We interview Tinie Tempah, an artist that started off causing hype in the UK underground Hip Hop and Grime scene. Since then he’s has gone from strength to strength and crafted himself into a globe trotting, record label owning, fashion label designing, international superstar.
You’ve had quite the meteoric rise from a young kid in the grime scene, moving from strength to strength, and your latest album Discovery being a huge hit. It looks like you’ve broken into the US market with collaborations with Wiz Khalifa and Kelly Rowland and live performances with Snoop Dogg. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to recently?
I’ve been doing the whole festival thing and having a lot of fun a long the way. You know it’s been crazy, I’ve been doing a load of festivals. From Glastonbury to Oxygen to T in the Park in Scotland. It’s been pretty manic. We’ve literally been back and forth, and we’ve got Lollapalooza in a week or so.
That sounds like a pretty hectic schedule! Do you still find time to get back to London?
You know what, it’s funny you say that because I’m actually in London now. And for one of the first times this year I can wake up in my own bed and I can’t describe to you how much of an amazing feeling it is. Not only is it very resting, it really makes you reflect and realise what you’re doing around the world and what you’re doing it all for. When you travel so much and you stay in hotels it’s very easy to just get lost… Everyday starts to feel the same, no day is different. But being back in London has made me realise how unique and special what we’re doing actually is.
Still very much a London boy at heart then?
Of course. Of course.
Starting up from the London underground, do you still keep in touch with the those guys that helped you get you’re feet up?
Yeah! In terms of the MCs, the Tinchy Striders and the Chipmunks and the Dizzee Rascals, ofcourse. I definitely have good relations with all those guys. As for the Grime scene and the underground, I always try my best to keep my ear to the street. Just to hear whats going on. Just like how I came through and I was discovered. People always find the new kid that’s hot on the wings. I always like to have a listen to whats going on under there, its a very exciting genre.
You’ve collaborated with Ellie Goulding for the track " target="_blank">Wonderman, and you come from pretty different backgrounds musically; were you a fan of hers before collaborating?
Yeah absolutely. You know I’ve been a big fan of Ellie for a little while and I just love what she does. I think she’s a very eclectic artist. I kind of like the fact we came from very different worlds but at the same time we were still very new and our careers were very parallel at the time. It was a very amazing collaboration to do and she added to the record in a very unique way. I’m very, very happy it happened.
It sounds like you listen to a lot of different types of music.
Who have you been listening to recently?
I really like Angus and Julia Stone, I’ve been listening to a lot of SBTRKT which is pretty cool, Sub Motion Orchestra – I don’t know if you’ve heard of them but they’re awesome. What they do is very left, it’s like orchestral music with strings mixed with a bit of a Dubstep thing. Of course Wiz Khalifa, and I’ve been keeping an ear out for a lot of this new Jay-Z and Kanye stuff.
You really put your fans first. Following your career, you were always at the forefront of using social media to connect with your fans. How important do you think it is these days to keep that personal connection with the fans?
I think its imperative. I think the music industry has change, and I think in a good way. Now artists have more of a way to access their fans, more directly than they did before. And they should be taking full advantage of that as there are so many ways to safely have direct contact with their fans. It doesn’t take much from the artist but can mean a hell of a lot for a person thinking of buying a record or coming to a show or someone that has just watched you perform. As much as I am a musician, I’m very much a fan of music and I just think “What would I want from an artist”, and I try to do my best to give people that.
It’s cool that you are always searching for new music. Can you tell us about Disturbing London, the new label that you and your cousin started up?
Disturbing London was founded at around 2007, off the back of the fact that we were independantant and we wanted to distributed a mix tape and we needed a record label to do that. And since then its evolved into loads of different things. There’s a Disturbing Sounds publishing company and Disturbing London is now branched off into a clothing label, which I must add is looking absolutely amazing. The preliminary t-shirts are available at disturbinglondon.com but so much more amazing stuff will be coming out of there.
Of course its a record label and management label whom I’m also managed by. It’s a brand and it Disturbing London means the exact same thing as Disturbing Sydney, or Disturbing Melbourne, or Disturbing Adelaide, or Disturbing Brisbane, or Disturbing Paris, or Disturbing New York. London isn’t the main thing, Disturbing is. And that means wherever you are in the world you are kicking up a fuss and you’ve got everyones attention.
Is the clothing label a hands on role for you? Is clothing and fashion something you want to break into?
Absolutely! Its definitely very much hands on. We’re very much in the creative process right now so I’m always on the look out for clothing that catches my eye. When I find cool pieces I’m always on the phone with my people saying stuff like “I love this shape! or this cut! or this colour! or this material!” And then we come together and collaborate. So yes, very hands on.
Are there any favourite pieces of clothing in your wardrobe right now?
I really like Junya Watanabe, I think he is such a great designer, I have so many of his shirts. I really like Folk, they’re an amazing brand. I really like my Levi’s vintage range that came out about a year ago now. Everything they’ve got is denim but it’s very destressed and I’ve got these pair of Levi’s jeans that I pretty much wear everyday and love…. What else? I could go on forever.
Another guy that has solid style is Wiz Khalifa, what was it like collaborating with him?
It was an amazing experience. I think what he’s doing at the moment is pretty incredible. I like to think that our careers are pretty similar just from either end of the pond. It made a lot of sense for two people to have done what we have done musically to be able to collaborate at such a peak time. It’s definitely done us justice, especially in America its getting a great reaction. Its sort of a call sign for me from the American import world. I’m very happy.
There’s always that talk about English rappers trying to break into the US market. Hip Hop in the UK and US have for a long time been fairly separate entities. But now we’re seeing a lot more collaboration and crossover. I think you’ve certainly broken into that market.
Can you see any main differences between the US and UK pop market?
The UK music scene is very diverse. I think because of the way music is distributed in the US the music is very definitive. There are rock radio stations, then urban stations, and then there is the top 40 stations. The Top 40 in the US consists of very similar sounding tracks. Anything that might have a slight bit of Dubstep or Drum n Bass or Reggae are not likely to get on the Top 40 charts because of the way they sound. Whereas in the UK we’re always looking to things that sound a bit different.
If you look at the American pop charts, guaranteed that almost all dance tracks because of that trend right now. But if you look at the UK pop charts right now you’ll see some Dubstep, some Rap, some Indie, it’s very different.
I think you make a really good point and I’ve always looked to the UK as ahead of the curb even in the pop realm because of how eclectic it is. Having said that I think the world is a lot smaller. It’s possible for me to tune into Rinse.fm or Radio One and I’m here in Australia and not in London.
Absolutely man, and like you said the world is a lot smaller thanks to the Internet. Loads of people tune into Radio One. It’s kind of amazing that people have found my music by just tuning into Internet radio streams or through blogs before finding any of my records. I think that’s a pretty big deal.
On the dance music tip, have you got any favourite UK DJs?
Ahh thats a good one! I really like Nero and Chase and Status. I think they’re amazing. I like A DJ called Manny Norte who’s pretty amazing and DJ Semtex ofcourse. They are my favourites but there are loads more I respect.
Lastly, are you heading down under soon?
I‘ll be doing a Summer tour and doing a few festivals down there in December! Very excited about that.