“When I was a kid I wished that I could be in Narnia,” Tinie Tempah raps on “Wonderman”. It’s a rare moment of introspection during one of his biggest hits, a hint at his life growing up in south London’s giant, now condemned Aylesbury Estate, and later in Plumstead, not so far from another huge landmark, the O2 Arena, which he’ll headline for the second time later this year.
Everything the one-time Patrick Okogwu does tonight is about triumph over adversity, and boundless self-belief. He thinks and acts differently to all those American rappers who dourly maintain a lyrical interest in streets they left long ago. Like his life-long idol Dizzee Rascal, Tinie grins a lot at his good fortune, and has crossed from his initial grime bridgehead to the widest possible pop audience.
A rock guitarist and drummer flank glowing Apple laptops on this intimate iTunes festival stage, and play a prog-metal intro as banks of spotlights swing into the balcony, and Tinie bounds out of the blinding light. Right from the start he regularly slips into a cappella raps, and trusts the crowd to sing back every word, nodding as if moved when they do so to “Written In the Stars” - another song of fated success. The music is otherwise relentless, its almost claustrophobic momentum suggested by “Simply Unstoppable”’s programmed Grand Prix roars, and “Hitz”’s climbing climaxes.
Tinie breathes life into this tightly drilled set when he talks about his old life, gently mocking his adolescent surliness, and dragging his adored cousin and manager Dumi Oburota on-stage for a birthday cake. It adds to the sense that this gig, and everything he does now, is a highly professional, ongoing celebration.
“Children of the Sun”, from imminent second album Demonstration, sees spindly, Cuban-heeled Swedish House Mafia associate John Martin as guest singer. It also gives a too brief taste of Tinie’s impassioned, toughly disciplined rap flow, and name-drops Sgt. Pepper, a sign of the “evolution” and “legacy” he says he wants to leave. At the moment, his musical vision is too streamlined, his eyes too fixed on career prizes, to do so. “You have to do it by yourself,” he tells the crowd, earnestly wishing his success on them. And as they happily shake the balcony to “Miami 2 Ibiza”’s House mayhem, thoughts of legacies are left for another day.