Q&A with Tinie Tempah

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Tinie Tempah has had a good year. The grime MC's debut single, "Pass Out", has been the biggest selling single of 2010 so far, it's just been remixed by Snoop Dogg, he's playing Glastonbury this Saturday, and he's responsible for one of the best weird lyrics of recent times ("I've got so many clothes I keep some at my aunt's house"). He's also a very nice young man, as we found out when we shot and interviewed him for our Brilliant Brits portfolio in the current issue.

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ESQUIRE: At what point did you realise "Pass Out" was going to be such a massive hit?

TINIE TEMPAH: I never really had any expectation on it. Everything happened organically over about three months, from putting the video on YouTube, to skyrocketing views, to hearing it in a club and seeing people's reactions. Obviously as it drew nearer to release date I sort of had an idea it was going to do alright, but I didn't know... Number one straight in. Wowsers.

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ESQ: How did you get people to take notice of you in the first place?

TT: I started recording mix-tapes in 2005. I used to record a track and then blast it on MSN. I saved up for my first video [for "Wifey"] in 2006 — I remember it cost £800. I was like, "£800? Where am I going to get that from?" I was 15, 16. I got a little job working in double-glazing telesales.

ESQ: Were you any good?!

TT: I was alright! I got a couple of good ones! I remember counting up that 800 quid — £5 here, £10 there — botching it all together and going, "Here, let's do this music video." That's when I experienced a little taste of what it's like to have a hot tune out there. It was on the Channel U charts for 10 weeks.

ESQ: You also made use of the internet quite early.

TT: I decided to set up a blog called Milk And 2 Sugars. Now it's at tinietempah.com. I bought a Red camera at the January sales. I was like, "Right, I've got a camera, now I'm going to film what I do day to day. You usually see the end result, for example the Esquire shoot, but I want to film what happens when I get there, when I'm being pampered, stuff that didn't look good, stuff that did — I'm going to show you the nuts and bolts, how much work actually goes into it." I filmed the day when I got my record deal — the exact moment I signed — and I filmed the moment I got the number one.

ESQ: We heard you had a bit of a mishap with The New York Times?

TT: I was chilling in my manager's house and he got a call on his BlackBerry from an American number. They said, "Hi, we need a hi-res image of Tinie. We're from The New York Times and we're going to press on Sunday." We were like, "Hahaha! Nice one! Yeah, whatever." Didn't send no photos — we didn't believe it! The New York Times? Get out of it! Then Sunday sure enough, there's a whole article on my mix-tape, and no photo. It was like, bloody hell!

ESQ: Is it true you got your name from a thesaurus?

TT: Yeah, I had loads of weird names before like Facer and Panic — names that didn't really have any thought behind them. Then, when I was in Year 8, I was dead certain I wanted to be a musician, so I thought, "I need a good name." Around that time it was Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, Sharky Major... I thought, "This whole first-name-last-name thing seems to be working." I went through the thesaurus, looked up "anger" saw "temper", I thought, "That works, but it's a bit agressive," so I put "Tinie in front of it. That was it! Playtime. Tinie Tempah was born.

ESQ: Your debut album, The Disc-Overy, is out this summer. What can we expect from it?

TT: I'm very excited about it as you can imagine. Every week that goes by as we get closer to release I get more and more butterflies. There's 12 tracks on there; I've done about 45, so it's about scaling them back and picking the most perfect tracks. I'm happy that so far I've been able to deliver and meet people's expectations. I always felt like I've been waiting in the wings, read, so for people to say, "Now we've discovered this kid, he might be big in 2010..." I just got a number one single so it's like, "Told you! Let's do more! Bring out my album! Make it go platinum!"

Tinie Tempah plays the Dance East stage of Glastonbury on Saturday. His current single, "Frisky", is out now