With his debut album Disc-Overy due to hit the shelves in just a few weeks, and a trip to Dublin for Arthur’s Day about to introduce him to a Dublin crowd, Tinie Tempah is on the verge of chart superstardom. Arguably, in fact, he’s already arrived, with singles ‘Pass Out’ and ‘Frisky’ gatecrashing the UK charts at number one and number two, and the London rapper making his presence felt amongst the biggest modern urban artists. He’s a confident, outgoing interviewee who’s refreshingly willing to speak his mind, too. Welcome to Dublin, Tinie…
So, three weeks until the album comes out…
Yeah man, three weeks… butterflies.
Apart from the singles, what can we expect?
I’ve tried to make something cutting edge, but I also tried to have a lot of fun recording the album, working with some amazing artists – Labyrinth, Kellie Rowland and Ellie Goulding – and I really can’t wait for people to hear what I have to offer. I think it’s a chance for us to show where our generation is at now. When you do certain types of collaborations it gives you the opportunity to get really artistic in your performances. I’m hoping I can bring some of the performers on the album out on stage. I’ll find some cool ways to get the collaborators involved and do some cool things.
What would you consider to be a success in terms of sales and chart position?
Wow, I don’t know. I just really wanted to make an album that people would like and that I could take on tour. I guess achieving platinum status would be good!
Grime music is fairly new to the charts and to the music scene. Do you come across many people who listen to your music but don’t really know or understand what it is?
To be honest in this day and age I feel like music is just music. With things like YouTube and Spotify that you can just put on random and music from different genres and parts of the world comes on, I think very few people listen to music based on what genre it is. This is a generation that has both Dizzee and Coldplay in their record collection. I quite like the fact that people sometimes feel they can’t really put the album in a category. That was exactly what I wanted to achieve, to create music that’s an amalgamation of numerous genres.
Can you see yourself doing a bit of genre hopping?
Sure. I mean I’ve never really listened to music and been particularly conscious of what genre it is. When I hear a track, I’m not really aware of whether it’s hip-hop, R&B or whatever. It’s all just music to me, so there’s no telling what I’ll do next. I might put out a bhangra record down the road.
You first released ‘Wifey’ about four years ago, and aside from the last year you haven’t done that much musically in the meantime. What’ve you been up to?
Well Wifey was very much an underground thing, it’s been a long journey. After that I really just sat down with my cousin and we worked on bringing things up to a major label standard. In late 2008 and early 2009 we kind of honed in on the kind of music we were going to do, and I became very active on the live scene and MySpace and things like that. I’d already done pretty well on an underground level, and the fact that some of my friend had already become successful artists gave me something to shoot for. I got to go backstage and get on a few festivals and that generated a huge buzz. At the end of 2009 I signed my record deal and the rest if history.
When some of your early videos came out, people thought they were parts of a movie, not a song…
Yeah, that’s true. I’m lucky as my music videos have been to such a high standard. It was just great videos, but the movie thing is something we’re looking to do in the near future. Expect some news on that very soon.
You and Chipmunk go back to before you were even teenagers. Has his success helped you out a lot?
Yeah, I’d say the success of everybody to an extent has helped. Each person who made that transition from the underground to the mainstream has made it easier for another person to come through. At the very least, Chipmunk helped prepare people for the type of music, like you said it wasn’t really well-known before that.
One of the biggest problems traditionally for British rappers has been making an impact in the States. Do you have a plan for that?
Yeah… it seemed to be a problem, more so in the past. I think there’s a developing awareness amongst Americans about what’s going on over here, especially since Dizzee Rascal. I just feel that is the music’s good enough it can make if organically. I just plan to make good music and let the rest take care of itself.
Do you think British rap is developing the influence on American rap that has always been the case vice versa?
I think it’s definitely heading that way, especially when it comes to things like our clothing, our lifestyle. I think as we get more commercial they’re looking to us more, so fingers crossed.
You’ve talked a lot in the past about inspiring people who come from the same background as you being important…
Yeah, definitely. That’s a big deal for me, hood economics. I want to inspire people enough to go and do something for themselves, maybe something that would inspire others. Hopefully it will get to a point where it’s a really entrepreneurial background. If people don’t believe in themselves and realize what they’re capable of and pursue it, it’s not going to happen.
Urban music’s unbelievably successful in the charts right now. What do you think has brought that on?
I think it’s passed down. When I grew up I was watching Dizzee Rascal. There’s a generation that’s grown up listening to this music on an underground level, and is now watching it succeed. The 16 year olds I was playing to four years ago are now twenty and conscious consumers. They’re buying the music and having an impact on which records do well. It’s a generation that’s grown up on black urban music.
Given that the singles obviously have to be bought to make it into the charts, what do you make of illegal downloading?
Well you have to build a relationship with the people who support you. At the end of the day, I have to acknowledge that I’m an artist who in many ways has built my career on the Internet, but if you connect to your target audience and make sure you give them more than they can get online – extra free songs, stuff like that. If you can keep a close relationship with your fans and emphasize the importance of making enough money to keep recording, it’s all good.
Autotune’s becoming more and more common in modern urban music, and often receives a lot of criticism. How do you feel about it being used?
I definitely don’t agree with it being overused, but no one minds a little but of auto-tune here and there. It’s been used for a couple of decades, it used to be on chart love songs. Sometimes it works and sometimes you just want to get rid of it. Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, as long as there are some natural vocals in there too.
What made you want to play Arthur’s Day?
I really like the tradition, I think Irish culture’s amazing, and it’s been going on for a long time, it’s going to be the 251st year (we resisted correcting Tinie and pointing out that Arthur’s Day is actually in its second year, but we’re pretty sure he was referencing the festival not Guinness – ed), to be part of that is really special. I’ve got Example performing alongside me and Kelis, really cutting edge artists, so to be part of that and the pub-crawl at the end is going to be a lot of fun. I’ll be downing a few pints by the end of the night.
Do you drink a lot of Guinness?
Not really, it’s not my favorite drink, but it does have some good memories for me. I used to have a few when I was out with my old man.
As published on Goldenplec.com, September 2010.