As he prepares to take on America, Tinie Tempah speaks with Anna Nathanson about his triumphant year, the possibility of a collaboration with Snoop and his US experiences so far…
2010 was the year that British black music truly broke the mainstream, with more artists than ever before gaining chart success. The biggest breakthrough star is undisputedly Tinie Tempah, a 22-year-old MC from South London. He had been building a name for himself on the underground music scene for five years yet suddenly found himself thrust into the limelight seemingly overnight.
At the beginning of 2010, the newly signed rapper was ready to unleash one of the biggest UK songs of the year Pass Out, and by March, he had scored a number one hit with his debut single. This soon lead to high profile TV appearances and sets at some of the country’s biggest events, including a duet with Snoop at the famous Glastonbury festival, where they performed a remix of Pass Out. He has since toured with artists such as Jay-Z and Rihanna, released a number one selling album and won over a dozen awards, all in the space of 12 months.
At the beginning of 2010, you weren’t very well known in the mainstream UK music industry. Did you anticipate then that everything was about to change for you?
When Pass Out got on the playlist at a few major radio stations I kind of had an idea, considering that before that song I’d never ever charted. So any chart position would have been a significant amount of change for me. I did have a little bit of an idea but nothing to this extent.
Take us back to the moment when you found out you’d beaten Rihanna to the top of the UK charts with your debut single Pass Out?
I was at the Radio 1 studios in London and we were counting down the chart; I remember I had my glasses on and I had a fresh haircut. I was jumping around and we got to number three and I started getting butterflies. And then they said “the number two record is…” and there was this big long silence which felt like an hour, and then they said “Rihanna” and I just went crazy. My team were there and it was a very emotional time, a few tears were shed amongst them and it was definitely a special moment, one that will be remembered forever. The moment has actually been filmed, which I’m really really happy about. If you go on YouTube and type in “Pass Out goes to number one” you can see the exact moment. I find it very hard to describe how I felt at that time.
You started making the album as a relatively unknown artist and then everything changed with Pass Out. Did this impact on the direction of the album in any way?
I’d say definitely, a little bit of course. It’s the luckiest thing in the world to be able to showcase parts of your album to your fans, to people that might be potential buying your records, to gauge the reaction. And so obviously there were parts of the album that I’d already made so when I went out to PA Pass Out, I’d perform other songs as well. So I was privileged to assess the reaction and see, “ok maybe they’re liking this more than they’re liking that, let’s stir it more towards that way”, so definitely.
How has your life changed?
It definitely seems to be ascending to higher and higher levels and an example is that I’ve been on a plane more times than I’ve driven this year, which is crazy. I’ve had the opportunity to see so many beautiful parts of the world, I’ve been able to play for so many people, meet some of my idols, and you know, really get a lot of inspiration for my second record, which is what I’m putting it all down to. Life has also changed naturally in the sense that I’m still relatively young and I’m still learning and developing and maturing as a person as well.
2010 has been the most successful year for British black music- what are your thoughts on this?
We’re very much loving the music and gone are the days where it was like “rap is for America” or “British people shouldn’t rap”, I think that’s all gone out of the window and it just goes to show what happens when everybody gets together and starts supporting one another. Anything is possible after that.
What was it like performing on stage with Snoop and did you get any feedback from him on your music?
Yeah, he said he loved Pass Out and he definitely said that when it came to the second record, if we wanted to get him and do something together, that he was more than happy to do so, which is an honour. He’s a Hip Hop icon; he’s somebody I grew up listening to and aspiring to be like so that was a big deal. And performing in front of over 100,000 people with someone of his stature is something I’ll never ever forget.
So there might be a collab between you and Snoop?
Have you spoken to him about it since?
The way I like to work is I like to finish my record and then take a step back and think; “hmm, who would I like to put on here? Shall I take out this verse and replace it with someone else, or take out that hook?” So I’m just going to get on with the record and if there is something there, I’ll definitely send it over and see what happens.
And what was he like as a person; did you get to hang out much?
He was incredible. I met him about 45 minutes prior to being on stage with him, which was very weird and surreal. However in that short period of time, we ended up talking about his prom night and this particular girl that he wanted to go with. You know, he went outside her house and she’d already gone with someone else and he was all dressed up. So for someone to open up to you like that in the space of 45 minutes; he’s a pretty cool person.
What led to that conversation?
You know what, I haven’t got a clue! If I did know, I would tell you, I just don’t know! For me, as you can imagine it was pretty surreal. I went in there and Snoop Dogg is standing in front of me, you kind of stop thinking for a little bit. When I snapped back into reality I could just hear the word “prom” and “she stood me up”.
Was there anything else that you talked about?
Not really, that was it!
Have there been any other surreal experiences?
I’d say Prince William and Kate coming to watch one of my performances. I briefly said hi to Kate but then I spoke to Prince William a lot and he told me how much he liked the music and told me what else he was into. It just kind of reinforced the power of music and what it can do, that two different people from completely different walks of life can be brought together over a song and that’s pretty crazy.
Have you had a chance to gauge the reaction to your music yet in America?
I haven’t done any shows here yet but from having spent time in New York, I found it to be very receptive anyway; that’s why I like it; everybody embraces talent. I remember when I went before anything took off and I’d go into a store and give them my mixtape and they would just play it without caring how many swear words were in it or anything like that. I’ve always liked that about New York. When I was last over here shooting the Written In The Stars video I had the opportunity to do a little bit of club hopping and in some of the clubs they played Pass Out and it was amazing.
How did it go down with the public?
It was almost like the first reaction Pass Out got in the UK which was like a little “Ooh- what’s this?” and then I went back to the clubs a few weeks later and it was absolutely crazy so I’m hoping that the same thing happens over here.
So are you confident that you can recreate the same buzz Stateside?
I think English people react to things differently to the way Americans do so I don’t think the reaction is ever the same. All I can do is try my hardest to give people the best music I can and just be myself and let people understand who I am as a person and fingers crossed, you never know.
I know you’ve done a collaboration with Kelly Rowland recently but are there any Hip Hop artists you’d like to work with from the States?
In terms of American collaborations I’d very much like to work with Kanye West. I think he’s a very deep individual. I think that if we were in the studio not only would we make something incredible; I believe I would learn a lot from him. I’m very inspired by him so I’d love to make that happen. Also Drake as well, he’s one of the biggest artists to come out of Hip Hop in recent times and when you listen to his mixtapes he has mentioned previous UK artists so he seems a bit cultured; I’d definitely like to get in the studio with him.
I can imagine you doing a collab with Nicki Minaj!
I’d definitely like that to happen, maybe for the second album or for one of the American releases.
What’s your plan in terms of America?
I never really set a time; music is a very organic thing. People react to music naturally and that’s kind of what I want to happen over here. I’m not coming over trying to be anything I’m not, I’m not trying to be Drake or Lil Wayne. I’m just trying to be the Tinie Tempah that England knows and that hopefully other parts of the world are starting to get familiar with. I just want to show people my music and what I’m like and just see what happens.
By Anna Nathanson