Youth, Tinie Tempah’s first album in four years, is a pleasant if a little scatterbrained reintroduction into the British rapper’s sound—heavily influenced by dancehall, grime, self-reflection, and braggadocio. Sadly, the rapper’s many delightful high points on the album are balanced by several bland lows.
Like most rap albums, many of Youth’s tracks are cocky boasts masquerading as… well, cocky boasts. The most understated of these comes on the album’s second track “Not For The Radio”. The darkly chiming tune, which is most definitely destined for the airwaves, is a perfect backdrop for MNEK’s softly cocky vocals as he labels the song “the realest shit he ever wrote”. Tempah too reaches Drake-level preening in lines such as “Yeah, I’m the shit, yo, word to my bowels/I don’t wear snapbacks, yo I wear crowns/Price as rich if I wasn’t this blick/Price as big if I wasn’t this proud”, but still retains a distinctly relatable honesty as he reveals his struggles with the spotlight over MNEK’s throbbing production. However, the true triumphs of Tinie Tempah are best told through tracks three and nine—“Lightwork” and “Holy Moly”. “Lightwork”s furiously jittering electronic beat—one of the album’s best—provides the perfect track for the rapper to sprint his victory lap. Tightly packed rhymes about calamari, Michelle Pfeiffer, Periscope, 101 Dalmatians, and, to this ATLien’s great pleasure, Desiigner’s broads in Atlanta leave no doubt that Tempah truly does deserve the hype he gives himself. Later on the album, standout “Holy Moly” ironically opens with labelmate G Frsh pleading for Tempah to quit proving himself superior to his “baby boy” foes. Luckily for us, the song’s burst of devilish, grimy fun gives a clear answer… hell. no. The best blast of braggadocio on the album has an insane amount of quotable lines, a pounding beat “Purple Lamborghini” would be proud of, and a ridiculously catchy chorus to match. Plus, it manages to incorporate the word sycophants into a rap song. It’s an all-around jam that proves why Tempah’s the British rapper with the most UK number one singles ever.
Tempah also operates extremely well when he aims for a more traditional pop audience. Opening with a “Madiba Riddim”-esque tambourine romp before introducing an undeniably pop beat with Tinie’s verses, “Chasing Flies” is the perfect marriage between dancehall and trap Drake’s been searching for for years. Though not a huge triumph for Tinie’s songwriting skills, Nea’s sublime vocals on the chorus combined with SoundCloud sensation TroyBoi’s artfully stuttered production mix incredibly well and are sure to soundtrack many a poolside playlist come summer. This is one sonic Starburst America should devour. Another far-from-London track, “Mamacita”, is a Spanish-dancehall collaboration with Nigerian singer Wizkid. The impossibly danceable reggaeton track simply exudes charisma, and the lighthearted lyrics (“Yeah, none of them girls got nothin’ on your steez/Yeah and haters gettin’ dissed like, smiley with a kiss like/Scrollin’ through your pics like, got me singin’ this like”) match the infectious trumpet accents perfectly. If you could capture a Spanish street party in a single song, this would be it.
The rapper’s collaborations with other artists, however, are more hit or miss. Tinashe has long topped my list of the most criminally underrated artists in the music industry today; unfortunately, her Tempah collaboration “Text From Your Ex” will do little to launch her off that list. The beat, ripped straight from Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo”—of 2016 Running Man fame—does nothing to support Tinashe or Tinie Tempah’s vocals and in fact actually makes them worse, a large feat for these two usually Midas-touched musicians. And though the concept of realizing your partner is cheating seems as if it would make for riveting lyrics, the song misses the opportunity to describe an angry couples spat between Tinashe and Tempah or even to provide a track in which the rapper pleads for forgiveness; instead, the chorus and verses seem utterly disjointed for much of the song. This is one “Text” you should definitely leave on Read. Swedish songstress Zara Larsson is another artist who unfortunately sits on that underrated list. Though it would seem that her slightly-bland duet with Tempah, “Girls Like”, would keep her firmly next to Tinashe, her verses actually serve as the smartly feminist saving grace of the song. Over a bare-bones beat perfect for soundtracking a runway, the rapper delivers yet another brag on his wealth and womanizing ways. The trope is overused and not done particularly well here; however, Larsson’s domination of the chorus and particularly the bridge is where the song truly starts to work. By playing into the stereotype of all guys wanting sex yet asserting a woman’s right to want the same, she flips traditional rap clichés on their heads and delivers a confidently feminist verse proclaiming “I don’t need your money for my rent/I’m not an 8 or a 9, I’m a 10/What’s the code to your wifi again?”.
Youth as a whole is not a great album. However, its highs—of which there are several mentioned here—are definitely worth a listen. Though the album certainly isn’t one of the year’s best or most interesting by any means, it serves as a nice step back into the game for Tinie Tempah and offers fans a peek into his life through his lyrics, production, features, and influences. All in all, I would recommend dipping a toe into this fountain of Youth… but swim deeper than the highlights and you’ll find yourself beginning to drown.