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Tinie Tempah Stakes His Claim as the UK’s King of Pop

On his third album 'Youth,' Tinie Tempah cements his spot at the top of the UK music scene.

Sophomore albums are considered difficult, especially after a successful debut, but even more difficult might be the third album.


A lot of creative energy is invested in matching and surpassing the first offering (Disc-Overy in this case) in scale and ambition as Tinie Tempah did to some degree on 2013’s Demonstration. He now returns with the 17-track Youth.

If you’re Kendrick Lamar, whose own third album dropped on the same Good Friday as Tempah’s, you will scale down the intensity of your sophomore effort. If you’re Tempah, you will scale up the chances of making even more hits and further refine the high-living rhetoric.

The madness that was “Pass Out” was a solo effort and his biggest hit yet. This leavens any accusations of insecurity that the assortment of guests on Youth will bring.

After the scene-setting that is the intro “Youth,” MNEK’s bell-toll of a voice comes close to relegating Tempah’s to guest-verses, while David Steward does a good Frank Ocean impression on “Camera.”

Tinashe continues on “Text From Your Ex” the form she showed last year’s “Super Love,” while Intercontinental Tinie tells of his DJ bringing his “decks on the jet.”

“Girls Like,” produced by Rogues, is a shameless Euro-dance hit calculated to chart well in precisely the countries you expect them to do so. It has gone platinum in the UK, Norway and Australia and is clocking 150 million views on Youtube alone. Zara Larsson’s belting is a good match and her being a Swede surely helps Tempah’s Euro-dance Indigenisation Program.

Wizkid does one of his most earnest singing as a guest on “Mamacita,” He also gets involved in the video’s theatrics more than he has on his many features. This may be a sign of good business both have done since signing to Tempah's Disturbing London management, as he’s said to have done.

The video, shot in the Dominican Republic, brings too much of Tempah and Wizkid’s high living to a shanty town. The many million views of free tourism promo-video just might wash away any bad taste this leaves.

Every rapper has by now had a go at trap and Tempah’s own offering of cluttered syllables has made for a stand out track. On “Something Special,” he has straddled the jangle and bounce of Rogue’s beat with a trap and brag-flow that has the bite of a battle rap.

Tempah is the metro-sexual rapper secure enough in his masculinity, to say “yeah, i got a lot of batty friends," also deepening the complexity around the word.

“Lightwork” and “Holy Moly” are in this same brag-swag vein. The only other thing of interest here is how much Shift K3Y’s bouncy beat sounds like what Mannie Fresh was making for the Hot Boyz in the late '90s/early '00s. Complete coincidence maybe, but don’t two points make a straight line?

Tempah’s star power is such that rather than magnify his actual achievements, they get lost among the starriness of many hits, sartorial interests and perceived distance (or detachment) from the grime scene whose resurgence is predicated, in no small way, on the rejection of establishment—values which Tempah has no problem embracing.

This explains why people are shocked to hear that Tempah’s seven number ones singles are more than any other UK artist has managed from 2010 to 2020. A staggering achievement no doubt, but people don’t know what to do with this.

Comparing his stats with those of rap and grime artist would seem like overkill. It must at times seem absurd to him to have to answer questions about petty rap beefs and jealousies while also instructing his interviewers on his significance in the chart history of UK music, as he did in his interview with Not For The Radio.

For the interview, lasting over two hours, Tempah wore pajamas and white sneakers, stroking a dog on his lap, for some time, in the townhouse he bought from the Alexander Mcqueen estate. In view was a piano which he admits he hasn’t learnt to play. He also spoke about a taxidermied giraffe in his kitchen. People don’t know what to do with all this.

Jay Z was for a long time a chief tastemaker. Hublot was not a thing until he said it was on “Otis,” and this was well after the Bentley and bling era. Kanye West took it to new levels by embedding himself in high fashion and brief obsession with that $100,000 Le Corbusier lamp. People didn’t know what to do with that.

Tempah, in the UK sphere, and on account of his certified hits and taste for high-living, is the amalgam of both Hov and West.

Tempah is the MC who will tell you that “I never do it off the top, still gotta write it down.” He’s the owner of a town house who insists that “I could have moved off the ends, but i’m in Hackney still” as he does on “Shadows” with Bipolar Sunshine. He’s the rapper who has told you about his gay friends as he did on “Something Special.” People really don’t know what to do with that.

The aggregate of good and often brilliant songs on Youth are what makes the whole seem to cohere. There isn’t an apparent unifying theme, and I doubt there is an underlying one.

The title, Youth, may suggest a bildungsroman. But on account of the display of affluence and many entitlements, this is closer to a Hampstead novel—in the best way possible.

Sabo Kpade is an Associate Writer with Spread The Word. His short story Chibok was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize 2015. His first play, Have Mercy on Liverpool Street was longlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award. He lives in London. You can reach him at sabo.kpade@gmail.com

Op-Ed

Op-Ed: Kanye West In Africa Is Music Marketing At Its Worst

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing.

One of the most interesting parts of the music industry is the marketing of an album. In developed music markets, accomplished professionals and creatives sit in a room and decide how best they want to sell the music. It's the norm. Many people deliberate and develop a roll-out plan that is improved until it's perfect for execution.

