Radar: Tinie Tempah

by Steven J. Horowitz
Photography by Mark Hartman
Location courtesy of The Blind Barber

Tinie Tempah takes his craft seriously. After supporting Jay-Z with Mr. Hudson on a mini-tour of the U.K., the Plumstead, South London native met with Roc Nation once Hov expressed interest in signing him to the label, home to Willow Smith and Jay Electronica. But with his platinum debut, Disc-Overy, branding him as a top candidate for cross-continental success, he didn’t need a co-sign from Jigga.

“I thought, you know what? I just want to concentrate on my music for a little bit and my legacy and what I’m going to bring to the table,” explains the 22-year-old on why he turned down the offer. “Maybe, at some point in my career, if it’s meant to happen, it will. But up until then, I just want to keep on making great music.”

So far, his independent spirit has prevailed. Upon its release in October 2010, Disc-Overy bowed at the top of the U.K. Albums Chart thanks to the success of No. 1 singles “Pass Out” and “Written in the Stars.” The awards soon followed, and in 2010, he nabbed Best Newcomer at the Urban Music Awards, and this past January, he was named Best Breakthrough Act and bestowed with Best Single for “Pass Out” at the 2011 BRIT Awards.

His next stop: the United States. Unlike fellow U.K. exports who dig too deeply into grime or play like a parody of American rap, Tinie stirs influences from jittery house and underground boom bap to starry-eyed pop on Disc-Overy, hitting Stateside this spring. While the album trespasses in musical terrain that’s typically foreign to hip-hop, Tinie crafted the offering with the intention to juggernaut through barriers.

“We all have iTunes, we all have iPods. We all have a shuffle button, and we all make our own compilations. People very rarely listen to specific albums and specific artists from start to finish. It’s usually a mix of different artists and different sounds, and I wanted my album to represent that,” he states of the LP, which features a spread of guest artists, including newcomer Ellie Goulding, dance mavens Swedish House Mafia and soulstress Kelly Rowland.

His willingness to redefine what works in hip-hop speaks to his musical upbringing. Tinie, whose real name is Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, was reared on his father’s instrumental jazz records, soon developing a taste for hip-hop after purchasing his first album, Eminem’s Slim Shady LP. It wasn’t until he heard U.K. hip-hop collective So Solid Crew that he decided to spit a rhyme, reworking their lyrics to create his own.

He fully embraced his artistry while applying to university, deciding to kiss a life of academia goodbye and chase his musical dreams. Burning up the web with his WordPress blog Milk & 2 Sugars, he scored coveted performance slots at festivals, including the prestigious Wireless Festival in 2008, where he caught the attention of A&Rs.

Tinie played the courting game and eventually signed with Parlophone to release Disc-Overy. After finding success in the U.K., he now plans to build his brand by developing artists under his imprint, Disturbing London, and begin work on his sophomore album. And America isn’t the last destination on his world tour.

“I love the fact that I can go and play a song in a new country and slowly watch people sort of get their head around it and hopefully, slowly but surely, fully embrace it,” he states. “It’s a big challenge, but I love a big challenge. So I’m ready. Bring it on.”

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