The arrival of So Solid Crew was a significant moment for many UK Garage fans; for 12 year-old Patrick Okogwu it turned out to be seminal. When he heard that the 30-strong Crew were shooting their new video near his home of Plumstead, he camped out to be first in line to collect autographs and marvel at their state-of-the-art mobile phones and limited edition Moshino jeans. “I wanted to be in So Solid so badly,” remembers Okogwu “That day, watching them make the video, I realised that this is where it was at for me. I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Okogwu’s fascination didn’t falter; his love for garage and grime grew after discovering MC’s like Dizzee Rascal on pirate radio station Déjà Vu. Two years later, the 14 year-old snuck out of his house to attend Wiley’s infamous rave, Eskimo Dance. He had no idea then that in four years time he’d appear on the Godfather of Grime’s album, Playtime Is Over. All the big players were there; Lethal B, Wiley, Tinchy… Okogwu surveyed their superhero status, confirming further what he already knew; he had to be an MC.
Choosing his name after distractedly flicking through a Thesaurus during a Year 8 Citizenship class, Tinie’s career started out small, rapping to his class-mates in the playground. Yet, within a matter months, his skills, contacts and determination progressed exponentially. After being introduced to key figures like N.A.S.T.Y. Crew’s Sharkey Major, Tinie was asked to join grime crew Nu Brand Flexx, before becoming a part of Terror Danjah’s influential Aftershock collective. He decided to go solo in 2005 when he heard Wifey Riddim, produced by fellow South Londoner Flukes. Saving up £800, he made his own video, and within weeks, Wifey Riddim became the hottest song and video on the underground, sitting at No.1 on the Channel U charts for over 10 weeks. “I did it as part of a college project, it took me ages to save that up,” he says with a laugh. “It was the most money I’d ever had in my life, and I put it all into the video.”
Alongside his cousin who came on board as manager, the pair set up their own label, Disturbing London Records, through which Tinie released his first official mixtape, Hood Economics Room 147: The 80 Minute Course. As well as featuring Bashy and Chipmunk, the CD caught the attention of a writer from the New York Times, who gave it a glowing review, noting Tinie’s shifting rhyme schemes, delivery and ‘nerve.’
In 2007, Wiley contacted Tinie to request he feature on Fly Boy, a standout track from Playtime Is Over, while Ironik and Tinchy Stryder appeared on the remix to Tears, the next single to further stamp his star status on the underground scene. With another self-made video under his belt, Tinie’s popularity continued to soar; Bashy asked him to be on the Black Boys remix, he was approached to do a song for the Playstation game Wipeout, and he recorded a charity record for Kiyan Prince, the young footballer who was fatally stabbed in 2006. Thanks to his eloquent and engaging nature, he became a repeat fixture on ITN News and Sky, giving his considered views on knife and gun crime. Towards the end of 2008, Tempah played at Notting Hill Carnival, supported the Cool Kids on tour and appeared atOrange’s Rock Corps project with Alex Zane and Busta Rhymes.
Earlier this year he released his second mixtape, Sexy Beast: Volume. 1. Inspired by the Ray Winstone film, the CD featured M.I.A. on I’m Hot and proved to be so popular that the South Londoner ended up making another D.I.Y. video inNew York. In February, he launched Milkand2sugars.wordpress.com, a brilliant blog which has racked up over 400,000 views in just six months and some 4000 unique users. It features not only his own music, but also the latest in fashion and music from around the world. “It might all sound cleverly orchestrated, but it’s not,” insists Tinie. “I just want to do things differently.” Inevitably, his talent, tenacity and overwhelming popularity on the underground became undeniable, and A&R’s quickly came scouting. In true Tinie style, he announced his signing to Parlophone by running a competition on his blog, with the winner invited to High Tea at Claridges to celebrate the deal.
Tinie’s first single, will be released on Parlophone early next year, which will be followed by his major label debut in early summer 2010. Distinctive in his delivery and creative in his approach, the album will reflect the charismatic rapper’s unique point of view, somewhat at odds with some of his contemporaries. “I’ve never tried to be anything than what I am. I was well bought up, I liked school, I liked learning, I’m well educated, I’m well spoken,” Tinie insists, before pointing out there were times that he would be on TV, yet have no money to take a bus, feed his dog, put credit on his phone. “I want my album to show that you can always do more; there’s always more to achieve, wherever you’re from and whoever you are. I think that’s the undertone of the whole album; aspiring to be more.”
Musically, Tinie’s mum filled her son’s ears with the sounds of Dolly Parton and Gregory Issacs, leading him to be experimental with his own musical tastes in later years. “I love everything from Britney to Busta Rhymes,” points out the Regina Spektor, Calvin Harris and Kanye fan. Whether sampling Fleetwood Mac or Duran Duran on the incredible track Girls On Film, Tinie reflects his assorted musical interests in his forthcoming debut, which will showcase not only his lyrical abilities, but his appreciation for an array of sounds, from gritty grime to pop-tinted R&B and dance. Taking care to sidestep the tried and tested electro-pop route, the diverse and imaginative debut features a collaboration with Omarion and production from underground beatmakers True Tiger and Rude Kid, as well as renowned dance producers The Wideboys and Agent X.
“As I made the album I realised there’s a lot more to music than being whisked about in cabs and having the latest phone,” says Tinie, referring to his 12 year-old self watching So Solid at their shoot. “It’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. My goal, my aim is to be a superstar, but not in a cheesy way,” he decides. “I want to go toAmericaand do what they do. But better! I have so much ambition. I feel like even if I got a No.1, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. There’s so much more you can do.”
With N-Dubz, Dizzee, Tinchy and Chipmunk achieving huge commercial success, the stage is set for the leader of the new school to step into the spotlight. He may be small in stature, but Tinie Tempah clearly has a huge career ahead of him. Not only encapsulating the do-it-yourself ethos of 2009, Tinie Tempah is the sound of 2010.