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Upfront: Tinie Tempah

Letting go of Youth

Words by Kish Lal

Tinie Tempah is one of the UK’s biggest stars. His breadth of work ranges from pop, EDM rap features, and on his ‘Junk Food’ mixtape he even explored a previously untapped love of grime with heavyweights Stormzy, Giggs, and Big Narstie. It’s been a hot minute since Tempah has released a full-length record but he has filled in the years by drip-feeding his fans up and coming singles from his much-anticipated album Youth. While it’s odd to see songs like ‘Not Letting Go’ (released in 2015) feature on the album, Tempah insists that it fits into the record’s narrative, “once you hear it from start to end it should make sense.”

It would be a disservice to describe Tinie Tempah as ‘down to earth’ because he exists on a different playing field to most. He lives in Alexander McQueen’s former home, hangs out in Calvin Harris’ private jet when he goes to LA, and has secured residencies in Dubai and Ibiza. He continues to champion rising stars (namely women), is strong in his social activism, and manages to commit time in his schedule to supporting underprivileged youth.

As a long time fan of Tinie Tempah’s meeting him in a bright restaurant on a Tuesday afternoon was intimidating to say the least. But it quickly became clear that his professionalism extended far beyond a façade he puts on for TV and radio appearances. When we arrived, we were greeted by the artist liaison manager who exclaimed that the schedule was running early, an anomaly when it comes to musicians and timing, and after Tempah’s entire entourage introduced themselves, he ordered a hot lemon tea with honey and we started talking.

Hey Tinie, I’ve got to start by saying that I’m actually a really big fan of yours.

I appreciate that thank you!

I play ‘Girls Like’ in every one of my DJ sets.

Oh amazing, what’s the reaction like?

It goes off every single time.

Good, I like hearing that.

How’s the tour been so far?

It’s been really good. This is literally where we’ve started the whole Youth tour if you will. When I finished the album I’m not going to lie, I was like, “Oh we’re going to Australia and New Zealand first to perform it before it’s even out?” I always assumed it would be in England but it’s just worked out incredibly, man. I’ve been to Australia quite a few times now [but] I forget how excited the crowd are and how much energy they have, how much they appreciate the music.

There were rumours that you were looking to record a music video while you were in New Zealand last week with Kid Ink. Did that end up happening?

Basically I’ve got this song with Kid Ink called ‘They Don’t Know’ on the album and its got Stefflon Don on it as well—she’s from the UK and she’s a new girl. So the deal was to get to New Zealand, meet with a director, quickly come up with a concept and then film it. But me and Kid Ink only did one show so I got to Auckland and I had to do the show on the same day, then he did a show and then he had to fly off to somewhere else.

Do you still want to make it happen in New Zealand

I still do, maybe not New Zealand now but maybe Australia. I’m in Sydney for a couple of days.

You’re able to shoot a video in 2 days?

I’m going to try to.

You’ve been busy: music videos, your new clothing line, which you’re wearing, and your album Youth is about to drop.

[Laughs] I’m active.

You’ve previously said that a lot of the artists that you look up to have significant growth and change with their third albums. Have you changed on yours?

I started doing this when I was 21 and I’m 28 now so naturally in life you change anyway you know? By the time you get to your third album it’s kind of what’s expected of you. What’s different now as opposed to be what I’ve been hearing for the past couple of years? I feel like I’ve really concentrated to make that happen. That’s why the process took so long. I stared this [album] when I was 26, and I’m 28 now, I’ve released loads of songs from it already, added more I kind of made 4 albums in that space of time just to make this one. I think I’ve achieved the evolution and growth I was looking for.

We’ve heard a few songs from the album like ‘Text from your Ex’, ‘Mamacita’, ‘Something Special’. What are the songs that we haven’t heard like?

I’d say the whole album is based around a young man growing up within an inner city. A young man that all the cards weren’t necessarily dealt out to. You know—the good cards. I wasn’t born into a family of privilege I’m not a wealthy kid or anything like that. I was just a black boy from South London trying to rap and trying to make it and I think that is the context to everything because that’s who I am and that’s the environment I had to grow up in.

Youth is biographical and it made me think about other songs of yours that imitated life. You recently were hanging out at Paper nightclub in London and you gave away £6000 worth of vintage Dom Perignon to all the women in the club? It was very ‘Drinking From The Bottle’ of you.

Yea exactly! [Laughs] It all ties into the lifestyle. I think in England being a successful rapper wasn’t a normal thing so there is no real blueprint of how to do it. You understand the British way, we’re very proper but you do have to have those moments where you celebrate life. For me, whether its down to my culture or the way I grew up, if someone has success I think they should share it and celebrate it with other people. If you’ve ever supported my music or if you’ve ever been to a concert I thought it was important to do things like this to share it different way, not just behind a railing watching me and then they go home. Just trying to make it more lit basically.

Those are good words to live by.

Let’s make it all more lit! it could all be more lit!

You’ve been performing in Dubai recently, what’s that like?

Yeah we’re doing Disturbing Dubai, which is a new thing. It’s crazy I’ve been going there for the past 7 years and like, how can I explain it? It’s people from all over the world that have moved to this new kind of new age, new outlook, new mindset utopia of a place. It’s wild. It’s lit! Everyone is turning up and we’ve been lucky enough to link up with the guys up there, which is a similar kind of thing.

Dubai seems like the height of opulence, I was looking at one of the nights you recently played which was a ladies night where there is the usual complimentary drinks and entry but in Dubai there’s complimentary sushi!

Crazy right?

Why isn’t this trending, I need it to happen

I know this is exactly what we should push for.

So ‘Drinking from the Bottle’ is my favourite Calvin Harris song, and you were hanging out with him when you were in LA last year, have you ever considered moving there?

Yeah… that’s a good question because if I’m ever going to move there it’s going to be like now or never. I love LA, I love the vibe of LA, I love the people in LA, but I’m such a homegrown person. And obviously the weather in England is shit and everybody knows that but I have such an affinity to that place. The fact that I grew up there and the fact that I take the majority of my inspiration from there. I’m inspired by America but I’m not really inspired by America.

Well you have that amazing place in London; you actually live in Alexander McQueen’s former home. How do you decide you’re going to buy a fashion legend’s home?

It was funny; I had two of my friends talk me into it.

You love fashion too so is it inspiring to live there?

Yeah I felt a real motivation to make my own line as well. I’ve just made my own line, What We Wear, and you know what you’re right—there’s definitely some energy in there that made me feel something.

I found so many similarities between us in the sense that he wasn’t your conventional fashion designer, he wasn’t from an elitist background, he didn’t have all the doors opened to him. He was an East Londoner and liked a peaceful life. Even now as I live in the house there are still people who come up to me and say, “oh you live in Lee’s house” that’s his real name, and then they’ll remember stories of when he was around.

 

Did you change much?

I just soaked up all the vibes and he left a lot of the original things in there, original furniture he made himself and something about that compelled me to be like, I want to make something beyond music that I can give to the people just because of how much I’ve soaked up from this house. So living there has been a blessing. I’m one of those people that believe in divine intervention and that everything is meant to happen the way it does. I just feel like it was meant to happen.

I think that’s amazing, and of course congratulations on your London Fashion Week show.

Oh thank you!

I watched the show and it was really cool. You had a live orchestra on stage, was that your idea?

Yeah it was.

And did you compose the music for it?

I composed the second part of the music but the first part was 21 Savage. We just turned one of his really hard tunes into a classical tune and the second part was mine.

What 21 Savage song was it?

It was [raps] “Young Savage, why you trappin’ so hard?”

www.tinietempah.com

 

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