Tinchy Stryder Interview: On Working With JME, Making New Album ‘360º/The Cloud 9 LP’ And Chilling With The Chuckle Brothers

Tinchy Stryder last released a record in 2010. In the meantime he’s been on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!, released a charity single with The Chuckle Brothers, and brought out a range of headphones with Goji. Now aged 29, he’s just released his fourth album, ‘360º / The Cloud 9 LP’, on his own label Cloud 9 – NME caught up with him to see how the past few years have treated him.

Tinchy! It’s been a long time since you put out an album. How come?
“I’ve put a lot into it. I put a lot into every album, but this one I feel like I’ve created it over years. I’ve been harsh with myself. That song might be the sickest song but if it’s not fitting in with the theme I’ve got to be harsh and cut it out. And now obviously everything’s on my own label so creative control’s fully here again.”

How is it releasing a grime album now, compared to a few years ago?
I didn’t think it was going to peak – it’s exciting because a lot of people are interested. Grime’s always been cool but now it’s a super-cool thing that if you like grime, and do grime, you’re a cool kid.

“One key thing I would say, Dizzee was saying it when he done ‘Boy In Da Corner’ – there wasn’t no YouTube. That alone explains it, that’s the first album that broke a lot of barriers. He’s always been ahead. Now there’s YouTube and social media, there’s internet, so it’s gone on a different level. It’s only going to keep growing hopefully, if everyone stays consistent.

“What’s cool about grime is that a lot of people in grime who are making music aren’t worried about: ‘oh is it gonna chart this or sell this or…’ it’s not that, it’s not really what it came from.”

Who have you enjoyed working with doing the album?
“It’s hard, a lot of people are on there: D Double E, JME, DaVinChe, Rapid, so many people. But if I was to say one, I worked a lot with Pinky & The Brain, that produced the majority of the tracks on the 360º side of it, and really bonded. We was together daily with ideas, talking. When you know you’re making something cool and you go to the studio with someone, you don’t always have to make music, you can just chill. I can’t highlight one person but everyone, honestly, everyone’s been cool.”

Who hadn’t you worked with before?
“That was another interesting part, I feel like everything falls into place. ‘Allow Me’, the first single I released recently, features JME – JME designed my first ever mixtape cover, in 2006. DaVinChe produced a lot on my first album ‘Star In The Hood’, that same time as well, 2007, and then we somehow naturally came back and made ‘Allow Me’. So everything just feels like this is meant to be.

“D Double – I’ve grown up listening to him and respecting him. Funny enough I’ve never been on a song with him. I’ve always wanted that. That’s how the whole idea came up of ‘Leg Day’, because discussing it we said ‘bro, you’re match fit, you’ve been around, you’re’ – I’m still small but – ‘you’re growing’.

“It’s interesting, everyone’s been fun. All my people like Rapid, Rusko – we’re not even like friends, we’re like brothers. Brothers, different mothers as they say, just in the studio, catching the natural vibe. It feels organic, it doesn’t feel like ‘ok there’s a studio session, go with that producer and that writer because they wrote that hit’. I don’t mind that, it’s fun just working, but it’s been a different process, and I don’t feel pressure.”

What song do you most want people to hear?
“The song that’s really personal to me is a song called ‘Story Song’, because I say ‘It’s a story trapped in a story / If I don’t who’s gonna tell it for me / This is real life it’s really that deep / If I shed tears you can say you saw me.’ That’s how it starts. That gives you what kind of song it is. It’s really deep and every time I hear it, it just takes me exactly where I was when I was writing it, what I was going through. It’s just life, and somehow coming back from that and being in a fresh space and feeling.”

Is that what the album’s about?
“The theme of it is everything you’ve been through, the ups and downs and the pressures of just being, I guess, blessed to be the chosen one and having a talent. So everything that people might not hear or see. This time round I’m opening up more. As I’ve grown in music I’ve understood that that’s the best way to let everything out, so this is coming to my world fully and nothing’s been held back.”

You’ve got your own label now – how’s that going?
“I haven’t signed anyone yet, I’ve just been working. Before I thought you sign them, you give them this amount of money and they do their project, but it’s not as simple as that. Anyone I look up to that has their own record label – like Jay Z – you have to release yourself first and let that be a success, so successful enough to what your expectation is, and then see what’s next.

“Growing up I didn’t have a studio, you have to just do whatever you had to do, get the money, pay for an hour session a day. Know all your lyrics, or you have to read it – can’t make no mistakes – but now I just go to my studio and I can take 60 takes, and be like ‘nah I don’t want to use them, I’ll come back tomorrow’.

“So now I give people the opportunity if they want to use a studio, studio’s there to use it, don’t have to charge anyone to use it. So just little things like that for anyone I’m trying to help.”

Who are you giving exposure to on the album?
“Obviously everyone who I’ve worked with, but everyone’s cool and they’ve got a certain name. But Bayku, he’s on the album a lot and I first met him as a songwriter, I had a session with him, and we just connected and we’ve been in touch, through the whole album we were making songs. He’s so talented and pure-hearted and his own stuff is sick. Bayku’s from Atlanta, so he’s got that American thing, but he’s Ghanaian as well and he lives in London so everything connects.”

