Typically, when an artist – particularly a grime or hip hop artist – emerges from somewhere other than London, the first topic of conversation invariably revolves around their hometown. It’s clichéd, perhaps, but when it comes to a genre as undeniably ‘London’ as grime (at least up until recently), it can’t be helped. Tempa, for example, originally hails from Birmingham and the city has had a noticeable influence on his sound. Often the difference can be intangible – an attitude, an indescribable ‘something’ that marks it out – but for Tempa, it’s clearer than that. In his mind, Birmingham grime is “much darker than London. It’s still got its own sound”. And few embody this better than Tempa. “We’re still underground. No one ain’t really successful, no one ain’t really made millions off it.”
Still, growing up in Birmingham, not all of the opportunities and outlets a Londoner can enjoy are necessarily available. As a city, this has clearly made them resourceful. “We did have pirate radio,” he says, busting the myth that it’s a London-only phenomenon. “It was Smooth, Kool FM, Fusion, Flava. DJ Big Mikee, he was the only one who knew the London MCs so he’d have people like D Double and Crazy Titch. Proper legends coming up.”
Outside of radio, it was up to Tempa to source his own grime collection – Wiley wasn’t dropping off dubplates in Birmingham. Instead, he says, he’d rely on his older sister to bring him tape packs from the raves he wasn’t yet old enough to attend. “My sister would go out raving, and she’d bring back all these tape packs from the raves with people like Wiley, Kano, Roll Deep, Nasty Crew and so on”. He’s equally quick to salute rap icons like 2Pac, Biggie, Meek Mill and Drake as influential, but it was his sister’s highly coveted tape packs and stories from the big raves at Milton Keynes that really lit the fire in Tempa’s mind.
In fact, he has his entire family to thank for his keen ear and discerning taste in music. “My dad was very, very musical,” he explained. “He used to have this room in his house that he’d set up for music. It was just for music. So he and his mates would listen to their music here – it was revival reggae – and they’d pass the mic round and do what we’d do. It was like what we’d do now but it was slower.” Even though grime had barely emerged back then, the idea of MCing and creating music as a social – and occasionally competitive – pastime was forever etched into his heart.
Away from music, as is the case with more and more artists right now, Tempa also has a keen eye for fashion and style – both high fashion and streetwear. When talking about the former, the rising MC remains unpretentious: “I like high-end fashion,” he explains. “but I like more underground fashion. I like the unknown names because it just feels like the designer puts more work into it because he knows what he’s up against.” It’s precisely that down-to-earth, humble attitude that has endeared him, not just to his fans, but to the rest of the scene.
After a brief hiatus, Tempa was welcomed back into the music scene with a literal fanfare in 2012. During his absence, his Brummie cohorts Dapz On The Map and Lil Choppa rallied around him to record ‘Straight Up’, a track dedicated to Tempa, which blew up in ways none of them expected. Tempa returned to the fore in time to jump on the remix that quickly followed (alongside Sox, Depz and Jaykae). Then another remix followed, this time by one of his heroes: Skepta. “It was overwhelming,” he says of the experience. “At first when I started, I was just messing around, but to see the progress and how much I’ve inspired people and what it can actually do for your life. It’s mad all these people seeing what I do and enjoying what I do.”
Five years later, and Tempa’s going on stronger than ever. He has a new single, the Swifta-produced ‘Respect’, due on Elle SM’s MVMNT SHFT label. “I made it a while back. We were doing a lot of things. We’d just come off tour with Kano, we were doing things and I felt like they weren’t really giving us respect.” Beyond ‘Respect’, a track with serious break-out potential written all over it, Tempa promises even more bangers: ”I’ve got a tune that’s in circulation right now called ‘I’m The Man’, that’s with Scorpz and Dapz. I’ve got live shows coming too, obviously. I’ve got too much to name, to be honest!” The hardest-working-person-in-grime is a hotly contested title, and Tempa’s doing his all to claim it.
Words James Keith
Photography Charlie Cummings
Fashion Kiera Liberati and Sian Saunders
Hair & makeup Lucy Thomas using Bumble & Bumble, Illamasqua, MAC Cosmetics
Hair & makeup Assistant Emma Temple, fashion assistants Shereena A-Grey