“Australia’s always been great for me – it’s definitely one of those places internationally that has supported me from very early on.”
Tinie Tempah (aka Patrick Okogwu) drove Diplo crazy with his trappy 2 Chainz-sprung comeback Trampoline, insisting the US producer tweak it over 30 times. But the Brit MC's tirelessness has paid off with him scoring another smash. Now he's dropping his long-awaited second album, Demonstration.
The ever-charming Okogwu, whom a conference administrator comically calls “Tinny”, concedes that his perfectionism delayed the follow-up to 2010's hit-laden Disc-Overy. He faced logistical challenges, too, working with such guests as Big Sean, pal Emeli Sandé, and Swedish House Mafia singer John Martin – plus studio cohorts old (Labrinth, Naughty Boy) and new (The Chemical Brothers' nerdy Tom Rowlands). “It was like a nightmare getting everyone together – and getting everyone's vocals in and beats in,” says Okogwu, just returned from Norway. Nonetheless, he “really, really enjoyed” recording Demonstration.
Okogwu, still only 24, was born in South East London to Nigerian immigrant parents intent on leaving behind the council estate. Raised in aspirational middle class surrounds, and attending Catholic schools, he showed academic potential. Yet Okogwu discovered grime – and musical distraction – via So Solid Crew, best remembered for 2001's UK chart-topper 21 Seconds. The teen rapper built a profile with buzz mixtapes, tracks, gigs, YouTube footage, and even a blog, signing to Parlophone. Okogwu's ascendence was rapid: his first single, the Labrinth-helmed drum'n'bass banger Pass Out, shot to number one in the UK. He cameoed on Swedish House Mafia's Miami 2 Ibiza. Okogwu won a Brit for Best British Breakthrough Act, with Disc-Overy nominated for the Mercury Prize (which went to PJ Harvey's Let England Shake). Between LPs, he popped up on hits from Labrinth (Earthquake), Rita Ora (RIP) and Calvin Harris (Drinking From The Bottle). Then there was the stop-gap single – really an American chart bid – Till I'm Gone with Wiz Khalifa.
A newly confident Okogwu had extravagant plans for Demonstration, its title suggestive of an “instruction manual” and his self-realisation, rather than anything overtly political. In interviews he speculated about outlandish collaborations with the elusive Adele, picky James Blake, and Aussie Boy & Bear. At the same time, Okogwu wanted his sophomore to have more of a live electronic bent. His ideas evolved – and solidified. “Basically, as I was making the album, it started becoming more and more about an actual song,” he says. Okogwu was struck by how Disc-Overy's inspirational Written In The Stars, his Australian (and US) breakthrough, “resonated” with audiences, encouraging him to pen numbers like the festival-friendly Children Of The Sun (featuring Martin). “That was one of the first songs that I made that I feel like really touched a lot of different kinds of people all over the world,” he notes of Written In The Stars, executed by Swedish producer iSHi and with Bostonian Eric Turner's hook. Okogwu, who once toured Australia with Irish rockers The Script, was also determined to exhibit his love of diverse genres, indie included. He constantly checks out music, rattling off as current faves Drake, Haim and Lorde. The dubstep kid digs Blake's remixed Life Round Here with Chance The Rapper – but rates Los Angeles' indie MC Dom Kennedy. If anything, Okogwu hopes that Demonstration allows him to “transcend” perceptions of his being merely a hip hopper. He's an artist. “The ambition was just to make some real classic songs that could stand alongside all of my favourite artists from all different types of genres – and that wouldn't be seen as, 'Okay, this is called that because it's from a British rapper or a rapper from the UK or even a rapper in general'.”
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The Plumstead native repped urban Britannia at the 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony – and does so again on Demonstration, sparring with Dizzee on Mosh Pit. “I feel like that's one of the big parts of my identity – and I think it's definitely helped me stand out on an international level. [But] one thing I want everybody to realise is that the ambition of what I'm trying to do is very much a global thing. Any artist – or most artists, anyway, who I really respect or admire – regardless of where they're from, they're just seen as international artists. Their name is more important than where they come from – and that's exactly what I wanna be. You know, I would never, ever consciously think about changing in that sense, anyway... The core of it is always British.”
Elsewhere on Demonstration Okogwu lets down his guard, with Tears Run Dry a Drake-like confessional. The broody Heroes – among his favourites, with Naughty Boy and Birmingham alt-soulstress Laura Mvula – actually has a social slant. Okogwu accepts that his success means that listeners are curious about him. “It was more than the music – people started to become interested in my life and other aspects.” It'd be “wrong and unfair” not to share his experiences – or “regrets and insecurities” – on record, he says. “I did definitely feel a certain kind of obligation – and it felt good. It wasn't necessarily an easy thing to do, to be honest, but I'm happy that I did. Hopefully, the more and more I progress as an artist, I can continue to do it more and more.” However, Okogwu, who in 2011 published Tinie Tempah: My Story So Far, is anxious to maintain some privacy. Increasingly, rappers are targeted by paparazzi (ask Kanye West), but Okogwu evades them. “It's a conscious effort. It all depends on what kind of person you are. I saw that a lot of people who do get that kind of attention do really court it. One thing I heard someone say before is that a lot of problems with people who are in that position, in the initial stage of their career they felt like they needed that – and so they courted the idea of it and really entertained the fame-chasers of the paparazzi. Then they got to a level where they decided it was getting in the way of their life and they decided they didn't want it any more – but it's not as simple as that. So I've tried to be very cautious from the beginning. I make sure that, if I do get a picture taken, it's when I'm out and when I'm actually doing something that's to do with moving myself forward and my career – as opposed to being with a loved one or going shopping or something random, just for people's perusal. I've not really opened up that floodgate to kind of let people peer into my life like that. I believe that some things should be private. You should fight for at least a bit of privacy, 'cause I think that's all part of having a decent quality of life.”
Okogwu has been dubbed “Britain's smartest rapper” – dude was a speaker at the Oxford [University] Union – and he reads. Today he finished Paulo Coelho's “amazing” allegorical tome The Alchemist, which prompted him to reflect on his own achievements as that Lucky Cunt. As “a creative person all 'round,” he's keen to explore new endeavours. In addition to developing the label Disturbing London, the dapper Okogwu, hailed a fashion icon by GQ, has a clothing line (complete with chinos!) stocked in the UK department store Selfridges. He's sensible about it. “Obviously music is the main focus of all of this.” Not that it has prevented him from buffing up in the gym...
The star will fly back here for Future Music Festival, with a live band. Fans can expect to hear “a lot of new songs,” Okogwu promises. He's putting together a setlist for a UK tour commencing in December. And Okogwu considers Australia a second home. “Australia's always been great for me – it's definitely one of those places internationally that has supported me from very early on.”