Who would you like to work with in future?
“Pharrell Williams. I’ve always liked his production, it’s so versatile. That’s something you have to respect, where nobody ever says ‘oh Pharrell’s changing style or switching lanes or he’s sold out’ – no. He can do whatever he wants.”

You were only 23 on your last album – do you look back and notice that?
“I kind of do, when I watch some things back, I think ‘wow’, every time I’m with other people I just sit down and think like ‘do you ever check how long you’ve been doing this and when you’ve been?’ But I still feel so fresh.

“It’s a blessing because sometimes I think I was that young, I listen to myself and think ‘Listen to what you’re saying, and your voice, and where your mind was at, and how you dressed’, and everything about it: who was around you around them times to who is now. You realise your circle only gets smaller as you grow older. It’s just human nature, it comes with it. It’s better to have a small circle – obviously I’ve got a lot of tight friends and family.”

What’s your favourite lyric from back in the day?
One of my favourites is ‘Let me see the gunfingers‘ – it’s like a way to salute if you’re liking something. I used to go to the raves and there was this thing we do call reloads – if you go and say a lyric and everyone goes mad, the DJ reloads it so when you get a wheel up. I remember I went to a rave one time with Wiley, I went on the stage, I was 17 maybe, everyone’s older and bigger and I’m small, so it looked extra big. I go on the mic, like ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people here,’ and I say the lyric and everyone just goes mad. I feel like something lifting inside me, I thought, ‘Wow they went mad for me! I just said that…’

“That lyric isn’t the best lyric I’ve wrote, it’s an easy one line, it means a lot, it gave me a feeling, I can’t forget that.”

When you were at that stage did your life change very suddenly with success?
“When I got my first Number One, things just changed. You get recognised more. One thing I’ll never forget was that I parked somewhere – this is the smallest thing – I come out and this warden’s there about to give me a ticket, and I say sorry and they’re like ‘no, sorry’, not looking up. Then as they’re writing the thing they look up, they saw me, and they were like ‘Oh my.. Don’t worry about it.’ They threw away the ticket.

“There’s a lot of good sides, and people say there’s both sides to everything, but when that sudden change happened where it hit home, I was blessed that I didn’t think ‘My life’s changed’ – I was in it, so I was living day by day and every now and then I got told ‘Yo, stop, relax, understand what you’ve been doing, embrace it’. Then years after you realise, but I think that’s a blessing when you don’t stop and get content and enjoy it too much.”

Did you leave home?
“That’s the whole aim. Where we’re from, Bow, there’s not much… there’s obviously love and friends, but it’s not like much opportunity, so the aim is to make money and move from the hood, that’s the whole thing. I think after ‘Catch 22’ came out it was Number Two in the UK charts and I was the highest-selling male in the UK that year, so I bought a place, I moved, yeah!”

Has the area changed since you left?
“Yeah. I’m there quite often and I’ve been seeing the change. There’s some legendary flats, the 3 Flats, so many things that I used to do. Pirate radio there, videos shot there. If you know Bow you know the 3 Flats, but it’s not the same no more – I think they’ve knocked one down, they refurbished it, it looks all new. Everything doesn’t feel the same, but I guess when the Olympics was coming they done up every area near it a bit – not even enough – and then move people.

“I don’t know, it’s not the same, but when you get there you still feel the energy. Things change, you can’t expect everything to stay the same. One thing that hasn’t changed is the vibrant energy in Bow, it’s always producing new talent. Everyone’s good. What is it, the water? Everyone’s good at MCing, everyone produces, it’s crazy over there.”

You had two big hits with Dappy – are you still in touch with N-Dubz?
“Yeah and no… I’m not in touch but we’re cool, there’s no problem. Really and truly I’m only in touch with Dappy. I’ve only really worked with Dappy. Obviously Fazer, Tulisa, they’re cool, I supported their tour before. Cool energy, good people, but we’re not really in touch. Dappy’s a rockstar, so he might not know where his phone is or what his number is but he’s cool.”

How about the Chuckle Brothers?
“I saw them recently, I was filming something and they were there doing a similar thing and they’re so cool, the energy… I might not have grown up watching them but I was aware of them on TV, so when I met them they told me one of the first live things they’d done was in 86. That was the year I was born. And they’ve been this consistent. When you’re chilling with them they’re so normal, and when the camera comes on: action.

“I saw them at the Keith Lemon show, Celebrity Juice, just took a picture, posted it on Twitter, and it just went mad. Everyone was like ‘Oh my days, you lot should do a song’. I was like ‘I make music, they’re comedians… how are we gonna make a song? Are you being serious?’ and then I think SBTV, Jamal [Edwards] rang me or messaged me like ‘Bro, I wanna get this footage.’ And I was like ‘What footage? I’m not making no song…’ and after I thought, ‘You know what? Ok, come to the studio’, so they came.

