“Now you can have a bit more fun with what you call a conventional album, you can play around with the concept...” hmv.com talks to Tinie Tempah
Back in 2015, with the release of 'Not Letting Go', Tine Tempah made history when the single featuring Jess Glynne shot to the top of the UK Single Chart and officially became the most successful British rap artist in history with more Number Ones to his name than anyone else in the genre has ever managed.
But the road from there to the release of is third album has been a long and difficult and frustrating one and after several delays to its release, the new album Youth arrives in stores today (you can preview and purchase the new record at the top-right of this page).
With the wait finally over, we caught up with Tinie for a chat and the rapper opens up about why the album took so long to complete, the changing landscape of the music industry and why Youth is a love letter to London's diversity...
So your third album is out this week – it feels like it's been a long time coming, there have been one or two delays along the way, were you still adding stuff to it?
“Yeah, adding stuff to it, then there's been label politics and whatnot, it's the same old typical stuff. I think for an artist like me, I'm 28 now and when I started out it was in a really independent do-it-yourself kind of way, you could record a song and put it out that day, freestyle any tune you like and just be free. Then you sign a deal, start making money and selling loads of records and it's harder to do that. I feel like I'm caught in the crosshairs of the ever-changing music industry.”
“At the same time I feel like I was almost caught up in the ideology of this whole new breed of artists who can just put tracks on streaming services and freestyle like that. I'm just being entirely honest with you! That's just the reality of the situation for some artists. So obviously it was difficult for me with an album that is very much a body of work and I feel like people have to digest it, not every track is a party anthem or a floor-filler, so it was very difficult for me trying to showcase the album in its best light with the old school standard of going 'OK, this is single one, single two, single three' and all that.”
You must have started on this quite a while back now, what was the starting point? What was the first track you recorded?
“The first track was 'Not Letting Go', in 2015. Honestly, this could have been over so quickly, it could have been beautiful! It went straight in at Number One, an amazing, phenomenal start. That's when I decided 'OK, cool, if Youth is gonna be nostalgic then I'm gonna take all the influences from stuff I was listening to growing up', whether that's Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff or Aaliyah and I put all of that into an R&B record, or I take all my influences from house music and put that into a song like 'Girls Like', which Nana Rogues (producer) did.”
“So the concept was literally that, getting in loads of different producers who were capable of listening back all through our youth and creating something that really resonated with us, and 'Not Letting Go' was really the first instalment of that.”
There are quite a lot of producers on the album, is that what you were aiming for? That sense of variety?
“Yeah, definitely. One thing I realised that people loved about things I've done in the past, on the first album and on previous mixtapes and stuff, is that they're very jukebox-y and very eclectic, so I wanted to make sure that this album had that. But then to be honest with you, being a mad student of music, I realised that every artist who I've really respected or looked up to – past, present, dead or alive – they always found one producer that they worked really, really well with, and he or she would almost executive produce the whole album. So like Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, or Rick Rubin and Jay-Z, Adele and Paul Epworth, that one stable person. Kind of like I did with Labrinth on the first album, actually.”
Were you not tempted to try and stick with one producer then? Or was it a case of finding the right person who could still make something eclectic?
“I'll be honest with you, I got kind of fed up with leaving my fate in a producer's hands, with all those 'arranged' sessions where somebody goes 'Tinie, there's this super-producer in L.A., why don't you go and work with him?' There was a point about two or three years ago where it was almost like the producer was becoming the main star, so it was like 'the producer, featuring the artist', the tables had turned. What I found was that every session I was going into, all of a sudden a song that started out being a song for me, I'd have the producer's manager calling me going 'well, we just got a record deal and we were thinking this could be his first single too.' So I'm like 'wait, hang about, I've come in here and given you all the ideas and now the producer wants the tune for himself?'”
“So what I did was set up a publishing company called Imhotep, I made my first signing with Nana Rogues, who I signed up because he'd just done a track for Section Boyz called 'Trapping Ain't Dead'. We got in the studio, we nailed a mixtape named Junk Food, which was like our core influences, and then I just threw him in at the deep end, he made 'Girls Like' and then he ended up with about four or five tracks on the album. Then he's recently been in the studio with Drake and made 'Passionfruit' for him, so he's had a stellar couple of months!”
So you were almost trying to grow those relationships from the ground up?
“That was the thing, I need to start cultivating a relationship like the one Michael Jackson had with Quincy Jones, but I realised that for as long as that person is some external third party, I'm always going to run into the same kind of problems and run the risk of them wanting the track for themselves. It's a vicious industry you know bro! People think it's all glitz and glamour but people are fighting very hard for the opportunities.”
“I just wanted to get rid of all that and it was an opportunity to build up somebody that I believe in. I've always believed that there is something that I can offer, a little bit of a cherry-on-top effect that brings out the best in people, whether it's in music or fashion or art, so for me it was nice to start putting that into people that, firstly, I had a clear relationship with and, secondly, people who were from the same sort of environment as me, not just some big name that my record label are telling me to get in with.”
We've heard you describe Youth as a 'love letter to London', does that reflect the lyrical themes on the album?
