Tinie Tempah ‘Demonstration’ album review

Tinie Tempah’s new album, Demonstration, is already built like a smash hit, matching the star’s ambition, aspirations mixed-in with cheeky hip hop poshness.

Tinie Tempah
Tinie Tempah

Tinie Tempah’s breakout single Pass Out (2010) was built on a track so ultra-modern it made the rapper sound like an adjunct of his producer Labrinth’s studio skills. His second album, made with a variety of collaborators, suggests it is Tempah himself who is the driving force. It is built like a blockbuster, split between propulsive, percussive electro and anthemic pop soul with enormous American-style singalong choruses. At its best these two elements are deftly blended, with stirring guest vocals from such leading British singers as Emeli Sandé, Paloma Faith and Laura Mvula.

The 24-year-old English rapper was born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu. As he describes it on Looking Down the Barrel, “weighing in at seven pounds and one ounce this little miracle/ Got given a name with way too many syllables/ That made my registration in class a tad difficult”. Just a tad, mind.

He was raised by a single parent on a council estate, the breeding ground of so many rap gangsta fantasies. But there has always been something well mannered and aspirational about Tempah, reflected in the precision of his language and tongue-in-cheek poshness of the references on his second CD. Over the percussive pulse of Trampoline, he boasts, “My mansion is so tidy” and “I go to Claridge’s to do high tea”. As the thrilling breakbeat of 5 Minutes escalates, he declares, “Stephen Fry made me wanna talk like this!” Even his jokes can be highbrow: “I get the citizens caned like Orson Welles.” He apologises to a girlfriend for making her “suffer like a Suffragette”.

On Don’t Sell Out, Tempah shouts out a series of questions with yes or no answers. “Am I drunk?” (No!) “Am I clean?” (Yes!) “Am I mature?” (No!) “Should I be?” (Yes!) As a hip-hop call-and-response it is certainly quite unusual.

His sharp, nasal voice is potentially quite irritating, but this monotone attack makes him a distinctive and accessible voice among modern digital dance artists. A penchant for silly puns (“never in denial cause de Nile is a river”) and smart-alec couplets can cast him as a bit of a lightweight joker, and he has a particularly annoying way of repeatedly punctuating verses with “Yeaaah!”, like a sneery kid in a playground who has decided this is his comedy catchphrase.

But while much of the content boils down to the usual hip-hop fare of boasting about girls, money and success, every now and then you get a glimpse of a deeper and more thoughtful artist attempting to balance commercial clout with something more artistically ambitious. The result is as swaggeringly confident, brash and modern as any mainstream hip hop being produced anywhere in the world right now.

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