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Digital Cover Story, September 2016
Written by J RIVERA / DIRK DIGGLER
Photos by JAMIE KENDRICK / DAN MEDHURST 

It seems like yesterday, but it has been six long years since Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu (a.k.a. Tinie Tempah) released his first album Disc-Overy on Parlophone Records, which included the hits “Pass Out”, “Frisky” and “Written In The Stars”. Back then, Tinie was just a twenty something rapper from London with some aspirations but now, 27, he is one of the most important musical stars in the UK besides being also a trendsetter. His goal was to be a well known artist all over the world, and it seems he is getting there. When we ask him how is a day in Tinie Tempah’s life, he smiles and tells us: “It’s mad! Only the bravest person in the world would want to walk in my shoes. I’m having fun and enjoying my life; however, I have to work extremely, extremely hard for everything. Every bit I have I’ve worked so hard for it. It’s good and it looks good on Instagram, but maybe one day you come with me and see for yourself.”

 

Tinie has not stopped this summer. He is in Stockholm (Sweden), where he is headlining a new festival (he has already lost count how many festivals he has been in) alongside his longtime partner DJ Charlesy. When he finishes talking with us, he’ll go to the studio to record tracks for his third studio album, YOUTH (DL Records/Parlophone). “The concept of the record is like a love letter to my city. Most people know that I’m a rapper from London and I wanted to make an album that was almost dedicated to the city I grew up in, because that city gave me all the opportunities that I have now; if I was living somewhere else it’d be harder to achieve my dreams and maybe it wouldn’t have happened. But I feel that because I lived in London I was able to have the right foot in to take on the world, and that’s what I’m trying to do now. A lot of the music (on the project) is very nostalgic and we used some samples to bring back that feeling of nostalgia. It’s my most exciting record to date, personally.”

It only takes a look to his discography to see how much he has progressed musically in all these years. He has gone from dark grime and dubstep to house, pop and even caribbean rhythms on songs like “Mamacita” (featuring Wizkid) or “Girls Like” with Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson. Tinie has changed but it is obvious that his personality remains intact. “The other day in London I made a lecture and said that the job of a musician, especially one that’s from England, is to go around the world and take a lot of influences and inspiration. In the same way that english people went to India and they got tea, went to China, to Spain and got something there too. It’s been a very natural progression for me. It’s a natural evolution, a natural progression; also an evolution as an artist because when I first started I was just an MC and all I knew was London, didn’t really know much else. I’m a man now, I know the world, I’ve got to work with so many different artists, in so many different environments and situations; I think it’s made me evolve for the better.”

“I’M STILL UNDER 30 SO THERE’S STILL SO MUCH MORE I WANT TO ACHIEVE. WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS I’LL SET UP MY PUBLISHING COMPANY AND TRY TO FIND NEW TALENT FOR THE RECORD LABEL, TALENT THAT I CAN SUPPORT AND HELP”

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His newest single is called “Mamacita”, and he has decided to break barriers and renovate himself once again. A great summer anthem full of latin references, in which Tinie’s protegé Wizkid shines on the hook. The music video is filled with mexican mariachis and was shot in the Dominican Republic; a big adventure, like he tells us. “It was amazing to shoot the video in the DR. The track was produced by Bless Beats. Like I said, a lot of my music is very much a snapshot from my actual life. As an english guy… and I don’t know what you think about english guys when you see them in Spain, because a lot of times people think that we’re wild and crazy; but if you’re in a place like Spain, Italy, Brasil or Chile, you may see a beautiful girl who doesn’t speak your same language but you still wanna communicate with her. That’s basically what ‘Mamacita’ is about: me and a girl that speak completely different languages and all I can say is ‘Oh mamacita, come let’s get more familiar…’.”

 

On his latest album, Demostration (Parlophone, 2013), Tinie surrounded himself with a lot of american collaborators: Diplo, 2 Chainz, Ty Dolla $ign, Big Sean. Meanwhile, in YOUTH he wanted to maintain the authenticity of the project so he opted to work with local talent. It was time to keep it (mainly) british. “It’s mostly UK based producers. We have Bless Beats, who made ‘Not Letting Go’ (featuring Jess Glynne), Shift K3y, TroyBoi,  another producer from the UK who did a remix of ‘Not Letting Go’, Jakwob, Yogi and NaNa Rogues, a new producer I signed for my publishing company which is called Imhotep Music.” Some of these beatmakers may be unknown to many but they are hot and new talent ‘made in the UK’. To have big names on an album it is not always a guaranteed ticket to success.

