Reaching No1 hasn’t stopped Tinie Tempah getting excited about 24-hour supermarkets. Tom Bailey meets the anti-Kanye
As the recording studio’s soundproofed bank vault-sized door soft-closes behind us, there’s an eerie silence. It’s like being on a submarine, in space. Perched in a corner, the remains of his takeaway Nando’s sitting on the mixing desk, is 24-year-old Patrick Okogwu (born in London to Nigerian parents).
You’d wager this is the most peace and quiet he’s had since 2009, when his alter-ego Tinie Tempah became a platinum-selling phenomenon, transcending his grime roots and breaking the US with Pass Out, Frisky and Written In The Stars.
Patrick – or Tinie – greets me warmly and we talk about Kanye (he does a funny impression), his rider (“Butterkist and candles, basically”) and the weighty expectations surrounding his forthcoming second album, Demonstration. It’s all going well – until disaster befalls ShortList’s Dictaphone. “Here, you can use this,” says Tinie, handing me his new iPhone 5S...
Cheers, Tinie. For some reason, famous people aren’t usually keen on lending journalists their phones.
It’s cool. Just make sure you put this in…
I will. So are you Patrick or Tinie? Or is it a Jekyll & Hyde arrangement?
No, that’s more my stage name. Tinie Tempah: two words that don’t normally go together, but roll off the tongue nice. When I do an interview, I’m nice, I’m proper. When I’m on stage, I’m drinking JD out of the bottle and jumping around saying crazy things.
How did growing up in a Nigerian household influence you?
Discipline and respect – that’s helped me in the business and social world. Nigeria was a British colony too, so there’s a lot of pride and class. They still call the living room ‘the parlour’ and they’re weirdly opulent. Lots of Nigerians here have a red carpet in their house. It’s just how we are as people.
You have 10 GCSEs and three A-levels – how did the rap career go down with your parents?
When I told them that I wasn’t going to go to uni, it was crazy. It was chaos. Remember, my mum and dad were doing nine-to-fives and I’d watched them strive to move us from an estate in Peckham to a semi in Plumstead. Sometimes my mum would find me in bed at 2pm and look at me like, “What the f*ck are you doing with your life?”
It must have been a relief when your first single went to No1…
More than a relief. We just wanted to use Pass Out as an underground buzz record – then it went to No1. I remember feeling the energy around me at the time – I’d never felt that way before. But I’ve always been a dreamer and – as ‘meh’ as this sounds – it’s important for young people to dream that one day they’ll go to the moon.
When did you first look in the mirror and think, “Christ, I’m famous”?
I didn’t ever look in the mirror like that. But when other famous people started coming and talking to me in a casual way – and not trying to run away – then I realised. I remember Jamie Redknapp coming to say, “Could you have a picture with my wife?” I was like, “Huh?”
What are the normal things you can’t do any more?
I haven’t been on the Underground for about four years. And, realistically, I can’t go on a normal date. There’s always one person who spots you. [Tinie leaps up, strides towards me with his head down and, at the very last minute, looks up – two inches from my face], “Look I’m sorry mate, I didn’t wanna do this, but my son loves you…”
God, that’s terrifying. Is that how it feels to be famous?
Yeah! I still get away with shopping, though. I’m a big fan of the 24-hour Tesco Express. I’ll go in there at 2am in my hoody. People don’t care at 2am – they’ll still ram me with the trolley to get by. That’s normality.
You’ve described the new album Demonstration as a manual for transcending grime – was that intentional?
Definitely. Grime is the medium, but I feel like the message is something bigger. People will put you in a box and say, “You’re just good for [grime],” but if Dizzee hadn’t won a Mercury Prize, I wouldn’t know what a Mercury was.
Dizzee Rascal’s recent album went in at No10 – would you be happy going in at No10?
Not unhappy… maybe a little bit underwhelmed. But that’s only because I expect so much more from myself now.
Kanye West recently said that he now spends “80 per cent of his time on fashion, 20 per cent on music”. Are you branching out, too?
Yeah, through fashion. And I’ve just made a film – about a day in my life – for the PlayStation 4 launch.
Was losing the glasses a way of trying to differentiate yourself from Brand Tinie?
I felt that if I didn’t wear glasses, people wouldn’t recognise me and I’d be able to have the best of both worlds. Don’t get me wrong, I like a soiree-type environment, but I felt that if I didn’t hold on to reality, all this would lose
What is the weirdest fan experience you’ve ever had?
[Tinie smiles and buries his head in his hands] OK. Basically... this girl came to see a show with her mum. She was really nice. She and her mum hung around after the show, and the daughter was giving me ‘the look’. I thought, “You’re lovely, but your mum’s here.” We flirted and there was banter that hinted at it. And then the mum was like, “Oh I don’t mind, I’ll wait!” So her mum just waited outside the dressing room. That was f*cking weird.
Is it easy to spot the difference between wife material and groupies?
Groupies can be very attractive, sociable; they’ve got the banter on lock and they really get into your psyche. After a while, if they’re ticking all those boxes, you can lose perspective. But one bit of advice I was given: always remember the context in which you met them. If you meet them after a gig, they’re talking to you for a reason…
When was the last time you laughed at a piece of record industry ridiculousness?
We’re always laughing at the bullsh*t. It’s all mind games. Sometimes you may not be able to collaborate with an artist just because the two label MDs don’t get on. To me, that’s bullsh*t. It’s all very old boys’ club: “Me and my act…”
Since you don’t go in for massive gold chains, how does your ego manifest itself?
Ego and bravado is consistent in rap culture, but that’s because the majority of artists came from nothing. In the UK there’s no real poverty – you can get benefits and whatnot. But a lot of [US] rappers have come from very sh*tty situations and didn’t think anything would happen. So when it does, and they can afford the things their parents couldn’t... No disrespect, but I know a lot of indie bands whose parents were middle class, took them to classical training and whose dad was in the business. I didn’t have that.
No – you had a microphone from PC World, though.
Exactly! I bought it myself for £19.99. That’s how I started recording. So no, I don’t have the entourage or the gold chains, but my bravado manifests itself in my lyrics. When I make something like Pass Out or Trampoline, I try to make it unorthodox, because I want the world to recognise it as my work.
Er, you probably want your iPhone back now.
Yeah, what’s your address? I’ll email this to you...
Demonstration is out on 4 November. See Tinie Tempah in A Demonstration Of Play from 28 October, celebrating the launch of the PS4; playstation.com/tinietempah
(Images: Simon Emmett/Rex)