When JAY-Z rented out billboards for 4:44, with everyone wondering what it meant around the world, that is marketing. Mr Eazi drawing a towering mural of himself and Giggs in London, was another marketing tactic to push his single "London Town." Falz created an entire movement filled with conventionally attractive men, and named it the 'Sweet Boys Association,' because he had a single that needed to be sold to fans. Perhaps, what takes the cake in the world of African music marketing is one crazy move by a little known Nigerian artist named Skibii. You see, this guy died and rose again from the dead, just like sweet biblical adult Jesus. He had a single somewhere that needed the attention. Death and resurrection was his thing.

Kanye West is in Africa for marketing. The US rap superstar is holed up at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. He is here because he has an album to release named Yandhi, and somehow, he found his way to the Motherland, where's he's built two outdoor domes, as his working studio. He isn't working from inside a house like a mere mortal. He's in the wild, connecting to Mother Nature and nourishing foliage. This is Africa, Kanye West is an African-American. His ancestors came from this part of the world. He has a claim to this soil.

Kanye West was supposed to drop his ninth studio album on Saturday, September 29. After two days of waiting, three Saturday Night Live performances, one tweet from Kim Kardashian-West and an appearance on TMZ Live, Yandhi was pushed back to Black Friday, November 23. West admitted that he "didn't finish" the album in time, and a member of his management staff suggested pushing the release back.

"I started incorporating sounds that you never heard before and pushing and having concepts that people don't talk about," West said. "We have concepts talking about body-shaming and women being looked down upon for how many people that they slept with. It's just a full Ye album and those five albums I dropped earlier were like superhero rehabilitation and now the alien Ye is fully back in mode… We're going to Africa in two weeks to record. I felt this energy when I was in Chicago. I felt the roots. We have to go to what is known as Africa."

In Africa, Kanye West hasn't laid low. Photos from his arrival hit the internet, and somehow, he was filmed listening, dancing and vibing to African music. Those songs include Mystro's "Immediately," and Burna Boy's "Ye." The videos have gone viral, Africans are wowed by Kanye's interaction with their music, reactions and takes, Africa is moved by Kanye West interacting with our music. Somehow, I used to think we are over this type of event. The event where an an American superstar, who has a huge fan base in Africa, dances to our music, and we lose it. But I was wrong. This content format still has power.

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing. His album is about to drop, and he's publicly alerted the world that he needs to be in Africa and its strong cultural influence to complete the project. Everyone is watching, the conversation has global traction, and Africans are supporting him. Since Kanye got heat for his infamous "Slavery was a choice," comment, I knew Africa will become a part of that story. The past week has seen him visit President Donald Trump at the white house, and further moved away from the love of his African-American base in the US. Black people are not behind Kanye West right now. The media is tearing him to shreds. Celebrities are in a social media race to dissociate themselves from him. Many fans aren't proud of their icon. But he is in the Motherland, dancing to its native music, and we can all cheer.

"I'm in Africa recording," he says in a 9 minute video on Twitter about mind control free thinking and his greatness. "We just took them to the future with the dome. The music is the best on the planet. I am the best living recording artist. We, rather, because the spirits flow through me. The spirit of Fela, the spirit of Marley, the spirit of Pac flows through me. We know who the best. We know."

On the surface, Africa appears to be a gimmick. A play by a great artist to expand the story of his album for marketing talking points. Yandhi is already anticipated, and generations after us will study his art and point to this project as the one where Africa played a direct role. This black continent is a marketing tool for Kanye. Son of Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, has already disassociated Fela Kuti's spirit from Kanye's claims. "On behalf of the Kuti family, I want to state that the spirit of Olufela Anikulapo Kuti isn't anywhere near Kanye West," Seun announced on Instagram.

Perhaps marketing isn't Kanye's only reason for his African trip. Maybe, the world is too harsh on Kanye West and his new level of introspective vibrations. Maybe we aren't seeing the bigger picture. Oh gosh! We might all be victims of this grand mind control programme that West talks about! What if Kanye West is on these shores for some actual influence? Africa has a rich spectrum of sounds, laden with enough culture, soul and character to influence any type of music. From Cairo down to Lagos, there's enough music to add colour.

A clear way for justification of his African trip is perhaps for Kanye West to give back. He is connecting to the 'roots' after all. He is soaking in the energy for inspiration. Perhaps he might actually get to work with an African artist while on the continent. Already, Perhaps Africa's contributions to the project will be anchored by an African. Already, in his creative dome, Ugandan producer extraordinaire, Benon Mugumbya, has been pictured. If he gets some of that Yhandi shine, it wouldn't hurt.

Kanye officially has to be the first hip-hop star to make a trip to the continent for direct inspiration since Africa began to hug the spotlight as an interesting market for global music players. Recent years have witnessed the penetration of African music into global pop spaces. Africa has become the new cool. And as her sonic influence grows, more artists would continue to find new ways to interact. Kanye is making a splash with this. Perhaps, he will be the inspiration for more exchange between Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, his music isn't his true reason for this trip. Maybe Ye just wants to get away from the madness from the USA, and go find Wakanda. Maybe he will discover Ye-Kanda. Either way, only the final version of Yhandi will contain the answers that we seek, and Kanye West's true intention. For now, he is already winning. All those marketing points are already helping the project.

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