Tinie Tempah Tinie TempahDisc-Overy
Although we had been warned (there have been previous attempts by Ms. Dynamite and even Dizzee Rascal with their collaborations all over the place), it seems that Tinie Tempah has taken on the role of great pop figure on the grime scene without any problems or scenic complexes. The mainstream collisions of the genres have been a long time coming, but either they hadn’t worked so far, from either a commercial and popular point of view (in other words, they have found only minor success) or they just didn’t fit, artistically and musically speaking; they hadn’t convinced the purists and the streets, as if it were impossible to find the balance between one and the other way and harmonise opinions and notoriety.
It’s true that Tempah, a 22-year old from South-London, took plenty flak from the trenches of the underground and that the most radicalised sectors have firmly condemned and punished his explicitly commercial vocation. It hasn’t been easy for him, in short, but the blows haven’t been unanimous nor especially severe. Even the most avid headz have seen and know that our man isn’t some lucky novice or a puppet of the music industry, but an MC with a more or less indisputable and acute talent who has been able to project what the necessary work demanded, because of the context and the moment, by the scene. Like it or not, an artefact such as “Disc-Overy” had to appear sooner or later. And once it’s been heard and digested, we could say we’re more than satisfied with it. The mainstream momentum of grime (number 1 on the British sales charts in it’s week of release) could have been much worse.
In fact, it would be fantastic if all urban music with massive aspirations made in Great Britain would present this album’s credentials. Three points mark the road they’re on. First, a more than competent musical brew in which the concept of global music prevails, more focussed on the new American hip-hop with electronic nuances, from Kid Cudi to Lupe Fiasco via, of course, Kanye West, than on London grime. To triumph or not to triumph, that is the question. Either the world is your oyster or you remain a local phenomenon. Hard cash or small talk on Facebook to pass the time. Tempah goes for the first, hence his interest in an aesthetic and modus operandi that allows him to compete beyond the usual grime followers circuit, a self-absorbed and closed-off enclave that won’t bring much more than a pat on the shoulder as a display of respect, without any economic retribution. Not Ms. Dynamite, not Lady Sovereign, not even Dizzee Rascal: if any British record has the possibility to conquer the American market, because of the sonic affinity, melodic pulse and adaptation to the medium, it’s “Disc-Overy”.
Second: in spite of it’s projected and very remote-controlled character, the more than worthy application of that old idea, also very American, of the pragmatic record. In other words, the inclusion of tempos, tonalities, rhythms and very diverse backgrounds in one same and cohesive discourse to keep a maximum amount of people happy, without forgetting about any scenic loose ends. Listening to “Disc-Overy” is very entertaining, pleasant and powerful because of the electronic hip-hop, the pop-rap, the grime, the grime-house, the R&B and even the raver nostalgia (if “Miami 2 Ibiza” isn’t the best song to run to this year, let Emil Zátopek hear it and say so), and on every level it does the job without any complications. His is a forced and calculated eclecticism, make no mistake, and as a whole this prefabricated variety is one of the weak points of the album, but not even with that in mind does the MC accomplish what he wants in most of the songs. That mobility and ability to adapt is an added value in the race to stardom, and it makes no sense to dispute or ignoring it. It’s not easy to sound as convincing over a street beat dedicated to life on the corners as over a hit with Kelly Rowland; this one gets away with it.
And three: personality and star quality. Let no-one look for high-level rhymes nor intellectually ambitious lyrics when listening to Tinie Tempah. Playful and festive lyrics prevail with the MC, joie de vivre and a light moderate version of the gangsta theme, more about exaltation about money, the good life, women and the glorification of success than about violence. Easy-going subjects, simple and coherent when it comes to the music. It’s not the new Common or Jay-Z with a British accent, but if you’re looking for an MC with courage, a certain magic and potentially popular artist material, there are definitely options here. This is not some nobody who got successful by accident: judging from his behaviour and his aesthetic it’s clear we’re dealing with someone who knows what he’s doing and has a clear goal, apart from being the maker of this season’s tastiest guilty pleasure. However many “buts” you could apply in a review, this one is going to stay on my iPod for a long time.