When he opened this year’s Bafta Awards show, Tinie Tempah high-fived Prince William, grabbed a selfie with Oprah and befriended Brangelina. You don’t imagine Laura Mvula – his co-vocalist for the curtain raiser – made as much of the networking opportunities.
But in today’s pop climate where releasing a CD is only the start of a long campaign, no British star is as astute as Tinie Tempah at building a brand.
It’s the morning after that Baftas performance and Tempah, 25, is wolfing down a full English. The sunglasses he wears into the dining room of the St Martins Lane hotel suggest he’s had a wild time of it, but that’s only half the story.
The Baftas gig was a good opportunity to get in front of cinema’s power brokers, he says. “I was learning who works for what production company. Acting is something that I would love to have a go at.”
That would be yet another string to the already impressive bow of Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu. At 12, he decided he’d become a rap star and using a thesaurus came up with the stage name Tinie Tempah.
He knew that he was in with a chance when he heard the emerging garage act So Solid Crew rhyming in the local brogue. “There was a time when English rappers would be rapping with American accents,” Tempah says. “As soon as I heard ‘21 Seconds’, I thought you can do it here and it can work and people can buy into it.”
That was 2001. Tempah joined a rap collective and by 2007 set out on his own, building a fan base that helped him get a record deal. A head for business matched by a fresh, commercial take on the genre saw his career rise: debut single “Pass Out” went to Number One in the UK in 2010; and he won the Best Breakthrough Act at the 2011 Brit Awards.
Released last year, his second album Demonstration – collaborators included Dizzee Rascal, Diplo and Emeli Sandé – suggested he’s here for the long haul.
Tempah keeps good company wherever his talents take him. His independent label Disturbing London is home to new artists and a clothing range. He became friends with Sir Paul Smith after they hosted a fashion dinner together and – in a quaint touch from a man with 1.55m Twitter followers – began corresponding with the fashion designer by post.
“We had a long chat about lateral thinking, just thinking outside the box,” Tempah says. “He talks about doing things for the masses, but having one or two things that make you unique within your work. I always come away from talking to him feeling really inspired.”
Tempah’s permanent position in the front row of fashion shows has also provided fertile inspiration for vibrant wordplay, one of his strongest points on Demonstration.
On the recent single “Don’t Sell Out”, there was also the rather more appealing ambition of “trying to get fellatio / from girls as fresh as Daisy Lowe”. As with everything Tempah gets involved in, you can’t fault the man’s spirit of enterprise.
Demonstration (Parlophone) is out now. Taken from Esquire's May issue, on newsstands now.