Does yoga rhyme with toaster?
Youth Tinie Tempah PARLOPHONE
On the title track of his third album, Tinie Tempah declares: “Everything to me is blasé/ I told the architect to make the whole thing parquet.” It is an amusing rhyming couplet made all the more distinctive for being such a peculiar thing for a streetwise rapper to boast about. The 28-year-old Patrick Okogwu marks his return to the pop front line by proclaiming that he has “started doing yoga”, which he rhymes with “chauffeur” and “toaster”, further affirming both the quintessentially comic Englishness of his vocabulary and his unapologetically middleclass aspirations.
In a genre that tends to pride itself on its abrasive edginess, Tempah is arguably Britain’s most popular rapper. Since crashing onto the scene with his debut smash hit Pass
Out in 2010, he has scored more number one singles than any of his peers (three in his own right and four as featured artist). He may not have the cool cultural cachet of original Grime star Dizzee Rascal and is almost entirely lacking the aggressive attack and sonic adventurousness of the new generation really putting British rap on the map (including Skepta, Stormzy and Kano). What he does have in abundance, though, are essential skills of flow and wit allied to an almost shameless ambition to court the mainstream. Tempah makes slick, bright state-of-the-digital-art pop music where hooks and grooves are every bit as important (if not more so) than the content.
Youth could serve as a one-stop guide to contemporary chart trends. There is sexy r&b ( Text
from Your Ex), summery Latin beats ( Mamacita), EDM bangers ( Girls Like), a vein of distinctly Drakeish downtempo sing-song
( If You Know) and a bit of acoustic strumming with Jake Bugg standing in as a poor man’s Ed Sheeran ( Find Me).
Breaking up the parade of potential singles is a more intriguing strain of moody, stripped-back electro focused on Tempah’s delivery. On bare-knuckles tracks such as Holy Moly, Something Special and Shadows, he challenges the new generation to match his success, although I don’t know how intimidated his rivals will actually be by all this talk of yoga and parquet flooring.
The hookline for the bullish Not for the Radio promises “the realest s--- I ever wrote” but despite Tempah’s refined language, his preoccupations remain disappointingly generic, exposing the shallowness of his ambition. Beneath his witticisms lurk the usual hip-hop obsessions with clothes, money, girls and status, peppered with references to fast cars and luxury labels, with moments of introspection when he questions whether it was all worth it ( before concluding that it was). Easier to admire than to care deeply about, Youth should confirm his status as the go-to rapper for people who don’t really like rap music.
He is the rapper for people who don’t really like rap music
Aspirational: Tinie Tempah