 

As I grow older and I’ve seen the world a bit more, it’s made me prouder of my african roots. I guess that’s why my fashion is the way it is

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He established his own record company Disturbing London in 2007, alongside his cousin Dumi Oburota who is also his manager. African sensation Wizkid, electronic production duo All About She, rapper Yungen and british singer Sasha Keable are a part of the label’s roster. I feel that is important for an artist to be business savvy or to have business people around you. Because, ultimately, what we’re doing is business. Anytime you release a song there’s business to be done; sometimes, some people are just happy to be a musician or to be famous or to be on the radio, but they put themselves in a position where they can get exploited. And I wanna be one of the few artists, like Jay Z, who educate other musicians on how to do the business correctly. That’s why we set the record label: we own all of our rights, all of our masters, and it’s a better business for the artist.”

 

The state of Grime music has changed for the better from the time Tinie started, and the genre has even penetrated the american market. English artists like Skepta (the great ambassador), Stormzy, Little Simz, Jammer, Novelist or Section Boyz are at the forefront of this change of trend. And Tinie has his own opinion behind that expansion. “To be honest, I think it has always happened but because of social media it’s been amplified more. American artists have always come to England: Puff Daddy, Jay Z… They have always embraced english artists; when I did my O2 show in London I had J. Cole supporting me. Americans have always embraced us but I think now, because of social media, Instagram, Twitter, it makes it a lot more visual and the world is smaller now. Drake or Kanye say we like this person or we like that other person, and they have 20 or 30 million followers on Instagram; that wasn’t there before, we were not able to see that. That’s why I think it’s got so massive now, because of social media.”

 

Ibiza is like his second home. He had a weekly residence (every Wednesday) in the Hard Rock Café Hotel in the balearic island, during the summer of 2015. This year he has repeated the experience, every Friday in Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel, one of the most exclusive places in IBZ. “Every year is different but every year it’s getting better. When I first went to Ibiza I was doing little shows in San Antonio, and then slowly but surely, I started moving up to Pachá, Amnesia, Space… And now I have a show of my own. It’s great, I’m thankful to God and to all the people in Ibiza. It’s amazing, it’s phenomenal, and I’m glad that they accomodate UK music, hip-hop if you will, I’m happy to be one of the people that brought that music to the island”, he says. Disturbing Ibiza’s closing party will be held on September 16th, with special guests Jillionaire (Major Lazer), DJ Target (BBC Radio 1 Extra) and Sammy Porter.

“TO BE A WELL KNOWN ARTIST AROUND THE WORLD, THAT’S REALLY MY AIM. AND I FEEL LIKE I’M GETTING THERE, SLOWLY BUT SURELY. I NEVER THOUGHT IT WAS GONNA BE EASY, I NEVER THOUGHT IT WAS GONNA BE OVERNIGHT, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE THINGS ARE MOVING FORWARD”

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Throughout his career he has collaborated mainly with female vocalists. And to him, it’s not a coincidence. “I like girls. I complement really well with them and, ultimately, I’m a rapper; I rap but I have very big ambitions, I wanna make music for everybody. Music for the kids on the street, for the old people, I wanna make something for everybody. And I understand that I can’t always do that alone so sometimes it’s nice to be able to work with someone that you’re also a big fan of, like Zara Larsson or Ellie Goulding; I’m a fan of their music and I go to their concerts. I know they can add something to my records and I know I can add something to theirs as well. Like when I did Rita Ora’s ‘R.I.P.’ or Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Miami to Ibiza’… That’s the way I like to work.”

 

His african roots (both of his parents are nigerian) have become more apparent, especially in his style. Tinie has abandoned urban and casual styles, and now he wears flashy colours and tailored suits in classic british tradition. He cares about his looks and knows what kind of clothes suit him the best. His name appears regularly on the list of ‘best dressed men in Britain’ and now he’s working on his own clothing line. “I wanna keep it very discreet, I don’t want anybody to know that I’m behind it. I’m looking to launch it next year; the first collection is almost finished. You’ll see it next year and you’re right: the style has a bit to do with my african roots. As I grow older and I’ve seen the world a bit more, it’s made me prouder of my african roots. I guess that’s why my fashion is the way it is.”

 

Tinie Tempah spends almost the same time performing on stage than traveling on a plane. At the beginning of November he will start a european tour with gigs in France, Germany, Italy, Spain or Finland. It will be a very special tour for him because his last tour was supporting irish rock band The Script; he will headline this new tour and its format will be more complex, not only a rapper-DJ set. “I’m hoping that there’ll be a band. Now it’s my own show, I don’t have any restrictions, I don’t have any rules. It’ll be good, it’ll be really crazy. With The Script I had less time and didn’t have the same amount of sound; I couldn’t give you the full show. But now I’m gonna go crazy.” It will be a perfect opportunity to listen to his upcoming LP, YOUTH, live.

‘YOUTH’ (Disturbing LDN Records/Parlophone) is now available for pre-order on iTunes / Amazon