Tinie Tempah must be the happiest man in England. At the end of December last year, Parlophone Records released ‘Pass Out’, the 21-year-old grime artist’s first professional song. It was only intended to prepare radio DJs for his first official single, but the track’s fuzzy 8-bit melody and club-friendly hook caught on and at the start of March it was released as his first single. Two and a half months later, he’s sitting on 300,000 record sales.
It’s a turnaround that has left his head spinning. ‘I’m not going to lie,’ he chuckles. ‘I’ve spent my whole life praying for a shot, so for my debut single with a major record label to go to number one is like a dream come true. I’m still waiting for someone to call me and say, “Oh, yeah, they made a mistake…”’
Not that this is all luck; Tinie’s career has been moving steadily upward since he was 16, when he saved up £800 (Dhs4,500) to shoot a video for his track ‘Wifey’. ‘I didn’t know how well the video would do or what I was going to do with it,’ he recalls, ‘but I wanted to make it. Everything I’ve done has brought me closer to success, whether it’s a small tiptoe or a great leap.’ ‘Wifey’ was definitely the latter: the track appeared on UK TV’s underground music station Channel U, where it topped the requested charts for 10 weeks, and even garnered a favourable review in The New York Times.
But it took another five years of hard work before Tinie was ready for the big time – five years that brought forth two mixtapes, featuring not only established artists such as MIA (see ‘Seven up’ boxout, right) but also Tinie’s contemporaries, such as Chipmunk, who made his own fame last year with catchy club favourite ‘Diamond Rings’. As well as being a good omen, Tinie believes Chipmunk’s success also had a direct effect on his own career. ‘First Dizzee [Rascal] got a record deal, then DJ Ironik, then Chipmunk – these are people who lived near me [in south London], who I knew personally, people I’d call up just to have a chat. They opened the door for me; each person broke down barriers, whether they were the barriers between our music and the radio, or the negative stereotypes about where we’re from in the press.’
Despite the aggressive stereotypes that surround urban London’s grime music – and also despite his name, which rang a few alarm bells before the interview started – Tinie Tempah is pretty much the most polite and pleasant interviewee you could ask for. He even calls us ‘sir’, which makes us feel a bit old, and enthuses about helping other artists. ‘[Rappers such as Dizzee] opened the door for me; maybe my success will help others position themselves.’
And when it comes to Dubai, he bubbles with childlike excitement. ‘This is the first gig I’ve done anywhere in the Middle East so I have a special set prepared, which should be very nice. I’m counting down the days on my calendar – I just can’t wait!’
Tinie’s debut album is out in July.
Event: Home feat. Tinie Tempah
When: June 17
Tinie reveals his seven biggest inspirations.
‘His music has no boundaries; whatever your background, race or age, his music is relevant and will be for generations to come. That’s what every musician strives for.’
‘I want to be like him, but it’s taken him decades to get to his level. It’s weird that the coolest man in rap is old enough to be my dad!’
‘I’ve grown up listening to him because my mum’s a fan, and I find that when I hear his songs I get the same feelings inside every time; not everyone can make that connection.’
‘His collaborations with designers such as Louis Vuitton made rap more global and white-accepted. He’s also a very honest artist; you know when he’s having his highs and very definitely when he’s having his lows. I like that you realise he’s a human being.’
‘I think he’s amazing; the way he has been able to unite musicians from around the world – who else could bring Mos Def and Bobby Womack together on the same song?’
Lily Allen and MIA
‘They’re both very opinionated English females; I think it’s incredible to be an artist who doesn’t come out all smiles, who creates controversy and says when they’re angry.’