take [fashion] too seriously."
Tinie has a surprisingly intimate relationship with Ireland. He was embraced here almost as quickly as in the UK, while Dubliners The Script are among his closest friends in the business. Curiously, he also played GAA at minor level in London, having attended a school where several Irish-born teachers where keen proselytisers for football.
"It was cool to play," he remembers. "I thought it was interesting – that technique of being able to run and kick the ball and then keep running. It felt you were combining loads of different sports. I was captain, so I guess I was pretty good."
Though Plumstead is firmly middle class, Tinie remembers his upbringing as intermittently fraught. Ethnic tensions riddle much of working-class London and it was something he had to be aware of as he wended his way to school every day. A few weeks ago, Tinie performed at a memorial concert for Stephen Lawrence, the black Londoner killed in a racial attack 20 years ago. It is a subject close to his heart.
"His death affected everyone in the UK from an ethnic minority growing up in an urban area. It was a travesty," Tinie says. "Everywhere in London there are places you have to watch out for. I was born in Peckham which is rough. I never had any trouble. However, five minutes down the hill there could be stuff going on. You have to plan your route because you are never very far away from that environment."
Demonstration is released today. Tinie Tempah plays O2, Dublin Wednesday December 4