‘I COULD make this interview even more unusual for you,’ says Tinie Tempah, sipping tea in the garden of his Hackney townhouse as the spring sun glimmers behind the trees, ‘because I’m about to get my hair cut too…’
Koi carp flicker behind our shoulders, while Jeffrey the stuffed giraffe peeps out from an upstairs window. The 28-year-old rapper’s friends and colleagues mill around, filling paper bowls with Party Rings and plastic flutes with champagne, while his barber sets up a chair on the decking.
Tinie has invited Metro to his pad — which once belonged to late fashion designer Alexander McQueen — to enjoy a house party he’s hosting for ‘super fans’ to launch his new album, Youth. It’s a stage-managed event, of course, but at the same time it’s an extraordinarily open and fitting way to mark a third LP preoccupied with human connections and nostalgia.
Tinie, raised as Patrick Okogwu in south London by parents who moved to the UK from Nigeria, revisited old haunts and old friends as part of the creative process.
‘I think the thing that drove me to do that was touring,’ he says. ‘Touring is one of the best things in the world but, before you know it, four years have gone past and literally your life has been moving. I wanted to explore the world, I wanted to be at the Copacabana when carnival’s happening, I wanted to be in Japan…’
Sounds pretty great, to be honest…
‘I know!’ he laughs. ‘But I was just trying to make more time for things that mattered in other people’s lives — a friend’s birthday or a graduation party or a wedding. I’ve been to so many weddings, you know? We’re getting to that age, right?’
Tinie, who has had more UK No.1s than any other artist this decade, also turned his Greenwich studio into an open-house environment. ‘I got caught up in this whole hype of seeing massive pop stars and their “no-access” studios,’ he says. ‘But one of the first things I did was to open my studio and let all sorts of different people come in — not necessarily to be connected to me but just to use it. As a result you have that awkward encounter, you go and make tea and, before you know it, you’re talking to someone you probably wouldn’t have otherwise.’
The resulting vibes fed into an ultra collaborative album filled with new-name talent, which mixes the pop bangers Tinie is famous for (including Girls Like, featuring Zara Larsson) with more esoteric sonics. It’s also, on tracks such as the minimal, deeply felt Something Special, easily his most personal material yet.
‘I feel like I’ve always been very personable in my lyrics,’ says the star, who’s as much known for his pithy witticisms as his slick, adventurous clothing style. ‘But now I wanted to just put in a certain level of emotion and almost a bit of the pain of the journey too.
‘A lot of people just see it [his career] as glitz and glamour but this has by no means been easy at all. I grew up in Peckham, I got a £20 microphone from PC World and started recording my first raps when I was 12 or 13. We didn’t really have anything, there weren’t that many prospects or hopes. There were hardly any British rappers we could look at. I’ve put in a lot of graft.’
The graft has paid off. At tonight’s top-secret house party, he even swaggers across a makeshift stage placed over his kitchen units to deliver a short set list, which gets his whole front room bouncing up and down. He’s dressed in personalised Dolce & Gabbana double denim, naturally.
‘Ultimately you just have to live your life and do what is right for you, and that is what I promote,’ he says. ‘Because, Lord knows, it’s not easy. I understand everybody’s just trying to figure it out. All I really want to do is just bring positive vibes to the world.’
Looking around that room, I’d say it’s job done.
■ Tinie Tempah came up with his stage name at 12, when he chanced on the word anger (and thus temper) in a thesaurus. He added the ‘tiny’ to soften it…
Tinie Tempah’s new album, Youth, is out on April 14 on Parlophone