The Rise and Rise of Tinie Tempah

From the November edition - Out Now
Words by Rebecca Jackson

It was three and a bit years ago: Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister, Miley Cyrus was still an innocent Disney star and I was a fresh-faced undergraduate sent by Wireless to meet an unknown rapper from South London called Tinie Tempah. He was doing the rounds of student unions and the back rooms of academies and had garnered interest through his mix tapes and his loyal online following, but no-one I asked wanted to come with me to meet him.

I sat at the side of the stage at the O2 Academy in Liverpool feeling as though I was witnessing something special as Tinie played ‘Invincible’ to an adoring crowd. Pass Out exploded onto the scene; catapulting the polite, ambitious young rapper with a fondness for philosophy, onto the global music scene.

Pretty soon Tinie's face was everywhere, from hosting his own MTV show to appearing on the side of Lucozade bottles.

Now, three years on, as I sit down with the PR girl's voice ringing in my ear ('just 15 minutes I'm afraid'), I think he might have changed. But Tinie is still the polite, determined guy I had the pleasure to meet all that time ago, and his plans for world domination aren't quite over yet.

“Things have changed a lot since ‘Pass Out’ came out. I definitely feel like I am a lot deeper into my career and as though it makes more sense now,” he says.

Not that it didn't make that much sense before. His first album, ‘Disc-overy’, went double platinum and smash hits ‘Pass Out’ and ‘Frisky’ confirmed him as a global star. After ‘Written in the Stars’ sold over 115,000 copies, he followed with duets with Ellie Goulding, Swedish House Mafia and Kelly Rowland.

He sounds slightly incredulous as he talks about the way his life has changed: “I've been able to develop as an artist and become more collected in my thoughts, I've been able to perform in so many cool places. And obviously my financial circumstances have changed a lot.”

When we first met, Tinie did a lot of stuff with youth charities, with a particular interest in working with gangs and anti-racism organisations. “I'm still absolutely into charity work, but I've moved onto other things now. We do a lot of work with Teenage Cancer Trust and Keep A Child Alive, in particular.”

“My main issue at the moment is the lack of mentors in schools and education; there are lots of people who have a lack of direction and end up leaving college or university not knowing what to do. We're thinking about setting up our own charity to help to work on that.”

And he's not short on people who want to work with him on projects; he performed on stage with Snoop Dogg at Glastonbury, toured with Rihanna and Usher and had a host of familiar faces queuing up to record on his latest album. But for Tinie the biggest collaboration was with Dizzee Rascal. “I've been listening to him since I was 12 years old and I'm 24 now. It was a phenomenal moment, you've been listening to someone for ten years and then you're in a position to work with them. He's still how I listened to him when I was young, still very raw.

“In terms of general experiences, working with Swedish House Mafia was like something I'd never seen before and I was doing something completely different, with a completely different sound, and suddenly I found myself at Madison Square Garden in New York at this sell-out concert.”

Tinie's six months older than me and yet he's done things I couldn't imagine. He's toured the world playing festivals, he sits on the British Fashion Council advising on men’s fashion, has his own clothing range in partnership with his label, Disturbing London, and is about to embark on a UK arena tour. 

But even for Tinie, nothing gets bigger than performing at the Olympics. “Everything was so grand, I was out there performing to billions of people. The ceremonies brought out the best in the history of British music, we had everyone from George Michael to The Who to the Spice Girls; everyone that was British and had done something amazing.”

“There was so much preparation involved for performing in the closing ceremony but in all my travels since, people have come up to me and know who I am. There's a whole new wave of people who know about me now.”

His new album, Demonstration, is out now and features duets with Emeli Sandé, Paloma Faith, Dizzee Rascal and old favourite Labrinth.

“I've been working on it for two years trying to get it right. For me it's really exciting, I'm a lot more involved in everything. I tried to be more introspective and let people into my life, to provide a form of escapism for people. ‘It's Ok’ and ‘Lost One’ with Paloma Faith are both break-up records which I wouldn't have spoken about in my first album,” he says.

I take a listen and some of it's truly heartbreaking and will probably resonate with everyone who's gone through a recent break-up: 'Why don't you cry now, ‘cos then I know you still feel something for me. But I truly know it's over when I hear you say 'it's ok'; How the hell could you say in the middle of the night that we should call it a day?' Tinie, you're killing me!

“With people knowing who I am now, I feel obliged to be more open,” he explains. “This album is more a body of work than the last one and is a lot more musical. It includes every popular genre and has more live music; I put a band together and I've got myself a drummer and a guitarist who will tour with me as well.” 

Playing through the album, there's as many potential hits on there as Demonstration. His new single, Children of the Sun, is already all over the Radio 1 playlist and with his arena tour starting next month, things can only get bigger for Tinie. I say goodbye to the lovely Mr T in the hope that I'll see him in another three years. And with how much he's achieved in such a short space of time, who knows where he could be by then.

You can catch Tinie on his arena tour beginning 2nd December in Aberdeen. His new album ‘Demonstration’ is out Now!

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