Tinie Tempah: 'I believe in the magic of music'
- 24 October 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Brit Award-winning UK rapper Tinie Tempah tells how Adele helped him pick the songs for his new album - and why his old school might not like it.
Tinie Tempah has no eyes on the cover of his new album.
They've been scratched out, painted over. And deliberately so.
"I'm trying to make it about the music again," he explains.
"It felt like I was starting to become a personality. People were starting to know me for lots of other things, which is cool, but I just want it to be about the music.
"Don't look at the eyes, listen to the voice, hear what I'm saying."
Coming to terms with fame is a recurring theme of the star's second album, called Demonstration.
"Tell me, doctor, am I fit for all these flashing lights?" he asks on Children of The Sun.
On Looking Down The Barrel, the rapper admits: "When I'm near the public for too long, I act fidgety."
"You can definitely hear me battling to hold onto that sense of normality and reality, as opposed to being thrown into this mad world of celebrity," says the 24-year-old.
The success of his Mercury-nominated debut made Tinie a tabloid fixture - linked with Rihanna and Nicole Scherzinger in the gossip columns.
But thankfully his new album isn't an awful "tears of a pop star" sobfest about empty hotel rooms and emptier relationships.
Instead, he lists his distractions - New York fashion week, partying in Las Vegas - before admonishing himself: "Oy oy, mate, don't sell out!"
"The most important thing is self-awareness," he says - but witty lyrics help, too.
He writes, on the Daft Punk-referencing Lover Not A Fighter - about meeting his old teacher, who declares herself a fan and tries (successfully) "to get in my jeans".
Is it a true story?
"It's not directly literal," he laughs.
"Without sounding un-gentlemanly, it may not necessarily have been 'my teacher', but it could have been 'a teacher.'"
Nonetheless, he's keen to find out how the song is received in his old school staff room.
"It's going to be like a game of Cluedo! They're going to be looking around - 'was it you?'"
Born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, Tinie Tempah grew up in the notorious, now-condemned Aylesbury estate in Peckham.
His parents had come to the UK from Nigeria in their 20s. His father, a barber, retrained as a social worker and his mother worked as a human resources officer.
By the time Tinie was 12, they had saved enough money to move to Plumstead - a short walk from the O2 Arena, which he headlines in December.
The youngster picked up his parents' work ethic, gaining A-Levels in media studies, religious studies and psychology.
But his life changed when he saw the music video for So Solid Crew's 21 Seconds: Rap, he suddenly realised, didn't have to come from the other side of the Atlantic.
He took a job selling double-glazing to fund his first music video, and was being played on radio stations like KISS and BBC Radio 1Xtra before he signed a record deal with Parlophone in 2009.
Five of the singles from his first album, Disc-Overy, hit the UK top 20 - while the inspirational, rap-rock crossover Written In The Stars made him a star in America, too.
But the follow-up was delayed while his record label Parlophone changed hands, as part of the huge Universal-EMI merger.
"There was a holding period where I could release the album in England, but I wouldn't have been able to release it in the rest of the world," says the musician.
"It was a mad, compromising time. I remember Coldplay had just brought out their album and Chris Martin said to me, 'everyone who got out their album at the start of the year was lucky because there's going to have to be a long wait.'"
Tinie filled the time writing new songs, and releasing others for free online.
"I've realised more and more you need to get your ideas out," he says.
"Unless you know you've made another Heal The World, I don't think you should hold on to music.
"If you empty your tank it'll refill again."
Forever attired in a tailored jacket, dark blue denim and his trademark, thick-rimmed spectacles, Tinie was named Britain's best-dressed man by GQ Magazine two years ago.
He told the editors he maintained a sharp appearance because "it would be weird if I was wearing exactly what someone in the crowd was wearing. What would set me aside from them?"
But off-stage, he is determined to stay grounded. His cousin is his manager, he's constantly in touch with his mum, and everyone has the right to put him in his place.
"I don't consider myself a crazy person, so if I do get a good telling-off, I usually know it's for something worthwhile," he says.
He's coy about his transgressions, though - admitting only that he gets carried away in clothes shops.
"People will say, 'you're never going to wear that, you're getting excited,'" he laughs.
"I'm not off the rails... yet, anyway."
However, he can't help referencing his new-found wealth on his record.
Lines like "I'm putting on the pounds but I ain't gaining weight" permeate the new album - but does he worry that bragging about success will alienate fans?
"I definitely do think that," he says, "but all these things are happening to me and you can't not say it.
"You know when you've put a lot of water in a balloon, and it's getting bigger and bigger? Sometimes I just want to burst with excitement - and where else should I say that, if not in my music?"
He hopes the lyrics give fans something to aspire to - the same way So Solid Crew inspired him.
"I always feel an obligation to anybody who's trying to be like me," he says.
"I'm a British musician and I'm very much in pop culture - but I have come from grime, a genre of music which is still very niche, and is still very underground."
"Given where I've come from, there's an obligation to say, 'you know what? The world is a big place, and the moment I left here and applied myself, great things happened.'"
He certainly moves in high circles. He got feedback on the new album from Coldplay's Chris Martin, while Adele advised him on the track list. He's also been picking up tips in Hollywood.
"I was lucky enough to go to Jennifer Lopez's house [and] she basically said to me that anybody at the top of their game is constantly still studying their craft.
"She gave me an example of the fact that Will Smith, whenever he shoots a movie, still has his acting coach on the other side of the camera.
"Even though he's at the top of his game, he still wants to learn. It's such a humbling thing for me, you know, so that was a really good bit of advice."
Unsurprisingly, his ambitions are global: Hearing Beyonce sing Irreplaceable in Spanish (Irreempazable) made him realise that success wasn't just determined by breaking America.
"Playing in Kuala Lumpur or Sri Lanka is just as good a feeling as playing in America," he says. "It's just about being as big an artist as I can be.
"I believe in the magic of music. Hopefully one day I'll make the right song, or the right album, that will impact the whole world."
Tinie Tempah releases the single Children of the Sun on Monday, 28 October. His album, Demonstration follows on 4 November.