Music

“People mainly want to talk about the fact I don’t wear socks”

Tinie Tempah on mankles, terrible gigs and taking on the Kardashians

Sam Smith recently named you his best-dressed man, claiming you’ve got “serious swag”. Do you feel pressure to look good?

If anything, once [people started talking about how stylish I was], the pressure went down. And I was like: “Oh f*ck, I can wear nothing now and people will be like ‘Oh, it’s amazing!’” So, no, I don’t feel any pressure. If anything it’s made me more confident to be myself.

Why is fashion and looking good so important to you?

I’m quite an individual person, I don’t follow trends. I do my own thing. When I was thinking about my image I wanted to go against things that looked so clichéd that they distracted people from the music. People would spend more time talking about someone’s jeans hanging round their ankles or how much gold they’ve got in their teeth than the actual songs, so I was like: “Let’s get rid of all of that”. But now everyone just wants to talk about the fact I don’t wear any socks. You can’t win man, you really can’t win!

The ‘Tempah Empire’ now spans a record label and a clothing line. Do you feel it’s necessary to branch out because of the music industry’s fickle nature?

This is my theory: I’m 25, I’ve been doing this since I was 16, and before then I was trying to be heard. But obviously with success comes opportunity, and I’m going to take any opportunity, as long as it fits within my moral standpoint. Some things might be rubbish, some things might be like: why did he do that? But ultimately, why wouldn’t you?

Kanye West has famously spoken of the animosity he has felt from the fashion world. It seems to have welcomed you with open arms, though…

In every industry there’s a kind of upper-echelon and there’s prudishness, you know? So, I don’t think it’s to do with him being a rapper or being black. For me, I’ve not experienced [any negativity] because you show respect and give credit where credit’s due. You just have to be savvy and then do something fresh. I’m not going in to the fashion world saying ‘I’m the new Paul Smith.’

You’ve teamed up with Veuve Clicquot’s Airstream Tour, which will be taking place across the UK this summer. How did you get involved?

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you [laughs]. No, it was a really natural thing. I’m a big fan of the brand, regardless, but it naturally came into my life from being out and being in the right places. It helped [that I love] champagne, with loads of reasons to celebrate.

Staying on music now, what’s the worst gig you’ve ever played?

Some of the gigs on the US circuit are pretty bad because you’re trying to promote yourself. Especially in middle America where it’s so small, and people really don’t care. I once performed on top of a bar, in a small pub, as they put the drinks out. But when you do things like that it’s humbling because you get back [to the UK] and you’re more thankful. The one thing I never want is delusions of grandeur. There are some people who haven’t done anything, just gone on reality TV shows, and they walk around and command all this bullsh*t. I never want to be like that.

What do you make of the Kardashians of this world then?

I respect anybody that’s been able to make the best of their situation. Obviously, Kim Kardashian is not a rags-to-riches story. But something came out [the sex tape] that could have been to her detriment, and she used business acumen to make the most out of it. She can’t sing, she can’t act, but look at how massive she is. Everyone wants to look like this woman. She’s done something right.

Is there anyone you still get starstruck by meeting?

I was starstruck meeting Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt after the Baftas. They’re really nice. Normal. I like normal people. I don’t like all this “Yah, yah, yah”. [Angelina] said: “Come and sit down”, and we started talking about her kids. It was a very real conversation. It’s funny – the people who have done the most are the most humble. It’s the people who are starting out that sometimes have the most attitude. It’s like, what the hell? What have you done?

Which of your songs are you proudest of writing?

I really like Heroes; it’s on my new album and features Laura Mvula. I wanted to make an album that was rap, but didn’t feel like ‘I’m consciously listening to a rap album.’ So even people whose first choice isn’t rap would be able to hear it and relate. The song is just really honest, somewhat controversial and quite clever.

Finally, what’s the strangest gift you’ve ever had from a fan?

One fan gave me a hand-written story of my life. They must have been quite young. All these pages, telling the story of my life and how they wanted it to pan out. So: “He was in LA, he got in his Lamborghini and went to meet Cheryl Cole”. All this stuff that hadn’t even happened yet! It was very sweet, but quite strange.

Tinie Tempah collaborated with Veuve Cliquot on the Airstream Tour, and hand-selected each DJ; for more info on dates and locations, visit Veuve Clicquot UK’s Facebook page

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