Tinie Tempah interview: The discovery of the media mogul inside

The British rapper is following Jay-Z and Kanye West in building a business empire, one that has seen him invited to Downing Street and become part of the polo set

Tinie Tempah eases into our meeting just an hour late, though his excuse brooks no complaint. “I’ve just been to No 10,” he coolly explains as the hip-hop artist swaps pop-star shades for businesslike spectacles. “We went there to talk about a few things – men’s fashion. It was to do with everything we’ve been doing,” he explains airily, unwilling to reveal yet what could be another coup for his expanding business interests. “We” is the company Disturbing London, including management (now with Jessie J), record label and clothing range, for which Patrick Okogwu, aka Tinie Tempah, is the figurehead.

Tempah remains one of the UK’s highest-profile rappers: this spring he completed his latest arena tour and his second album, Demonstration, has gone gold. While best known for 2010 No 1 hit “Pass Out”, the 25-year-old’s profile seems bigger than ever. He is the dapper, unattached style icon gracing glossy mags and fashion websites; a role model praised in the industry for his hard work and politeness.

Fittingly, we meet in a London private members’ club’s meeting room that, with its bottled water and fruit bowl, could host a creative firm’s board, to discuss why so many high-end brands want a piece of the action. The latest is Veuve Clicquot, which has attached his name to an Airstream caravan hosting a champagne/DJ bar touring alfresco events. Tempah adds credibility, while picking the DJs helps him promote lesser known names from the Disturbing stable. All About She, a trio of female singer/two male producers, have played Goodwood Festival of Speed and Tempah himself will do a DJ set at prestigious polo tournament the Gold Cup.

Tempah’s on-tour DJ Charlesy is set to play out at Festival No 6 at Portmeirion, Wales, in September, while, to avoid charges of nepotism, he has selected fast-rising production duo Billon for Polo on the Beach at Watergate Bay in Cornwall (after an impressive series of remixes, watch out for their major label single “Something Special”, set to drop in August). Even with Tempah’s well-groomed appearance and charm, croquet on horseback seems a step too far, but the lad from south London reckons we should join in more.

“There’s so many things about being British that the average Brit doesn’t get to enjoy enough, because of the means or exposure or access, but there’s a festivity behind it – people get dressed up, it’s a lot of fun.”

Tempah has form in this regard: on Demonstration’s lead single “Trampoline” he boasts about taking high tea at posh London hotel Claridge’s. He seems to actively enjoy such experiences, though there is a quiet pride in going where other south London kids rarely tread.

“You’d be stupid not to take these opportunities, especially if it means you get to do something cool or learn a new skill that’s transferable. Everything we do is to impact the culture and give hope to the next generation. Sometimes I see my nieces and nephews, some of them are 10 and 11 and I’m, like, ‘what are they going to be watching when they’re 16? What are they going to be listening to? Who from England are they gonna want to be like?’”

To achieve his aims, Disturbing, the company headed by Tempah’s cousin Dumi Oburota, is building relationships with high-end brands. For apparel, they have collaborated with the likes of Nike, while Tempah has done business with eye-wear specialist Prism. Rather than forensically examining potential partners, these ventures develop – along with Disturbing – in a more “organic” fashion, he explains. The caravan jaunt grew from early connections that built mutual trust, going back to Disturbing’s first collection launch in 2012. “We’ve been good friends for a little while. They’ve been very supportive of stuff we’ve done fashion-wise, they jumped on board when we did our first launch at Selfridges.”

Also developing nicely is Disturbing’s record label arm, which secured a breakthrough last winter when All About She secured a Top 20 hit with the two-step garage-reviving “Higher”. Now they are signed to major label Atlantic (via Disturbing) and Tempah is still plotting their continued rise. He describes Disturbing as a “creative hub” where artists can be nurtured through label and management deals before, as with Tempah, major labels hopefully carry them to greater success. “The next step for them is live, they work best there,” Tempah reveals. Charlesy, meanwhile, hosts a show on Capital Xtra, though Tempah sees him eventually putting out his own music in the manner of the stars of the EDM scene. Next up will be 20-year-old singer/songwriter Sasha Keable, another south Londoner whom Tempah spotted six years ago as a callow teen in an N-Dubz-style group. Such patience is key to the Disturbing model.

“Where you make something and it’s immediately out, and even majors are trying to catch up with how fast technology and social networks are developing, artists aren’t given enough room to grow.” What Tempah describes sounds similar to the networks built around US rappers such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, though the rapper claims Disturbing grew in a vacuum.

“We didn’t have any know-how about the music industry, just followed our understanding of a certain element of culture in England, London, Britain, that not all record labels understand.”

In the past, Dizzee Rascal and The Streets’ Mike Skinner have tried a similar strategy with underwhelming success, though Tempah reckons he has learnt from their experiences.

“Don’t try and take on too much and work with artists who you believe in and believe in you, because sometimes it’s hard. Even in my career there’s been times when I’ve felt: ‘What’s going on, man? Is this even gonna happen?’” Ultimately, though, Tempah is striding confidently into a future where an artist’s stature is measured less by sales than by their own brand strength. The hip-hop star notes how Jay-Z gave away his last album to owners of various Samsung devices.

“Technology and people are constantly changing the way we consume things. Being a musician has been great and has given me an opportunity to get into the fashion world, but that’s opened up my music to more people.”

Tempah himself has his own run on the festival circuit to look forward to, though he is also thinking ahead to his next musical steps. For fans used to seeing him collaborate with everyone from Ellie Goulding and Emeli Sandé to Dizzee, there may be surprises in store.

“I’m trying not to think about it as much, unlike previously. I’m one of the few artists that can get away with making lots of different kinds of music, so I’m gonna do a bit more of that.”

If he does follow dance music, he won’t need so many starry hook-ups. “Stars of the past year or so have been faceless. I probably will end up doing one or two collaborations, but people don’t necessarily care. They’re not essential.” Tempah hopes to have new music out before the end of the year – single, EP or album – though, as Charlesy’s DJ-ing lessons provide another string to his bow and he heads off on a summer tour of Australia, you wonder where he will find the time. Yet even without fresh sounds of his own, Tempah will never be far from the public eye.

The Veuve Clicquot Airstream Tour reaches Polo on the Beach, Watergate Bay, tomorrow, then goes on tour

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat