The arrival of So Solid Crew proved to be a crucial moment for many fans of UK urban music. For 12-year-old Patrick Okogwu it turned out to be seminal. When he heard that the 30-strong gaggle were shooting their new video near his home Plumstead, he camped out to be first in line to collect autographs and marvel at their state-of-the- art mobile phones and limited edition Moschino jeans. “I wanted to be in So Solid so badly,” remembers Tinie Tempah, “That day, watching them make the video, I realised that music was where it was at for me. I didn’t want to do anything else.”
It took him nearly ten years, but Tinie got there in the end. From underground go-getter to chart topper, his persistence and innovative approach have undoubtedly been the secret to his success. One of the most considered, intelligent and entrepreneurial MCs this country has produced, Tinie’s ability to combine pop hooks with street- smart savvy has seen the engaging lyricist court both fashion royalty [Stella McCartney] as well as actual royalty [Wills ’n’ Harry]. “It might all sound cleverly orchestrated, but it’s not,” insists Tinie. “I just want to do things differently.”
This super stylish 23-year-old loves to go against the grain. Not for him the popping of champagne bottles in over-priced West End clubs to celebrate his signing to EMI records, instead, he invited a fan to join him for tea at Claridge’s. His million- selling, Brit Award-winning debut album, Disc- Overy, demonstrated a man with a sharp eye for smart metaphors and a sharper eye still for a chart- topping melody. From the Labrinth-produced “Pass Out” to Swedish House Mafia-made “Miami 2 Ibiza”, Tinie’s tenacity and talent have taken him around the world. This year alone he’s had his passport stamped by border control in Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Brazil and most of Europe.
With his second album on the horizon, this pragmatic, prudent MC is mindful of the decisions he makes for both brand Tinie and his clothing/ record label, Disturbing London. “I take care with everything I do,” he points out. “Unless it feels, looks and sounds absolutely right, it’s not happening. You only get one shot at this and I’m making sure I don’t miss.”
What were your aspirations as a young rapper? What type of artist did you set out to be?
Tinie Tempah: I wanted to be Dizzee Rascal. I used to write lyrics, memorise them, get home, type them up on my computer and then go to school to perform them the next day. Everyone used to crowd round in a circle and I’d spit. I felt like a little superstar for a while – even though it was only ten kids in my class who were watching. But it gave me a taste for performing and from then on I didn’t want to do anything else.
You’re now friends with Dizzee. Is it strange hanging out with someone you admired so much as a teenager?
Have I got over the fact that he’s Dizzee Rascal? No. I think that’s what makes it great. The fact that he’s still so successful, and he’s still doing the biggest and the most amazing things, it keeps me on my toes. Every time I see Dizzee, even if he comes around to my house for a drink, I’m still a little bit on edge and star-struck. I think that’s what’s so amazing about the game. It’s hierarchy, everyone’s got their level, and everyone’s got their stage, and I’m one of those people who really loves to acknowledge that, because I think it’s amazing. It’s like sport: if a new, young, 17-year-old player who’s just been recruited to play for England meets David Beckham, he doesn’t just go up and high-five him or pat him on the head, because he’s been there way before you have. Having someone around like that is always good for me as an artist, because I feel like it makes me keep on striving to get to where he is.
Read more of this interview in Issue 3, out on the 11th of October 2012, subscribe here.