Everything since Tinie’s astronomical breakout hit ‘Pass Out’ in 2010 might seem like it’s come easy. It’s win after win, number one after number one (3 Top Ten albums and 7 No.1s, to be exact.) Tinie might just have been the catalyst that paved the way for the current explosion of Black music and culture in Britain.
From the outside, Tinie looks accomplished; a godfather of what we’ve come to know as mainstream pop music. Ask anyone around the age of 18 ten years ago – Tinie was paving the way. Why return now? It’s simple: “Over the last couple of years, I felt very accomplished but oversaturated, as though I spent the past ten years trying to stay on top.” With time to focus his energy elsewhere – his groundbreaking Disturbing London label, propelled to new heights alongside longtime business partner Dumi Oburota, his publishing company Imhotep signing some of the hottest names in UK music, the time was right to return with something new, something to satisfy his creativity and provide a platform for emerging talent.
The son of immigrants who grew up in Woolwich, in one of South London’s largest Nigerian communities, it wasn’t always easy for the artist known as Tinie (formerly Tempah, something he says with a smile that he dropped because he just isn’t ‘angry anymore’). It seems a fitting change; with more and more artists swaying towards the political – Tinie’s music has always been about unity, bringing people together in these divided times.
“People had this perception that I was lucky, happy, getting all this money.” You get a sense, talking to him while he proudly recalls the backbreaking hours his Nigerian parents worked upon their arrival to south London in the 80s, just how strong Tinie’s own work ethic is. Making it this far wasn’t something he expected, so he’s determined to hold onto everyone around him who helped keep him grounded, and bring up the new gen while he’s at it.
It seems almost a cathartic process for Tinie, amplifying the emerging artists on this project and beyond. Something like part of ‘growing old gracefully’ despite the fact his incredible success at a young age means he’s actually only 31. Just look at the roster he’s signed and developed: the likes of Yxng Bane, Kida Kudz, Kali Claire, Nana Rogues & Poundz. Ten years ago, it wasn’t so often that you’d find a rapper or MC in the Top 40, let alone the Top 10. Maybe on occasion with artists such as Wiley, Skepta or Dizzee Rascal and eventually Tinie himself – but it’s incomparable to today. “You’re seeing several rap-led songs releasing on a weekly basis.” He says, with a humble air of achievement.
Tinie isn’t just getting ready for his comeback then; but looking to help bring up a roster of artists more than worthy of taking the baton from him too. “We’re getting to the point now where we’re starting to have different generations in UK rap and grime which we never had before, and it’s just popular culture now.”
It’s easy to forget that Tinie Tempah’s career began over fifteen years ago, with the first drop ‘Wifey Riddim’, followed by his debut mixtape, ‘Hood Economics’. Even ten years ago, when he released “Pass Out” and achieved his first No.1, the pressure to stay on top became a lot to handle and Tinie alludes to his own struggles during that time. “I didn’t really have anyone to help me in that sense and at the time, I hadn’t considered counselling or anything like that.”
You realise then, that before the fame and success, Tinie is still predominantly a young Black man living with the pressures that come with it. “When I moved to Hackney, I realised I had to be more cautious, because although I was living in a nice part, if I bought a flashy car, given that I’m a Black man, I might attract all sorts of unwanted attention.” He gives an example of feeling cautious of the police when on the road. “Having to deal with that stuff becomes a lot, which is why I sat back and lived the ‘normal life,’” he says. It’s an unfair and tragic omission considering it comes from one of the United Kingdom’s most successful and decorated exports.
Lately, Tinie says he’s been far more appreciative and thankful for the presence of his parents in his life. They instilled in him a great work ethic and sense of community which he’s carried with him to this day. He opens up a little further into what living that ‘normal life’ entails: “Now that I’m a father, I can see a lot of the things they had to go through with me. There’s this human being looking up at you and relying on you for everything and that was me way back when.”
Enter the third act of Tinie’s career and he isn’t afraid of getting older. “I feel like 30’s the age where you know yourself and what you want to do,” he says. A lot has changed since ‘Pass Out’. Tinie’s upcoming releases – soon to be shared to the world – see him continue to push his sound forward, but maintaining all the nostalgia of his staple flow. The lead single, “Top Winners” is a playful bop and the perfect reintroduction to those who might have forgotten what earworms Tinie is capable of. “Sexy” featuring SAINt JHN is a track Tinie says he particularly enjoyed making: while he and the chart-straddling Brooklyn rapper didn’t have a lot of time together, they managed to strike gold with a heavy, slick RnB cut. There are few voices as popular and as unique as Burna Boy’s, and on the pounding “Things We Do For Money”, two stars meet. Though the collaborations might seem unexpected, you can’t help but realise Tinie’s always executed these brilliant masterstrokes through aligning with those that push him out of his comfort zone – note Chase & Status, Zara Larsson, Wizkid, Stormzy, J.Cole, Swedish House Mafia, 2 Chainz, Calvin Harris…
The forthcoming album signals a chance for Tinie to redefine his narrative, and to remind everyone he’s still very much on top of his game. This album will, almost unbelievably, serve as an introduction to some of the young people that weren’t around the first time 10 years previously. Tinie’s not worried about the perceptions people may have of him, though: his perspective on life has shifted dramatically, for the better over the past year and now his main priority is keeping a hold of what he’s achieved in one hand while holding the door open for the next chapter with the other.
When it comes down to what Tinie wants this next chapter means: “When you’re an artist, you can be quite selfish about everything you do. The moment my daughter came into my life, everything became deeper than me. She helped me realise that by making time for the people that matter, you’re inspired to feel more.”