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What Tinie Tempah’s Success Means For UK Black Music

If you follow a UK music-linked person on Twitter — be they producers, radio hosts, artists or managers — the hashtag a la mode is #TeamUK. This is because of the success of black UK hip hop (or “urban”) artists over here at the moment. Historically they’ve found it difficult to launch and maintain successful recording careers. For many different reasons: including the way they’re portrayed in the media, not having the backing of labels, and not having the knowledge of exactly what to do once they’ve reached the top.

One act set the ball rolling for others to follow back in 2001, the So Solid Crew. They were a collective who burst onto the UK’s music scene with their seminal hit “21 Seconds” (even ten years later, when you play that in a rave the crowd goes nuts). They were a group of kids who grew up together on a housing estate in South London. They had a love a MC-ing and music, so started making their own, albeit short-term.

The media here is an incredibly middle-class establishment. Black housing estate kids making music AND making money?! The audacity of it!!! OMG and they’re driving round town in brand-new Audi’s and BMW’s? ‘Gosh, Rupert we can’t have that.’

Going from estates to flash cars is never going to go down well on that said estate. And so trouble started. Fights in clubs they performed at, some members charged with gun possession, others spending time in prison — I mean it was textbook. And middle-class press was like ‘Now more than people from estates ‘misbehaving’ and influencing those well-to-do middle class kids.’ ‘Rupert dear, I’ve just caught Henrietta listening to black music! *faints*’

So Solid never really were going to have a chance of long-term success.

Fast forward ten years, and these days it’s ok to listen to black music. Mostly because it’s making money, and fewer of the artists come from “proper” estates anyway (oh and Prince William’s a hip-hop fan). So, for the middle-class press it’s ok to have MCs in their newspapers … because you know, said artist is unlikely to turn up stabbed in some back alley somewhere.

And the person who’s REALLY pushing #TeamUK forward in the consciences of newspaper editors the country over is Tinie Tempah (pictured above). And the moment when we ALL knew he’d made it, was when his picture featured on the front of the Times newspaper (when his Brit Awards nominations were announced).  He’s got all the elements that make him non-threatening to the middle-class media: he’s got style, class, charm, eloquence and doesn’t insist on wearing sodding sunglasses when he’s being interviewed. And the elements that keep him relevant to the UK-music buying public? Dude’s got lyrics.

I have an incredible amount of respect for the man. It ain’t easy to balance that fine line between the two, media savvy and actual talent, but he does it well. And to top it off, he’s cute. Alas, a tad too small for me though (as his MC name suggests, he’s not the tallest dude on the block). He’s currently touring the UK to sell-out audiences. And from your teeny-boppers, to your hardcore hip-hop heads, he’s got everyone enthralled.

No doubt he too will attempt the US market soon. And I wish him all the luck in the world, so if you switch on the radio and hear Tinie’s name spoken by your local radio host … turn that radio up high and remember he’s a guy that’s changing the face of UK black music.

So here are a couple of vids to show what I’m talking about. First up So Solid Crew’s “21 Seconds” (I’ve just spent the last 10 mins dancing round my kitchen to it) and the track that propelled Tinie Tempah into the spotlight, “Pass Out” (give me sec to get my breath back, then I’ll start my dance routine to that one). Enjoy!

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