“Yeah, definitely. Basically this is the reality of it, I'm born in south east London on a council estate – and I don't make out like there's any difference in environment, that's just all I know – but I'm from a council estate and for someone like me the stereotypical, cliched odds were that I'm either gonna make it in some sort of sport, or get involved in crime and go to jail, or be a British rapper that very few people care about because back then no-one was listening to British rap.”
“So imagine me, little Patrick, these are the cards I've been dealt. Even when people like So Solid Crew and Dizzee Rascal started emerging, when I wanted to be an emcee it was like 'you're not Eminem or Jay-Z, you're not Lil Wayne', we were second rate. We weren't getting on the radio or into the mainstream TV like they were. I can go on Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton or even Top Gear now, but that wasn't happening for anyone back then. Conversations like I'm having with you now for publications like this, that wasn't happening. That's the reality."
So the album is about how that's changed?
“When I say Youth is a love letter to the city, it is, but it's also a love letter to the diversity of London because I feel like this is the only place in the Western world where we could have succeeded. I feel like me and people like Stormzy have a part to play, so that now when my little nephew
says 'I want to be a rapper' it's no longer laughable. So the record is a celebration of that fact, I've been fortunate to be part of a group of people that have helped change things for the better.”
Do you feel like the landscape has shifted a bit in your favour since your first album? You look at the BRITs this year and in the main categories you had guys like Kano, Skepta, Stormzy... are the mainstream taking more notice of Hip-Hop & Grime in the UK?
“I think that what's happened – and I've said this before, but it's just common sense I think – what's happened is that things used to be more institutionalised and the internet has been a great leveller. Before, the record labels have the artists, so the record labels put forward who they want to win these awards. I mean If it's not open to the viewer, who do you think decides who wins?”
“So now we have the internet and 10,000 people on one night can watch that awards show and be like 'hang on, I've never even heard of this person. This ain't the song we've been listening to all year, where are the people I've been listening to?' I mean, So Solid Crew broke through in 2001, so urban music in London has been prevalent and with us for nearly 20 years, but the closest you got to that on TV and radio most times was Beverley Knight or Gabrielle. Now, if people aren't seeing the music they like on the TV they can just go on the internet and you're even seeing a situation where some Youtuber can have more views on his video than the ratings on the latest episode of X Factor. So it's almost like their hand has been forced, they have to see that something is going on and respond to that.”
Back in 2014 there was a quote attributed to you saying that your next album might be your last, because people don't really listen to whole albums anymore – is that accurate? Do you still feel the same way?
“I said something along those lines, I didn't articulate it very well, it was for a newspaper interview and I was probably scared shitless, haha! Basically what I meant was, you see how Drake with his More Life album presented it as a 'playlist'? It's gone to Number One on the Billboard in America, it's gone Number Two in the UK, he streams it at 11:00 at night and the streams are chart eligible, then the next day he made it available for download, everybody bought it. That's what I was trying to explain, it just hadn't happened yet because the platforms weren't there at the time. Before we'd just have physical sales and it's 'OK, this person sold x million singles or albums, and that's it'. It's changed now, people are streaming, subscription culture is taking over and it seems like there's no stopping it.”
Is that where you see things heading with the way people consume music?
“It's not just music sites, you have it with Netflix and you're going to have it with everything soon. They're even gonna start building it into your phone bill. Understand that. For an extra five quid you can listen to any song you want. It's changed, so now there's a whole new culture thinking 'why do I have to buy music?' Of course there's the connoisseurs, the 40-year olds and 50 year-olds, there's the 20-year olds who have cool parents and who understand what vinyl is and still have a record player, but the reality is that the majority of this new generation are in a world where they've never really had to pay for music. That is what I was trying to explain, that now you can have a bit more fun with what you call a conventional or traditional album, you can play around with the concept a bit more. What did Beyonce call Lemonade? A 'visual album'? That is basically what I was talking about.”
Do you think that's the way you'll go next, with your next record?
“I think I already am in a way. I mean I still want to make albums, and I always will make albums, but I feel like everything I've tried to do, from the start up until now, has been quite different to the norm. I'd like to think at some stage that people will look back through all that work and they'll realise. I'll still do conventional albums but I still want to do all the other little collaborative projects and stuff. Did you hear about my Youth pop-up shop at the weekend?”
We saw Daniel Sturridge getting a haircut, yes...
“Ha! Yeah so we did the pop-up and we had loads of young emcees at the cipher. See, that stuff, if that could chart or if you could find a way to sell those performances, that's not chart eligible yet. Same with Ibiza, we're doing a residency there and every week it's like 8,000 people, the majority of the line-up is young British talent. There's even a show I'm doing at the Hippodrome that is apparently chart eligible, so when people come if they listen to it, just like if the stream something, it counts. So why can't they do that at other shows too?”
Speaking of live shows, just to wrap up, what are your touring plans looking like for the rest of the year?
“Basically I've just done Australia and New Zealand, which was breathtaking, I went at the right time of the year, nice and hot! And then I've just come back from Europe and did Switzerland, Germany, Italy, that's been really good. Then we're gonna be in Ibiza for the whole summer, pretty much, for 16 weeks. I'm doing SW4 in London, I'll do a few European festivals as well, then hopefully I'll tour the UK at the end of the year.”
Youth is available in hmv stores now, you can also find it in our online store here...