i was there

Tine Tempah at the PC Richard Theater. 5/16/2011. For iheartradio

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Words by Dave Morris for spinner

“I’m just a regular guy,” the prodigious Brit award-winning London MC tells Spinner, smiling broadly in a pair of Wayfarer shades and a carefully selected leather jacket. “Life has been pretty cool, life has been pretty alright. I grew up with my mum and dad, enjoyed school — didn’t really mind it, had loads of friends and all that. I just think that there’s that kind of ordinary person who’s been missing within hip-hop.”

Actually, there have been lots of average guys in hip-hop, none of them as verbally dexterous — or as commercially savvy — as the 22-year-old Tempah. The UK already knows how exceptional he is; Tempah’s debut album, ‘Disc-Overy,’ came out last fall there and debuted at No. 1, as did his addictively tuneful singles ‘Pass Out’ and ‘Written in the Stars.’ With ‘Disc-Overy’ finally dropping in North America this week, Tempah is already seeing more success than the vast majority of British musical exports.

Like a number of other south London rappers who blazed the trail Tinie Tempah’s been on, he got his start on the grime circuit. “I definitely did quite a few raves. A lot of it was like pirate radio stations as well, so, we were just really on the circuit, like grime side. It was like a really small, local thing; a lot of the same nights and local radio stations everybody would go to. I would just make sure that I was in attendance, and did a couple young-man-standing things like that.”

‘Disc-Overy’ is much more accessible and radio-friendly than most of what had been dubbed grime, at least until first-wavers Dizzee Rascal and Wiley broke through to the pop mainstream; Tempah declines to put a genre stamp on his music — though it’s basically hip-hop with a decidedly pop-friendly bent.

Hooks are everywhere, from his club-friendly collab with Swedish House Mafia, ‘Miami 2 Ibiza’ to the chilled out, nostalgic ‘Snap’ where Tempah dazzles with a light touch and an ear for detail: “There’s some we frame, and then there’s some we crop… I had a thousand free minutes til they cut me off/Talking to this chick who used to love me up.” And it doesn’t hurt that he eschews most of the yardie patois and slang that has kept many a talented Brit rapper from breaking in America.

Tempah attributes his music’s universality to his everyman appeal, something he admits has been bubbling in hip-hop for some time. “Kanye West was one of the first people of this new era of hip-hop that was to come around and do that. And obviously Lupe Fiasco followed and that. But I think a lot of people can relate to that, you know — the uni kids who are living ordinary lives, people that are happy. But it wasn’t a conscious thing. I just spoke about what was real to me, but that’s what came out.”

Tempah’s eye is on the future, naturally. He’s working on his next album and playing with a live band, and despite all the songs about relationships, he’s not tied down. “I’m young, I’m single, I’m doing my thing, I’m getting to see the world; let me just enjoy it for what it is.”

And what kind of girl is he looking for, eventually? In an effort to translate into the King’s English, we framed the question in royal terms: Kate or Pippa?

He laughs. “Well, I mean Kate is the princess, you know. She must be a princess for a reason. There must be something that’s special about her.”

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