The world of British urban music moves fast. One moment you’re the subject of headlines, the next you’re yesterday’s news, with somebody new ready to step into your trainers. Just ask Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder or Chipmunk. And maybe Tinie Tempah. Three years is a long time in grime but that’s how long it’s taken for a follow up to debut Discovery to appear, no doubt influenced by the small matter of Tempah becoming a worldwide star. Yet still he appears to be taking no chances. The album is packed with big names – on both sides of the mixing desk – and also the guiding hand of Chris Martin in the writing department. Clearly he isn’t ready to relinquish his position just yet.
First track ‘Someday (A Place In The Sun)’ certainly suggests he won’t have to. Although not a Martin co-write it sure sounds like it should be, no band thing when the results are this good – enhanced by the appearance of recent Rudimental vocalist Ella Eyre. It doesn’t take long for Demonstration to come off the rails though, as early as the second number ‘Trampoline’. Attracting a producer of the calibre of Diplo to the project (alongside rapper 2 Chainz) will certainly help boost his profile in the US but the results are sadly predictable fare that we’ve heard countless times before.
Therein lies the rub. Demonstration is a good sounding, at times genuinely exciting, record. The guests all deliver. The tunes are pretty good. The problem is Tinie Tempah himself. Given that he was already giving it large on his first ever single (the style unsurpassed ‘Pass Out’) you might a degree of bravado but still much of this really does take the biscuit. He seems delighted that kids with as little money as he used to have are now scrimping and saving to buy his branded trainers, or with his seat at the front of London Fashion Week. And that’s before you get to his view on women – “trying to get fellatio, from girls as fresh as Daisy Lowe” is just one of a number of charming rhyming couplets to be found on the album. If, as the cover suggests, this is Tinie Tempah baring his soul then it’s not a particularly pleasant one.
All of which make the better moments all the more frustrating. ‘Looking Down The Barrel’ is a quite brilliant re-run of his youth (including the perils of having a name with too many syllables), proof that he can balance a US sound with a British feel. ‘Children Of The Sun’ mixes euphoria with introspection nicely, although the effect is rather spoilt by the horrible ‘Witch Doctor’. Then he hits a run of five tracks that show just what he’s capable of. Labrinth’s production on ‘Lover Not A Fighter’ is at another level and, in the company of three strong females he drops the front and delves deeper. Emeli Sandé (why, of course), Laura Mvula and Paloma Faith all shine, helping him explore a set of personal lyrics that are intelligent, revealing and at times angry. Once they depart however we’re back on depressingly familiar ground with ‘5 Minutes’.
What conclusion can we draw from Demonstration? That Tinie Tempah can still be special but just can’t be bothered? That – as he says on the epic ballad ‘Tears Run Dry’ – he just puts on his shades to pretend everything’s fine? Or that he just wants to take the quickest route to becoming an even bigger star? Yet as Rudimental and Labrinth have proved of late, you can sell records and make smart, cool music at the same time. Next to them, much of Tempah’s second album sounds boorish, tiresome and tasteless. Given what’s gone before, that might prove a major gamble.