Published Jun 15, 2011It's always interesting to catch a much buzzed about artist in ascent. Without the luxury of hindsight bias to fall back on, there's no way of telling if the fresh-faced proclamations and mission statements are prescient or pretentious. With Tinie Tempah, one hopes for the former. The South London hip-hop artist (real name Patrick Okogwu) is riding of the buzz of his single "Written in the Stars" ― equal parts pop and rap ― and one gets the sense that the hip-hopper's passion for music is no put-on. In Canada for the first time recently promoting his new album Disc-Overy with a live debut performance in Toronto, the 22-year old artist discussed his global pop career trajectory and his strategy for staying airborne.
Do you find that you have to change your sound for a North American audience?
To a certain extent, you represent yourself indirectly by the way you look and the way you sound. If you're something like Gucci Mane, everyone immediately knows that you're from the South. When people hear the way I talk, whether it's in an interview or a song, they immediately know that I'm not really from [North America]. But other than that I'm just trying to make good music. I think that good music is universal. Sometimes if you put it in the context of performing at a festival where hundreds of people are singing your song, it doesn't really matter where the artist is from. There's some sort of synergy that brings everyone together. And I'm all about trying to create that.
Do you find any resistance from people that can't or won't get into the music just because of where you're from?
I never really modify my sound and I think that is really my strong point. Not so much resistance as intrigue. For example, I've gone on certain hip-hop radio stations to do interviews and they're like "So you're British and you sound like Prince William but you're a rapper. Okay rap then!" So it's about doing my thing and I guess it works in my advantage because that intrigue is enough to get you through ― it's like 20 percent of the job already done. If you've got enough people interested in who you are as a character or a musician, they're going to want to have a sneaky little listen. And if the music is good enough on the other end, I've done my job.
For the initiated, what Tinie Tempah tracks should people be checking out?
I would say is definitely "Pass Out" first off. That's like the catalyst that kicked everything else off. Obviously "Written in the Stars," which is the new single. My track with Wiz Khalifa ("Till I'm Gone") is a really, really good one. That's just load of different styles that you have to listen to.
How are adjusting to your higher profile?
Just in the way that you kind of have to. You just kind of run with it. It's so funny ― I was doing music for a couple of years before I signed my record deal and having to worry about how to do promos, flying into places and checking in and out of different hotels. And I always say that thank God it happened at this age because if it happened earlier I think I would have fallen on my face. At the end of the day you dictate how successful you are within your given career. So I think that it's very important and I take pride in being able to talk about myself and being able to talk about the man behind the music. It is what it is, man. Most of the time I meet people that have done their research and are interested in what's going on and I appreciate it.
So what separates you from other British rappers/MCs?
Much earlier on, I discovered that it was important to make a song, while other artists were simply making mixtapes. I was like, I'm going to go the song route, mess around and try some silly things with R&B tempos and dance tempos ― just trying to actually create a good song that you could actually hear on the radio as opposed to just an onslaught of lyrics, you know what I mean? So I just kind of ran with it. I felt like I was one of the few MCs in the UK making songs at that time. I definitely feel that it put me in a good position. It meant that I started getting little bookings from like 200 or 500 people and some of my songs were resonating on an underground level. And I was performing outside of London and getting a lot of experience. So when I got my record deal and was able to perform on a much larger platform, it was like "this guy's been here before…why is he so good at performing?" So I would say that it's the one thing that I had over everyone else.
Who would still like to collaborate with?
I really want to collaborate with Toronto's very own Drake. I think he's amazing at what he does. I'd also like to collaborate with Adele, Sleigh Bells, Lykke Li, Dev, James Blake ― those are the few that I'd really like to work with.
Who is your target fan? Do you even think along those lines?
You know, I just think my demographic are just real people, who live their ordinary lives. When you live an ordinary life, everyone has their ups and downs, everyone has their things that they need to deal with. But ultimately, nothing is too extreme, nothing is unheard of. I thought I'd speak for those people. I have no shame in saying that I lived a pretty average life. My family life was cool, school was cool, I enjoyed it, didn't mind it. My parents are still together so there's nothing too crazy, too extreme. I think that what people relate to about my music is that I'm mad passionate about wanting to achieve something and I did everything within my power to make it happen. I'm documenting my life as I go along. Like now, I was on a first-class trip to Toronto and I get here and my show is sold out. So I think that's my demographic ― people who want to share in that success.