I’m going to be honest: I’ve always slightly resented Tinie Tempah for being pressured into making dumbed down rap songs that appease the masses and his label executives. Of course Tinie isn’t the first artist to do this, but the change in his sound seemed to switch from black to white in a matter of moments, as opposed to a gradual and less blatant progression that is utilised by other ‘sell out’ stars.
But fair play to him, I guess. Tinie’s previous “grime” music wasn’t exactly mind blowing or earning him any recognition in the charts and now the London raised rap star is winning MOBO Awards, selling out arenas and picking up an Ivor Novello. In fact, the more I listen to Tinie’s new material, the more I actually think this change in musical direction was an easy one for him to make and perhaps, a change that he enjoys. And I have to admit, his latest album Demonstration is not terrible. Acting as the much anticipated follow-up to his debut studio LP Disc-Overy, this new 15-track project is no doubt Tinie’s weapon to woo the masses once more and hypnotise them into thinking they’re getting a real dose of UK rap.
Although he is an original artist that has proven to be capable of creating successful and consistent pop music, Tinie still appears to be taking inspiration from his peers on this record and almost tries to mimic a few of his fellow rappers at times. For me, “Trampoline” could quite easily be compared to Big Sean’s smash hit “Dance (A$$)”, while “Don’t Sell Out” has an awkward hook that feels like an attempt to copy M.I.A.’s distinctive sound. I had hoped “Don’t Sell Out” was an intentionally ironic title for the track and Tinie would be heard explaining his own reason for selling out via a tongue-in-cheek verse or two, but maybe that was too high an expectation.
One thing I can’t fault Tinie on however, is his use of production and his guest features, which are two aspects of his music that he has really mastered on Demonstration. Although he might team up with the odd US artist such as 2 Chainz or Ty Dolla $ign, (he is still trying to crack America after all), the 25-year-old remains true to his roots by collaborating with home grown talents including Labrinth, Emeli Sandé and Laura Mvula. This loyalty to the UK is something that rings true in his entire brand – from his Disturbing LDN label to his love for English fashion designers and the constant references to English culture in his lyrics. And it is a thing to be admired.
Collaborating with Labrinth in particular is always a guaranteed hit for Tinie and is arguably one of the reasons he has got as far as he has in his career. So naturally, “It’s OK” is a song that stands out to me on this album. Not only are Labrinth’s vocals powerful, Tinie’s lyrics are a lot more personal, as he delves into the details of a broken relationship, infidelity and his self-inflicted heartache. It’s a side of the rapper that we rarely get to see, since he is usually heard bragging about clothes or describing an epic night out. “If blood is thicker than water, we were thicker than blood”, he says while admitting that he is still pining for his ex-girlfriend. Whether this is based on a true experience or not, it is far more relatable than most of his other songs.
The same can also be said for “Lost Ones” (another track about love gone wrong), aswell as “Tears Run Dry”, which touches on Tinie’s relationships with his family and evokes real emotion through its heartfelt lyrics and a few home truths. I prefer this introspective Tinie.
I’m not a fan of the hard-core pop, drum & bass and dance beats, which heavily feature on Demonstration, but there is no denying that songs such as “5 minutes”, “Lover Not A Fighter” and “Mosh Pit” will be on rotation in clubs across the country in due course. Having said that, I have to give props to Dizzee Rascal for his verse on “Mosh Pit”, which completely outshines Tinie’s contribution and is slightly reminiscent of his Boy in da Corner days (lord knows we miss that old school Dizzee!)
Although I might not be Tinie’s number one fan, I can definitely hear the growth on this album. His constant need to experiment with different sounds and the inclusion of unexpected yet well thought through guest features is admirable, while his work ethic is unrivalled by any other rapper in the UK. However, I never really get a sense of the ‘real’ Tinie on his records. Maybe it’s because I am too interested in lyrical content that I fail to feel a connection with his music or maybe it’s because I can’t stand anything that sounds mainstream enough to be played at a school disco. Is Tinie a credible artist yet or is he still a class clown that is fighting to be taken seriously? I’m not sure and listening to Demostration hasn’t made that question any easier to answer.