Tinie Tempah: Disc-Overy

Hip-hop cliches abound on Tinie Tempah's debut, but they are easily overshadowed by his obvious talent

Does rock and pop music have a more disheartening sound to offer than that of the British rapper bemoaning the pressures of fame? On the one hand, it seems unfair to single them out: listening to any kind of pop star bemoan the pressures of fame is no picnic, but there's something about the disparity between the level of success your average British rapper attains and the sheer volume of fuss they make about it that seems impossibly galling.

Which brings us to Let Go, the final track on the debut album by Plumstead-born Patrick Chukwuem Okogwu Jr, better known as Tinie Tempah. It's not the most disingenuous British rap song bemoaning the pressures of fame. That remains Questions (Game Show) by Shystie, on which a woman whose biggest, and indeed only hit (One Wish) reached No 40 for one week in July 2004 bemoaned the unbearable degree of press intrusion that came with such unprecedented, globe-straddling success: "Question after question being asked!/ I don't know how long my patience will last!" she snarled. "I don't need this grief!"

Nevertheless, Let Go runs it close, not least when Tinie Tempah – who, it is possibly worth noting, had his first hit single six months ago – complains not only about having to do interviews ("I'm tired of it") but also the apparently intolerable burden of "all these fittings at Vivienne's". Hang on: Vivienne's? Vivienne Westwood? It's a little hard to hear without thinking: Mate, if after six months you're "tired of it", with particular reference to the pressure of getting measured up for a suit, then perhaps this job isn't for you. I hear Halfords are hiring.

It's not merely that the complaints are a bit insulting – the care workers who wipe other people's bums for a living are presumably just weeping for him – it's that they smack of learned behaviour, of Tinie Tempah doing something that he thinks he's supposed to do. This state of affairs accounts for most of the album's flaws: the Auto-Tuned vocals – now as hackneyed as the n-n-n-nineteen sampled stutter was 25 years ago; the sappy ballad in the vein of Tinchy Stryder's Never Leave You; the horrid AOR-by-way-of-Jay-Z track Written in the Stars.

It's annoying because, as the rest of Disc-Overy demonstrates, Tinie Tempah is talented and original enough not to have to worry about fitting in with trends. Of the British pop rappers who have emerged in the wake of the reinvented Dizzee Rascal's success, he might well be the best lyricist, possessed of wry, self-deprecating wit. His breakthrough hit Pass Out is a fantastic pop song, its videogame synthesizers ping-ponging over a backing track that shifts from dub reggae-influenced interludes to a raging burst of drum'n' bass, but, uniquely among the artists sometimes known as the Brrrap Pack, it attracted the most attention for its words, which boast of his "very, very, very wild lifestyle," before detailing precisely what said lifestyle entails: "I've got so many clothes I keep them at my aunt's house."

Undercutting the standard hip-hop braggadocio with a winning bit of bathos or a parochial reference turns out to be something of a Tinie Tempah trademark. Frisky finds him focusing his libidinous attentions on a girl with a "dress from All Saints", the fantastic Simply Unstoppable not only defends his stylistic lunge for the charts – "I gone pop and I won't stop! Pringles!" – but also his own physical allure: "Honey I'm a fine boy," he swaggers, "no pimples." You could argue that it's a stylistic trick that covers up the fact that Tinie Tempah doesn't have much to say: certainly, when he tackles politics, you rather wish he'd get back to something more edifying, even if that is the terrible stress of being fitted for his Vivienne Westwood suit. "People work very hard just to get their salary taxed – where the hell is the sanity at?" he protests, sounding not unlike one of those dreadful little poetic contributions you sometimes see on the letters page of the Daily Mail: for one terrible moment, you're gripped by the fear he might hit you with a limerick about loony-left councils banning Christmas.

But if it is a trick, it's a hugely entertaining one, and it works. For most of Disc-Overy, Tinie Tempah pulls off the not-inconsiderable feat of being funny while still suggesting you take him seriously. Despite its flaws, the good bits of the album – Intro's buzzing, distorted bombast, the explosive military drum rolls of Illusion; a surprisingly likable guest appearance on Wonderman from Ellie Goulding, whose British-accented vocals work better in this context than Kelly Rowland busting a gut on Invincible – sound like the work of a major talent, who might get better when he realises that he doesn't need to follow trends, that he's at his best when he's being himself, and his producers are making music to match. You can only hope the unendurable stress of those suit fittings doesn't cause Tinie Tempah to quit before he works that out.

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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