Tinie Tempah is a double platinum-certified hip-hop artist. But you may not have heard much about the man. His album Disc-Overy received the staggered release treatment: It dropped in the UK on October 4, 2010, and in the rest of Europe on November 22nd of that same year, but it wasn’t until May 17th of this year that his album became available in the US market. The album has been tearing up international charts, and now it’s only a matter of time before he does the same in the good old US of A.
Tinie Tempah is the stage name of Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, 22-year-old UK hip-hop sensation. Tinie is a quick-spitting, pop-savvy rapper from South London with a British accent perfectly thick (think Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke) and an ego just as thick. No matter that he came into stardom by catching Parlophone’s attention with his 2007 mixtape, Hood Economics: Room 147: The 80 Minute Course, or that he doesn’t really have many of the opulent items he raps about on his debut. Okogwu still has the confidence of a young Kanye West.
It’s not a question of if his debut is going to have similar results in the states, it’s a question of when. His singles “Written in the Stars” and “Pass Out” are already garnering considerable airplay, and he’s performed the former twice on the late night TV circuit. Also, he’s got a prestigious slot slated for this year’s Lollapalooza and will follow it up with a world tour supported by J. Cole, which will surely bring him back to the U.S. And as the icing on the cake, he’s got the endorsement of fellow UK man Chris Martin, who, as you know, dabbles in chillin’ out with the occasional rap tycoon.
But more than celebrity friend name-dropping or previous stats, Tinie Tempah will be a success in the United States due to his ability to rock the mic and his tendency to (for better or worse) work with some of pop music’s hottest budding stars. Only fivw of the 13 tracks on the album don’t involve some sort of collaborator, usually one that will provide him with a “big sexy hook”, as Michael Bolton likes to say. And while this approach might steal from the integrity of his work at points, it will make him a commercial success in the U.S. market.
Ironically, Tinie’s most potent rapping has absolutely nothing to do with the star-studded cast surrounding him. Naturally, one is more inclined to gravitate toward listening to a track that features Wiz Khalifa, Ester Dean, or Ellie Goulding, as those are names you know usually deliver. But the tracks Tinie does on his own are truly where the gems are hidden on this album.
As soon as the intro melds into “Simply Unstoppable”, you know you’ve got a legitimate spitter on your hands. As that track continues with house beat-drive barnburner “Pass Out”, it almost feels as if you’re guaranteed a very, very intriguing next 45 minutes. After passing his minor speed bump collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, “Till I’m Gone”, the solo track “Illusion” hits and is perhaps the strongest on the album. Tempah is perfectly at home when performing by himself over big house music beats. But as soon as he deviates outside of this realm, things start to get ugly fast.
It’s tragic really that he’s chosen to pursue ultra pop-centric hooks to accompany his raw club beats and rhymes. The album could be easily separated into two categories: grimy raps with an emphasis on house beats and the shoddy pop hits designed to dominate radio waves–the former being fantastic and the latter being utterly unimpressive. And that may be putting it too nicely. At times, the pop half of the album is so obnoxious that it takes some immense willpower to not hit the skip button. The Eric Turner-featuring “Written in the Stars” will no doubt be in the running for this summer’s most annoying top 40 track that won’t go away.
If Tinie Tempah had chosen to polish his own blatantly obvious rapping ability and hone in on the unique house production style that he so naturally leans toward, we’d be talking best of 2011 albums. Unfortunately this is not the case. There are glimpses throughout Disc-Overy of these moments that truly showcase his ubiquitous talent and creativity (even his collaborations with Wiz Khalifa and Swedish House Mafia are of some worth), but they’re unfortunately tainted by the tracks he wrote to shatter the pop charts.
It’s a story much like that of B.o.B. He’s a rapper who became popular for all the right reasons: talent, charisma, and taste. He worked hard to get to his debut. But once he got there, he chose to pack the album with heavy-hitting collaborations sure to please the top 40 audience. This will consequently land him in a place similar to B.o.B.–a truly gifted rapper who chose to squander his talent to become another run-of-the-mill hip-hop act. The album is a good listen, but it isn’t anything the world hasn’t heard before.
And to think what could have been…