Having only officially signed to EMI’s Parlophone label in October last year, Tinie Tempah has gone on to be one of 2010’s most successful artists. Most of us were focusing on the likes of Ellie Goulding and Delphic this time last year, so the south London rapper featured in only a small number of ‘tips for 2010’ lists, but by January he was already quietly laying the ground for his explosive arrival into the mainstream consciousness.
In December 2009, Parlophone uploaded the video for his debut single, ‘Pass Out’, to YouTube with little fanfare. But his already considerable underground following – built up through various singles, mixtapes, collaborations and a lot of touring – helped to slowly push that video to prominence, so that he quickly picked up new devotees amongst both mainstream pop fans and those of a more underground persuasion. And as the video’s views increased, more and more of the press and radio picked up on it, ensuring that the Labrinth-produced track went straight to number one upon its release in March.
It was at this point his rising fame tripped over the point of no return. P Diddy was on the phone and, along with Tynchy Stryder, Tinie added vocals to a remix of ‘Hello Good Morning’ by Diddy’s Dirty Money project, released in June.
The same month his own new single went to number two in the charts, held back only by Dizzee Rascal and James Corden’s World Cup single ‘Shout’. Again produced by Labrinth (who himself celebrated the success of the single by becoming the first artist to be signed by Simon Cowell from outside his TV ventures in six years), the single stuck to pretty much the same formula as ‘Pass Out’, but Tinie was already working on a far more varied album, as exemplified by the follow-up singles: ‘Written In The Stars’, which features vocals from Street Fighting Man frontman Eric Turner, ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ with Swedish House Mafia, and new single, ‘Invincible’, with Kelly Rowland.
Having been written either side of Tinie Tempah’s sudden arrival into the public consciousness, the autobiographical lyrics of the album – ‘Disc-Overy’ – document his rapid change in lifestyle, from over-confident newcomer to international jetsetter. Working with a variety of producers and guest vocalists, Tinie has created an album that I believe will be assured a prominent position in pop history.
I can think of no album that has so successfully combined underground electronic music with mainstream pop. Of course, grime was ready to merge with the pop genre by the end of 2009, and Tinie wasn’t the only person trying to do it. But only he seemed to properly pull it off, creating great pop tracks but which maintained the edgier elements of the grime sound, where previously the likes of Tinchy Stryder had more happily stepped straight over into pop. More will now surely follow, though whether they will match ‘Disc-Overy’ is another matter. It’s a brilliant album, well constructed, and not simply a handful of singles with some hastily knocked off filler tracks.
But what about the live show? With such a rapid rise to fame, was he really ready to take his music to bigger stages. You better believe it. Tinie Tempah’s live show had the audience in a frenzy long before he reached the stage, thanks to his DJ, Charlesy, playing records between the long line-up of support acts, to keep things running along, never leaving the crowd to stand bored watching roadies move equipment around.
Though Charlsey’s work meant that Tinie Tempah had to be brilliant from the second he walked on stage, because the crowd were more than ready to go. Thankfully, he’s a natural performer and is backed by an excellent band. He did bring out a lot of guest vocalists at the London show I saw, which at time felt a little unnecessary (Kelly Rowland’s video message especially), but Tinie was still very much the focus, even holding his own alongside Tinchy Stryder, who joined him on stage for a live version of their Diddy Dirty Money remix.