“It’s a 24-hour job. People think: ‘oh you’re living the life and it’s easy for you’. They don’t realise.” Life can be tough when you’re a top pop star. For Tinie Tempah, who as we write is riding high with a number one debut album called Disc-overy and two – count ’em, two! – singles in the current UK top five, this is his umpteenth interview of the day. What’s more he was out partying with his pal Example last night and is understandably feeling a little delicate. Now the man who at various points on his great new album shoots out lyrics about being fed up with fame and the constant press attention it brings with it is contemplating another five hours of interviews. So, wary that I’m heaping more unwanted attention on the 22-year-old rap prodigy, I wonder whether he’s not a little fed up talking to pop critic bods such as myself? “It’s crazy but a lot of fun. If you do what you love you never have to work again in your life. I try to work by that ethic.”
Mr Tempah – his real name is Patrick Chukwuem Okogwu Jnr – has reason to be upbeat. Right now he is perhaps the biggest pop star in the UK. Other top artists would clamber over each other to work with him, and would sell their grannies to have even a sniff of the acclaim and sales he has amassed in the last six months alone. Having grown up in Plumstead, South London and spending years making music for a small niche audience, Tempah now finds himself rubbing shoulders with Kylie, Kelly Rowland and the rest. It must be daunting to be catapulted into the spotlight in such a short space of time. Does he ever get starstruck? “It depends. I don’t think it’s being starstruck anymore, I think it’s respect. You know, when you have utmost respect for someone. I’m not comparing these people with, like, Gandhi or whatever but you know how it is when someone walks into a room and they have a huge presence. I’ve been fortunate enough this year to have in-depth conversations with Chris Martin, Damon Albarn and Kylie Minogue and those are people who have sold millions of albums. It’s not so much I’m going ‘wow you’re here’ it’s more like ‘wow you are a very serious individual, you’ve worked very hard to get where you are so I’m going to listen to everything you say’.”
“…I wasn’t in the mood to compromise. Let’s just do our thing. So we put everything into it – drum ‘n’ bass, ska… the song was like 6 minutes long! Then we came back in the studio and thought, ‘this works!'”
Tinie Tempah is, himself, a very serious individual, and well worth paying attention to. ‘Pass Out’, his number one single from earlier this year, was groundbreaking in a subtle sort of way, with a BPM that goes through the ceiling towards its end; it’s a bit grime, a smidgin dubstep, a mite hip-hop and a soupcon of electropop all mashed up together but never sounds like a mess. If it’s not too much liking asking a comedian “where do you get your crazy ideas from?”, I venture: well, just how do you dream this stuff up? “When I recorded it I was thinking ‘These fucking briefs, man – why does my song have to sound like Lady Gaga or any song that’s number one?’ They want your song to sound like that. What the hell… I wasn’t in the mood to compromise. Let’s just do our thing. So we put everything into it – drum ‘n’ bass, ska… the song was like 6 minutes long! Then we came back in the studio and thought, ‘this works!’ We were having fun! For a song like that to go to number one… you get more confidence, you realise you don’t have to compromise. I made it slow, then sped it up, the video was dark and it had all my mates in it jumping around.”
How much of what you do is work ethic and how much of it is talent? “I’d say it depends on what kind of artist you are. Actually no I’d say regardless of what kind of artist you are, you have to work hard. You’ve got to get on planes, do interviews and put up with loads of people talking to you…” Oh dear. Is this the point where I get sent away with a flea in my ear – the final track on his album, ‘Let’s Go’ is about the burden of having to do interviews “I’m tired of it”, it goes. Gulp! “Because you are public property, even if you’re on the street and someone walks up to you, you’ve got to be that guy. You can’t switch off and say I’m on my lunch break, sorry.” Once upon a time, British rap artists struggled to get any attention at all. Derek B, Merlin and others never got the chance to fulfill their early potential as their careers were hampered by snobbery, and by being lumbered with accents which may have seemed alien to US ears. Now that British rap, or ‘brrrrrrap’, is all the rage, it’s understandable that Tinie Tempah might feel triumphant. Being in a position to complain about the trappings of fame must in itself be, something of an ego-boost.