Hammersmith Apollo, London
Rap music in the US is bigger and glitzier than UK rap – and angrier. American rappers thrive on rage and aggression. Witness Eminem, the world’s angriest man and the US’s most successful rapper by sales last year. Then consider Tinie Tempah, who matched Eminem’s two Grammy awards this month by winning two Brit awards. The London rapper is good humoured and personable, the transatlantic inverse of Eminem. That’s why he is called Tinie Tempah, not Biggie Tempah or Ill Tempah.
Tempah, real name Patrick Okogwu, is on a celebratory post-Brits tour, which reached his hometown with this sold-out show at the 5,000-capacity Hammersmith Apollo. “I’ve only seen Americans sell out this venue,” he announced with patriotic pride. UK rap, for so long US rap’s poor relation, is on the up. In Tempah it has unearthed a genuine star.
His show was a slick exercise in 21st-century stagecraft, with pyrotechnics, thunderous synthesisers and flashy visuals. Yet it was also imbued with the spirit of rap’s early days in the 1970s, back when the music was fun and playful, a soundtrack to New York block parties. The anger came later, with gangsta rap in the late 1980s – the time Tempah, 22, was born.
He has a good punchy rap style, as shown in the gig’s explosive opening number, “Intro”, from his debut album Disc-Overy. Tempah verbally strutted around big beats like a boxer in a ring but the imagery wasn’t belligerent. Where once other rappers might have compared themselves to Mike Tyson, Tinie preferred to liken himself to a noted vacuum cleaner entrepreneur: “I’m about to clean up like Dyson.” No doubt his mother – who turns up more often in Tinie’s lyrics than, say, 50 Cent’s does in his – approves.
Musically, he mixes pop and hip-hop, with Ellie Goulding turning up to duet on “Wonderman”. Live, the songs were louder and more forceful than on record. Goulding was all but drowned out, while the dance music motifs decorating the hands-in-the-air synth peaks in “Miami 2 Ibiza”, say, erupted in the clattering manner of a rave. It was a blast: as rap music used to be, before it got angry.
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