“It wasn’t like they had to take five takes, it was just one, one, one, one. We did the song like that. The video was fun, the maddest thing was that the video’s shot at my house, basically, on my estate, and all the neighbours round there were like ‘wow, the Chuckle Brothers are here’. The Chuckle Brothers stayed at my house, and we went and done a Radio 1 Live Lounge. I was like ‘How’s this gonna be?’ They killed it.”

What would you cover in the Live Lounge if you were going in today?
“I would always like to cover something unexpected. I wouldn’t wanna cover Skepta – ‘Shutdown’ because that wouldn’t be hard. That’s what we do. Maybe something more like an Adele song, something unexpected.”

A while ago you pulled out of Celebrity Big Brother and a couple of years later you went on I’m A Celebrity…. How come?
CBB… obviously it’s cool, people do what they do, but it’s more like they can exploit you, because people go there and they give them tasks – you drink, you do this, a lot of things happen.

“When people think of Tinchy Stryder they’re like, ‘Ok he’s the guy who makes music, shades, chains’ – they don’t know you, so they judge you, loving you or hating you from not knowing you. I thought ‘I want to go somewhere you can’t act, so you’re gonna love me or hate me for who I am’. That’s what I was thinking. And to be real with myself Big Brother offered me a lot of money, I was thinking, ‘This is money, I could do something with it’ but then I thought ‘No’.

“When the jungle came along though, it’s the opposite. It’s not really trying to exploit you. Celebrities actually want to go on it, they ask to go on there and they turn them down. Me, I got offered it. Also, on there I knew that there’s no acting: you’re just hungry, bored, cameras on you 24/7. I thought, ‘I’ll go on there and you love or hate me’. That was the main thing for me.

“If you talk about the other side of it, everyone knows what gets viewed and respected more…”

Did you worry about CBB damaging to your reputation then?
“Yeah, if I was to be honest, I felt at the time, I had a lot of things I thought ‘Nah I don’t wanna’. I thought, ‘Actually, I’ll be myself and I ain’t gonna damage myself’ but I thought, ‘The risk – is it worth it?’ All the way to the last minute I thought, ‘Hmm. Is it worth it? But then it’s cool because the money’s huge and this is cool and it could be fun’. But money didn’t bring me here, so it wasn’t gonna be the reason why I was gonna… I got my head right. I was so nearly there.”

What was it like when you came back from I’m A Celebrity…?
“When you land back to London and see people you ain’t see for ages, you realise you miss people a lot and even when you’re there and reading people sending letters, on the phone, tears come to you. Another thing I couldn’t live without was music. A whole month, no music, nothing. Can’t write lyrics, can’t… every morning when I wake up I need music.

“When I come out it was cool, that’s one situation I was saying about. I get recognised a lot more by different people that might not have recognised me before, because I realised that people that watch that show are a spread, different age groups, it was good.”

Did anything from your time on I’m A Celebrity… make it onto this record?
“Maybe not tracks, but moods definitely. A lot of things where I might be thinking about a certain something. When I was in the jungle, a lot of the time there’s boredom. 24/7 they’re filming you, they show half an hour on TV. If you’re not doing a trial you’re just sitting there with 9 other strangers you don’t know. You get to know them but… I was more like, I had a lot of thoughts.

“Usually my memory ain’t great but this time round I could remember everything because you ain’t got much to think about. When I got back a lot of things I might have thought of, concepts and ideas I was going through stayed in my mind and I recorded it when I come out.”

Did you make friends with people on the show?
“Yeah and no. Who I thought I’d be in touch with a lot was Michael Buerk, we got along. We ain’t done a song about the jungle but because he’s a journalist, he’s busy. When we came out he went to Dubai and flew back, so we ain’t been in touch as much as I thought we might have been. But Melanie Sykes, Jimmy Bullard, Nadia Forde, we’re still cool, I stay in touch. Jimmy’s cool because I love football and he’s a real geezer.

You’re a famous Man U supporter. How are you feeling about them at the moment?
“Not great. But things are picking up! I don’t wanna fall into that ‘Oh it’s all cool now because we’ve got a few new people that have got the hunger back’.

“It’s looking a bit more like Man U, not going side to side or back then forward. To progress in life or football, why does van Gaal wanna go side to side, then back? I’ve never understood, so to this day I’m not the biggest fan of him at Man United. I respected him before he came, but I’m just not a fan of his style at Man U. Right now it hasn’t been the greatest couple of seasons but I can see improvement, it’s coming back.”

Are you looking forward to the Euros?
“Yeah, this time round the English team looks so young and fresh, there’s a lot of talent in there. But then it seems to be like that at a lot of the Euros. But I’ve got a feeling on this one there’s no fear in the team, it feels like they’re just playing football.”

How far do you think we’ll get?
“I think we’ll get quarters, minimum. I believe this time there’ll be something about it. Hopefully more, but quarters will be the least.”

Tinchy’s new album ‘360º / The Cloud 9 LP’ is out now.