The New Classic
Rappers are arguably more vulnerable than any other artists to difficult second album syndrome.
The general malaise is that artists who spent years crafting an authentic, heartfelt debut statement then have only months to make a follow-up, and end up bemoaning their sorry lot or else boasting of their new-found wealth and fame.
The problem? The latter is hip-hop’s default mode already. It is easy for the arriviste rapper to become totally obnoxious.
Following up his humungous double-platinum 2010 debut Disc-Overy, Tinie Tempah has found a pretty neat way to circumvent this hurdle. He celebrates his newfound success while gently mocking it; his hubris is undercut with a sly wit that hints he is still firmly grounded.
It’s an attitude that informs the album sleeve, where his face has his eyes crossed out to imply that he is still about music and not celebrity. It also suffuses tracks such as Don’t Sell Out, where he celebrates his new life of New York fashion show, Vegas and a girl in every town, before pausing to admonish himself: “Oy, oy, mate, don’t sell out!”
The same ambiguous attitude towards fame undercuts Looking Down The Barrel – “When I’m near the public for too long, I act fidgety” – but thankfully the album never deteriorates into a Drake-style mope-fest. Tempah remains a skilled electro-auteur, welding hip-hop’s swagger to rave’s delirium on winning chart-friendly tracks like Trampoline and Shape.
Inevitably he raids his speed-dial list for a plethora of big-name collaborations. His fellow grime alumni Dizzee Rascal and Labrinth make edgy, jittery cameos, while Paloma Faith and Laura Mvula’s contributions are somewhat mellower. Tinie and Emile Sandé reconvene for A Heart Can Save The World, which achieves the remarkable feat of being even more mawkishly sentimental than Your Beautiful.
The plangent, harmonic chorus of Tears Run Dry sounds more like Coldplay than Coldplay do, but in spite of his fears, Tinie Tempah hasn’t sold out: Demonstration is a sharp, adroit and likeable statement. Not a difficult second album at all.