Current hits, future hits and some bits in between
Tinie Tempah is UK rap’s nice guy done good. He’s the charmer who grew up on a London estate, cut his teeth on pirate radio and struck gold with ‘Pass Out’. His 2010 debut ‘Disc-Overy’ sold over a million copies. Patrick Okogwu’s success has transported him to a new world: one where he can call Prince William a mate, add a personal tailor to his staff and buy a townhouse previously owned by designer Alexander McQueen, complete with a taxidermy zebra in his kitchen.
Tinie’s earned life’s finer things, and he loves them. His message: I came from very little; you can make it too. Yet, because of the pop world he inhabits, Tinie is always judged on the size of his last hit. His second album ‘Demonstration’ attempted something more cohesive, showcasing his evolution. Singles ‘Trampoline’ and ‘Children Of The Sun’ went Top 10 – but it didn’t match ‘Disc-Overy’. Now, after a series of delays, its follow-up ‘Youth’ is here, and it begins with Tinie giving himself a pep-talk on the title track: “I’ve been coasting but the last few years have been weird / I’m either self-assured or I’m scared and it’s how I deal with the fear.”
If album three starts off vulnerable, though, it soon turns defiant. ‘Not For The Radio’ is a double-bluff pop song pitched at his detractors, hooked around an MNEK chorus line that’s, ironically, perfect for daytime playlists. At this early point, though, ‘Youth’ begins to zig-zag. The hits are present – his breezy Wizkid collaboration ‘Mamacita’, club smash ‘Girls Like’ featuring Zara Larsson and ‘Text From Your Ex’ with Tinashe. Plus ‘Not Letting Go’, the Number One he released in summer 2015, strangely tagged on the end as the album’s final track. Then there’s the ones he hopes will be future hits, the strongest of which is ‘Lightwork’.
But all too often, tracks feel like connectors – carriages to transport listeners between the singles. There’s little narrative, few definitive themes, but there are lots of guests. Some add bite, like Stefflon Don, Manchester MC Bugzy Malone and, oddly, Jake Bugg on the folky ‘Find Me’. Tinie’s story is a great inspiration, but a truly outstanding album still evades him.