Tinie Tempah: Written In The Stars
- 6 October 2010
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
"I've got more hits than a disciplined child," raps Tinie Tempah on his latest single, Written In The Stars.
Actually, it's only three. But with peak chart positions of 1-2-1, it could yet become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu Jr, the 21-year-old has become renowned for his witty, autobiographical wordplay.
So, as his debut album, Disc-Overy, hits the shelves, we asked the star to talk through the stories behind the lyrics.
"I like to do it differently every single time," he says of his approach to writing.
"Sometimes I record voice notes on my Blackberry, sometimes I write on my laptop - which is fun, because my handwriting is hard to read. And sometimes, I just write on paper, or on a wall, anywhere.
"If I take a different approach, I feel like something will come out of it.
"But I was quite anxious throughout the recording process, because this album will be what the world hears and judges me on."
"I don't ever want to hear another siren. Those high rises can block your horizon." (Simply Unstoppable)
I was born in Peckham and I grew up in Plumstead. When you're a teenager growing up in any inner city, there are loads of things that try to keep you at bay.
Even if you think of the schooling system - they teach you how to get a job, but they never teach you how to be entrepreneurial and how to make money. You never leave school and the head teacher says: 'Good luck, I hope you become millionaires off of what you've learnt here.' You just wind up in some job.
That line, 'the high rises can block your horizon,' is literally true. You can't see when the sun sets. But I also meant it as a metaphor. There are huge estates in South London - some of them look like they've been designed to mentally and physically oppress you. Really grey buildings with very short walkways and really cramped spaces. Some of them actually have a pharmacy and a surgery in them - everything to make sure you never leave that place. Those high rises literally block your ambition.
"Have you ever been so hungry that it keeps you awake?" (Written In The Stars)
I'm not talking about my upbringing, I'm talking about the point where I decided to pursue music by myself.
I said to my parents: 'I'm going to be independent, and I don't want to rely on you guys. I've gone against your wishes about going to university, so I'm not going to come to you and ask for £20 every time I need it.'
So it's about the past two years, when there was no food in the kitchen. I'd try to fall asleep but I was so hungry I couldn't.
But also in a metaphorical sense, it's about being hungry to achieve your ambitions. Last year, I got to the point where a lot of my peers were signed - Chipmunk and Tinchy Stryder - and I'd sit at home watching them topping the charts and winning Mobo awards and I literally didn't want to sleep. I wanted to keep making music until I got to the point where I had a record deal, do you get what I mean?
"Every other day mummy calls me just to ask me if I'm coping with the fame." (Intro) "My mum's 44 years and no wrinkles." (Simply Unstoppable)
My mum is the major influence in my life. I adore her greatly. She came from Nigeria at the age of 21, which is how old I am now, and she had me a year later.
She went from the bottom, starting out as a cleaner, to owning three or four properties in England. It was quite a big achievement. To watch someone do that is an inspiration. She set the benchmark in my life. That's why she's all over the album.
"When I was a kid I wished that I could be in Narnia. Every time my father disregarded an argument." (Illusion)
It wasn't so much that my parents argued. What was worse was that every time my mum did have an issue, my dad would brush it to the side - and I would always bear the brunt of that. 'Your dad's not listening to me, and this needs to be done, or that needs to be done'.
I was only nine or 10 and I would just wish I was anywhere but there.
I'm a huge mummy's boy, but I've got to the point where I had to start seeing things from different points of view. My dad would work all the time, so I had this automatic bias.
It got to the point where, because of that, I don't know him as well as I should. But recording this album was the moment of realisation - because I'd moved out of home and suddenly my dad started calling a lot more, asking what's going on and giving me advice. You could tell that he'd always wanted that.
"Would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit?" (Frisky)
When I was recording Frisky with (producer) Labrinth, I went in to do the demo vocal and that sentence just came out!
Up to this day, I've never told anyone what it means. I've gone all over the world - from America to Spain to Denmark - and everyone has their own interpretation of it. And some of them are so vulgar, so disgusting!
"I'm just a writer from the ghetto like Malorie Blackman." (Written In The Stars)
[Blackman later wrote on Twitter: "Not only is it a GREAT song, but I get a name check. I'm so thrilled! Thx, Tinie."]
My sister read Noughts and Crosses and she told me how amazing the concept was, and how creative it was. And I did some research and realised Malorie Blackman was also from Peckham. So when I was writing Written In The Stars, it was only natural to put that line in.
She [Blackman] has been quite supportive, so that's a big deal. It would be a crazy creative process to do something with her.
"I'm an extra-terrestrial. Came up out of the dirt like a vegetable." (Intro)
This is the first line of my debut album. It will be judged for the rest of my life. I really wanted to say something that summed up who I was in two lines.
The whole extra-terrestrial thing is, like, I like to consider myself as something out of this world.
When I say: 'I came out of the dirt like a vegetable', the dirt is a non-specific place. It could be outer space, but I like to think of the dirt as the grind, the struggle.
"If music needed saving, I'd die for it." (Let Go)
I think I actually would. I think I actually would.
Let Go is for the public. It's saying: 'It's all about the music, I don't really want to be a pop star, I don't want to be the guy who falls out of clubs with a supermodel, I just want to be focused on making great music.'
So sometimes, I'm going to do a show and I'm going to concentrate so much on making it great and epic that I won't want to talk to anyone before or after. This is a track letting you know that, so brace yourself for it.
I really wanted this album to be representative of the generation we're in. We all have Jay-Z and Coldplay in our record collection. Did you see Cher Lloyd on X Factor? She is the perfect definition of our generation. She's a 16-year-old white girl from middle England who is very in tune with hip-hop and American culture and black culture. Because of the internet, because of YouTube, because of how cosmopolitan England has become, that is our culture.
"I said 'no' to like six or seven labels." (Simply Unstoppable)
When I said 'no' to the labels, I kind of said it the way a baby would refuse food: 'NAH!'.
There was a bit of a bidding war, but I feel like I went with the right label, who allowed me to express myself. And just to be able to say that, I felt very satisfied within myself.
"Amen, Hallelujah, Tinie, look what's happened to you. Who can say they ran all the obstacles I ran? I traded friends for fans. Cement from sand. Raise your hands. The Wonderman." (Wonderman)
I feel like a new and improved person. I've made the first step into fulfilling my dreams. It's almost like something divine has happened to me, hence the imagery in the lyrics. It's in the song titles, too - Written In The Stars, Illusion, Wonderman. It's a big deal.
I traded friends for fans… I mean that in both the figurative and metaphorical sense. It doesn't mean that I've stopped hanging around with my friends. It means that my friends would now listen to my album the way they'd listen to Jay-Z and Kanye. And that's all I've ever wanted.
Disc-Overy is out now on Parlophone.