Exclusives 25 March 2020
Author: Seth P

GRM Exclusive: How Tinie Tempah became one of the scene’s earliest pioneers

25 March 2020

Very few British artists have done what Tinie Tempah has done. We’re not just talking about the strides he’s made within urban music spheres; but the master strokes that have emanated across the entire British musical landscape.

Tinie became one of the first artists from our scene to get a number one album. T achieved this by being unafraid to cross pollinate his sonics with the more familiar, radio friendly sounds of popular music.

The impact of this would only be felt decades later, as other artists would follow in his footsteps by boldly mixing the sounds of the inner city with the likes of gospel, afrobeats and all manner of other genres on the spectrum. Tinie’s new single with Not3s, “Top Winners”, embodies this genre mixology that has been an indelible mark he’s left on the scene. 

But before all the accolades, major label deals, and genre defining power moves, Tinie’s humble beginnings began in South East London, where he worked in tele marketing, selling double glazing. After seeing So Solid Crew on TV, Tinie believed he had found his calling and was ready to trade in his sales targets and headset, for the mic stand and the promise of glitz and glamour.

His foray in this world began like many of the first and second generation MCs, by making a name for himself on local pirate radio stations. The same clarity in his delivery that has since given his music global appeal, brought him to the attention of two prominent early grime crews; Nu Brand Flexxx and Aftershock.

Cutting his teeth with some of grime’s pedigrees would certainly stand T in good stead and his first project, Verse 1-22: Buss Dat Cap, was evidence of this. Tinie attacked instrumentals like Luther Vandross’ “Never too Much” and The Neptunes produced classic “Drop it Like its Hot” with the gusto and aggression that those formative years had instilled in him.

Amidst the quintessentially grimier offerings, it’s clear that even as early as 2005, Tinie already had a willingness to experiment with vastly different, more mainstream soundscapes, while many of his contemporaries played it safe and stuck to grime. This would garner significant criticism, and success in equal measure. Many purists chastised Tinie for his departure from the sound that birthed him, and criticised him for “selling out”.

Where once moving towards popular music was met with such vitriolic outbursts, we’re now seeing some of the biggest artists making these moves comfortably, and being praised for doing so. Mostack is one such artist who has also experimented with more radio friendly and classic material just like Tinie. Over the years he has fused his sound with the likes of Big Pun’s “Still not a player” and Cam’Ron’s “Hey Ma”, on his smash hits “What I Wanna” and “Wild”.

Mo was able to dabble with these classics while maintaining his authenticity and attracting a wider audience simultaneously, a clear nod to Mo’s early collaborations with Tinie.

After his departure from Nu Brand Flexxx and Aftershock, Tinie would team up with his entrepreneurially gifted cousin Dumi, and set up Disturbing London in 2006, and like any good business men, they realised diversification would be vital if they wished to create a long lasting enterprise in today’s economy.

The Disturbing London brand has become a blueprint for many of the young artists that have rose to prominence in the last decade, and Tinie has signed the cream of the crop, with the likes of Yxng Bane, Kida Kudz, Kali Claire, Nana Rogues & Poundz becoming the modern day iteration of Disturbing London. 

Disturbing London has become a multi faceted force to be reckoned with. Aside from the music, Disturbing London has its fingers in many pies – with events in London, Dubai, Ibiza, Marbella and now Malta. If that wasn’t enough Tinie has launched Imoteph, a creative agency which handles clothing, publishing and artist management. A cursory glance at #MERKY, which has a publishing imprint and provided scholarships to Cambridge, undeniably displays the influence that Disturbing London has had.

A year after setting up, Disturbing London would release the seminal street album Hood Economics – Room 147: The 80 Minute Course, which featured the legendary “Wifey” as the lead single. During a climate where hyper masculinity was rife, releasing a song of this nature was far from the norm, but it’s clear that Tinie was already thinking about reaching a wider audience with his music.

The track was a huge success, and went on to top the Channel U charts for ten consecutive weeks, Tinie followed this with two more massive singles – “Hood Economics” and “Tears”.

Grime had many fallow years during the mid to late noughties, which saw an exodus of grime’s progenies who begun seeking refuge within the more palatable, less polarising BPMs of electro pop. Grime simply wasn’t providing the financial security to warrant the practise hours many of these MCs were putting in; and with form 696 coming into force in 2005, this totally decimated their earning potential even further. Tinie’s blue sky thinking had meant that he had already begun thinking about ways to reach a wider audience before many of his peers.

After he penned his first major label deal with Parlophone in 2010, Tinie seized the opportunity to spread his wings, and sought to conquer new territory with his sound. It’s clear that Tinie had already been making music with commercial appeal as far back as 2006, now with bigger marketing budgets, and access to a wider range of producers; taking this even further would be the logical next step.

Tinie’s trailblazing experimentations saw his debut album Disc-Overy scoop the coveted number one spot, something which hadn’t been repeated until very recently. As well as scoring a total of seven number ones across his career and his two subsequent albums both landing comfortably inside the top ten; it’s clear that Tinie had a winning formula.

This blueprint that Tinie has mapped out, has undoubtedly impacted many of the stars of today, with the likes of Ramz and Not3s who’ve both had huge success with their own blend of “Urban Pop”. Like Tinie, both of them have been able to make widely accessible music without comprising their integrity as artists, a line that many of their peers struggle to walk.

Whether it’s inside the studio or outside of it, Tinie has changed the face of British music by boldly being one of the first to push the sound into the mainstream stratosphere, something which went a long way into shaping the scene as we know it today.