The singer whose passport says Patrick Okogwu is a bright and funny 21-year-old whose self-belief comes across as charming rather than annoying. With number one singles 'Pass Out' and 'Written in the Stars' already on his CV and debut album 'Disc-Overy' just released, he talks to Harry Guerin about his music, 'X Factor' contestant Cher Lloyd, and why he dreams of working with The Script.
Harry Guerin: It does the heart good to read your quote: "There's a lot more to music than being whisked about in cabs and having the latest phone."
Tinie Tempah: [Laughs] Definitely man. Music was something I've always wanted to do, and being a young, wildly ambitious, aspirational [sic] musician you tend to focus on the glitz and glamour of everything. And then to go on and actually live the life... You get to see a little bit more into it. However, I'm kind of fortunate that I had a little bit of success on an underground level before taking that giant leap into the mainstream and popular world. I feel like it prepared me for a lot of things.
HG: Did it freak you out when your career really took off?
TT: At the end of the day, I've always been ridiculously ambitious. I've always seen myself on top of the world eventually and doing really great things and making great statements and pushing boundaries. However, everything has happened a lot quicker than I envisioned and I'm very fortunate to the public and all of those who have supported me and bought my records and written anything nice or said anything nice about my record. I'm very, very thankful. I couldn't have really asked for any more, to be honest.
HG: You took your time recording your debut album, 'Disc-Overy'. Was preparation all-important to you?
TT: Yeah, it took me just over a year to record this album - completely signed, sealed and delivered. I started off as an independent artist and halfway through being an independent, unknown artist I signed a record deal and had a number one single. I went from walking into the studio every other day to hurrying in and bringing the studio set-up to hotels and recording in Sweden and New York. It was a very, very amazing experience.
Looking at my American counterparts and people who I've idolised and looked up to, when I think of the term 'album' I've always believed there should be a certain amount of anticipation for someone's album. If somebody's releasing a first album, he or she should release it at a time when a lot of people are anticipating it. That was something I always hoped and wished for.
HG: When you were in the studio was it like being a kid in a toy shop?
TT: Not all the time. There were times when I couldn't wait to get out. There were times when I was frustrated and I just wanted to make sure it was right. However, it was an experience I wouldn't change for the world. I had so much fun recoding this album. It's amazing to start an album as an independent artist and then afterwards work with more or less whoever you want after a number one single - that's something you could only wish for. It's almost like wanting a certain toy: wanting something that's really expensive or something that's out of your reach for Christmas and then your mum and dad win the lottery halfway through the year! That's exactly how it felt. It was incredible and it's an experience I wouldn't change for the world.
HG: What comes across on 'Disc-Overy' is that you're a man who doesn't want to be pigeonholed - you work with Ellie Goulding, you explore different styles.
TT: Of course. I listen to everything. We are now a generation where everybody listens to loads of different things. I think it's very rare you meet an individual who's into one style of music - that's more or less unheard of in this day and age. And so I wanted my album to represent that - the way I went and bought Ellie's album before we did the track together. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it's something I still listen to now. I was delighted to have her on my album.
However, you kind of fall into that trap where being an artist who's come from the underground or who makes 'black music', you get stereotyped and they just sort of box you off and place you among other artists who they believe are completely similar. I wanted to show people that wasn't the case.
HG: It's one of the unfortunate things about music: "That's your box, stay there."
TT: I think people are scared of the unknown, people don't like things that they can't define or that they can't categorise, so they just categorise it wherever they see fit. However, I do appreciate that when you are a new artist who makes that transition from wherever you've come to the mainstream consciousness and popular culture there will have to be certain comparisons to familiarise your new audience with who you are or what you may sound like. At some point in my career I would like to transcend that.
HG: Like, say, The Roots, and how they can cover so many different styles.
TT: Exactly, exactly. And that's what I believe with myself as well: the music I can create is limitless. I feel like I'm 21 and I plan on being here for a very long time - decades and decades. I always want to try to do something new, more cutting edge and more groundbreaking each time. There's no saying what my music will sound like in a year-and-a-half - or even six months from now. People shouldn't feel it's only going to be one way or even be surprised at how it turns out now because there's still a lot more evolution and development to go.
HG: You're a fan of The Script. Could you see a collaboration?
TT: Aw man, if they wanted to collaborate I'd jump at it in a second. I'm a big fan of the guys and what they do. And their music, whether you like it or not, the rhythm... Sometimes when he [Danny O'Donoghue] sings he's got a little bit of rap melody. He says certain things like: "It was Grafton Street on a rainy night. I was down on one knee and you were mine for life..." that's the way you would rap, but he's doing it with a little more melody. I kind of like that about them; they've got a very wide sound. They appeal to very different demographics. I would love to work with them.
HG: I saw you championing current 'X Factor 'contestant Cher in the press. Do you feel a show like that is very restrictive in its definition of talent?
TT: Cher kind of broke the trend. For me, I feel like with 'X Factor' [that] the people and the contestants there's usually - I don't know if it's the guidance they have - a number of songs that people feel are safe to sing in 'X Factor', things that will guarantee you into the next round.
And why I like Cher is that she's young, she's fresh and she's an ambassador for youth culture now. She's very representative of our culture. She didn't care that Simon Cowell may not know the song [Keri Hilson's version of Soulja Boy's 'Turn My Swag On'] that she was talking about. She didn't care that no-one knew the lyrics. She didn't care how people would perceive her. The song that she was singing isn't even a real song; the song that she was singing was a cover version of an original song - you can't even buy the song! I think that's amazing that she sang it. And she killed it; she owned it. She had the whole music community [cheering her on], it's wasn't just me. I saw messages from Ciara, I saw messages from Keri Hilson... Everyone stood up and was like: 'Wow, that's a great break in the chain'.
That's why I've championed her so much, because she is a real representation of our culture - the fact that we all listen to black music, we all listen to white music, we all listen to indie music. We listen to everything nowadays. That's exactly what 'The X Factor' should be representative of.
HG: You talk about Cher being an ambassador for youth culture. Do you feel that yourself? Do you feel any weight of responsibility?
TT: I think definitely at some point, depending on how successful you become as an artist, you do have a certain amount of responsibility on your shoulders. However, I've always wanted that responsibility to be me leading by example as opposed to feeling like I have a moral sense of 'everybody's watching me, I must make sure I do right'. I just believe that if I concentrate on making myself the best I can be hopefully people who aspire to be like me will see that and want to do the same.
HG: Can you do a quick rap about this interview before you hang up the phone?
TT: [Laughs] Unfortunately not. Nice try, though!
'Disc-Overy' is out now on Parlophone.