INTERVIEW: Tinie Tempah: In His Own Words

by Winston "Stone" Ford

Is Tinie Tempah next? I would certainly think so. The UK hip-hopper has amassed several number one singles and awards in his home country and in Europe and has become a global sensation.

However, like soccer, it seems like UK hip-hop has not caught on in the States. Trying to break this market is one of the hardest tasks for any new foreign artist, and it takes money, time, and patience to even make a dent on the charts here.

But if there is anyone that can lead the UK hip-hop charge in America its Tinie Tempah. His lead single “Pass Out,” has gotten buzz on the blogs and he’s even caught the ear of Snoop Dogg among others. But will this translate to success? We can only hope.

Last week I was invited along other journalists and bloggers for an intimate meet and greet with the UK artist as the Capitol Records headquarters in New York City. This is Tinie in his own words…

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On having a Number 1 Album in the UK…

It’s pretty crazy man, in the UK it’s a whole different thing. We kind of look at America as our counterparts, the Jay-Z’s, The Drakes, and the Wiz Kalifah’s, so to have that type of vibe in the UK, with the album doing 85,000 in the first wee, and obviously the UK is kind of small.  That just shows me that that good music is good music, wherever it’s from, whatever accent you’ve got. I’m trying to come over here [to the US] and not try to be Jay-Z, or Lil Wayne. I just want to be Tinie Tempah From the UK and show you guys what I have to offer.

On his name…

Tinie Tempah is basically my interpretation of Ying and Yang. Two opposites that are not supposed to go together but they do. It’s my revamped and reworked 2010 version of that.

On being a new UK Artist In The US…..

I like the fact that I can come over here and it’s fresh and new, and people talk about how I look different and talk different. It’s exciting for me.

For people to understand me as an artist there gonna have to be a cultured person. And that’s no disrespect to anybody, but I understand what it’s like to hear a rapper with another accent. Even how it was back in the day when Southern rappers breaking through. It’s like “I can’t familiarize myself with the accent so therefore I’m gonna be ignorant to it.”

On The Internet….

Music and the state of music is a constantly evolving thing. The more technology savvy we get and the more ways we discover new ways to interact with each other the easier it’s going to be to share music. I think its something that we need to embrace. It’s no point for [artists and labels] to say “shit, we’re not selling as many records as we used to because people can get it for free.” You have to try to figure out a way to use that to your advantage.

The Internet puts everyone in the same space. Music is now a global thing. There is no East Coast or West Coast anymore. I got signed by using the Internet [and his Milk and Two Sugars Blog] first and foremost.

On the globalization of hip-hop…

People are shifting units right now in the everywhere else in world by rapping. It used to be only an American thing but now in England rappers are going platinum and selling out shows. London and New York are very real places. [To accept UK hip-hop] is definitely a different state of mind. We have or slang, we have our gangs. It’s the same, man, it’s just a different take on things.

About his music…

It’s pretty eclectic and experimental. I definitely fuck around with a lot of genres. That’s my thing. I like to put together a lot of genres that people wouldn’t think would work, like drum and bass and hip-hop, and dub and reggae and electro. I try to mix them all into one song and make it happen.

In this day and age we all have iPods. I think it’s safe to say that we’re in an era where we all have Kanye and Coldplay in our record collections. That’s the way music is, and I like to make music bearing that in mind.

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On Snoop reaching out to him via Twitter to do a Pass Out remix…

Having him on your record is one thing–he’s a hip-hop legend–but performing with him….man, I was standing next to Snoop Dogg and I was like “Damn! I’m just a little kid from London and I was standing next next to HIM?”

I met him 45 minutes before I went on stage. He was in the dressing room getting his hair braided and he was like “After sexual seduction, I’m going to play ‘Pass Out’ and you’re gonna come on stage.” He says to the band “guys, do you know Pass Out?” And his band looked at him like “no.” Then Snoop pulls out his iPad and played the song and immediately everyone got it and we went and rocked the show.

On competition in hip-hop…

I think that’s what I like about that, and there are a lot of other genres that don’t have that. If there is a rapper that drops a hot verse, no matter if it’s Jay-Z or the guy down the road in London, I’m like “shit, I have to come better than that.” Other genres don’t have that [mentality] and that’s why hip-hop is continually evolving and changing.

On his realistic expectations in the States…

I’m really expecting a slow burner man. I know how things work in the States and the Billboard Hot 100 and a lot of people don’t generally release a song that goes straight to number one. It could be in the charts for weeks and weeks and eventually build up. And that’s completely different from the UK [singles] chart where usually your first week is usually the best you will do, ever.

Slowly but surely. I’ll release it in March and I plan to be in the States a lot next year. Any progress is progress to me.

Tinie’s album DISC-overy is in stores now in the UK, and will drop in the US in 2011.