“She says she likes my watch, but she wants Steve’s AP.” The opening lines of the 2010 rap collaboration Miami 2 Ibiza, make reference to the wristwatch of choice of Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello and, at the same time, clearly state the aspirations of their then 21-year-old author, UK grime artist Tinie Tempah. Now the proud owner of several Audemars Piguets, the road to watch superstardom has closely echoed his career path.

Born on 7 November 1988, for Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu Jr – aka Tinie Tempah – music has always been a passion. “Making a living from music was one of those things that everyone else thought was crazy and far-fetched,” he says. “My mum would tell me that she always wanted to be a singer but then she grew up. I guess I never wanted to grow up if it meant that something I dreamt about so frequently, something I really believed in, may never actually happen. At first it was a hobby but I started taking it seriously from the age of 14.”

Coming from a traditional British-Nigerian home, where education and academic achievement are paramount, Tempah did well at school, gaining 10 GCSEs and three A-levels – although surprisingly not in music. “The music classes involved studying classical music,” he says shaking his head. “There was nothing on offer relevant to what I wanted to do. You have to remember that until 10 years ago, the kind of music I wanted to make wasn’t welcomed on the radio. People weren’t saying: ‘Oh we’ve been waiting for this!’ It was a fight and a struggle and I didn’t feel school music was relevant to where I wanted to go.”

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With A-levels in psychology, media studies and religious education, and early ambitions to read media studies at university and move on to work in video editing, Tempah started to question whether higher education was really for him. The small but growing British rap scene was firmly based in London and the would-be performer knew that moving away to study would only make a career in music harder to achieve. He applied and was accepted by all his chosen colleges but decided to follow the route of many other teenagers and take a gap year. As his university introduction packs came through, he hid them under his bed. The summer came and went and, when September arrived he finally managed to tell his parents of his plans.

“They weren’t happy,” Tempah laughs. “But they went with the one year break and let me pursue music. It didn’t work though. I fell into my second gap year and that’s when my parents started to get irritated: ‘You’re useless. Get out of my fridge. Get a job.’ I guess I became a liability.” It was at this point that Tempah started to get close to his older cousin, Dumi Oburota, who became his manager and still is today. “Dumi took control and said: ‘You know what, T? If we want to make this happen we have to start treating it like a real job. So instead of waking up at 4 in the afternoon, you have to be out by 9 – even if there’s nothing to do – and you can’t be back before 5.’”

They set up a tiny office in Oburota’s spare room and through hard work and planning, everything slowly but surely started to fall in to place, eventually culminating in Tempah’s first album Disc-Overy getting to number one, going double-platinum and producing two number-one singles. “I was 21 when I had my first number one,” he says. “So it had been three years of hard work. You never saw me on Pop Idol or The X Factor and it was far from an overnight, manufactured success.”

Tinie Tempah

Making a Mark
Starting out in a little South London studio, Tempah reiterates that his music is predominantly rap although he does admit to it being “experimental”. “When I perform, I liken myself to people like Faithless, Tricky, Prodigy – anything that is big, British and live. This is the heritage I have always aspired to but I’m just doing it in my own way.”

And Tempah has always followed his own path, especially in the eclectic collaborations he is famed for. “I have always loved to collaborate,” he says. “It’s like I was predicting the future, trying to do the whole Superstar DJ thing before the Superstar DJs hit the scene. I’m a fan of all music – many different styles – and I feel like being from London is a huge part of that because unlike most other places in the world, we have a free-flow of collective music. You can be in West London and hear something special in an Indian market, or you can hear African music in South London and house music in Shoreditch. There’s everything here so I feel it’s quite normal for me to listen to Ellie Goulding one day and Skepta the next.”

Royal Oak Chronograph

According to Tempah, it is this acceptance of the UK’s unique attributes that has enabled Britain’s rap artists to gradually filter through to the US. “You have to create the appetite first,” he says. “It’s just like watch sales. For example, Rolex or AP may look at a market and go: ‘Shall we go and sell our watches there?’ The answer may be no, because there is no demand. Ten years later, however, things may have changed, the demand might be there so the brands enter the marketplace. That’s what I feel it’s like for our version of a previously American genre of music. And, to be honest with you, the only reason that has happened is because we’ve started loving what’s good about our own culture.

“We’ve started concentrating on what makes us, us instead of trying to emulate what we saw in the US. We have learnt to love it and turn it into our own thing. Ultimately, what people need to realise about the music is that we were uninvited, it wasn’t something that was welcomed with open arms. Even now, as commercial as my songs are, the lyrics are still being censored because of the nature of the music. But because of the internet and the transparency of the medium, the popularity cannot be ignored. The analytics are undeniable. All these kids are playing videos that they shot in the back garden and to stay relevant, TV and radio have to sit up and take notice. So the US also started to notice us and now there is a lot more cross-pollination. They know there is an appetite for our market and they see they can benefit from it in the same way that we benefit from them.”

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The Secret of Youth
For Tempah, 2016 will be best remembered as the year his long-awaited third album was completed. Entitled Youth, and due for release in 2017, the collection of tracks marks a significant point in Tempah’s life: “At 27 years old, I have travelled the world and I have been extremely lucky to be able to do that,” he explains. “The idea behind Youth is that every song represents a summer in a different country or city. Not Letting Go is a summer in London, Mamacita is about both Spain and Brazil. Every song should make you think of a summer in a different place – and if you haven’t been to that place yet, the song should make you feel it and visualise it through the sound or the visual we end up doing to go with it. Mamacita we shot in the Dominican Republic, Girls Like we made in South Africa and so on.”

But despite the exotic connotations, Youth is basically a love letter from Tempah to London. “I feel that 27 is when a man comes of age, when he totally knows himself – knows his dos and his don’ts. He knows his limits and has figured everything out. Obviously you still have lots of growth and lots of learning to do, but I really feel that I am the most sound in body and spirit I have ever been, in the way I see things, the way I feel. So Youth is a thank you to the city I grew up in – a thank you for raising me, a thank you for putting me around white people, black people, Indian people, Chinese people, letting me see their cultures, taste their food, and letting them all become very normal to me, which has made me quite worldly and cultured. I have been around different classes – friendly with the worker and the duchess. I don’t know that many cities where someone like me from a little council estate in south London would be able to accomplish that. Youth is me saying thank you for giving me that foundation.”

So, at 27, is Tempah saying goodbye to his youth? “Making an album typically takes three years and I realised that by the time I have made and released my fourth album I will be well into my thirties. I don’t think the record is marking the end of my youth but it is marking the end of the early stages of it, the time when I was irresponsible and I had a point to prove. I’ve still got plenty to prove but just in different remits. I don’t want to just be the biggest M.C. or rapper in my area or in the country, I want to make my mark in the world and do something bigger. And I want to help the next me – the person that is looking at me, at the way I dress or my music – I want to inspire them to step up and do something.”

The Family Way
“It is important to have people that will keep you grounded because as an artist, especially a musician, there is an element of you with your head in the clouds. You think I’ll get a number one and then go and live in LA and then I’m going to turn vegan and do yoga and I’ve made it and I’ll get my Hollywood Boulevard star when I’m 50 and I’ll retire. You can’t help but romanticise it and sometimes people feel like they have to do whatever it takes to achieve that. One minute you’re playing with your friends and setting up a business relationship and then you move to a bigger guy and so on. And that’s the way the industry works – it’s very cut-throat and fickle and, to be honest, that’s not my ethos and I don’t think I could survive being that way. I would hate myself if I ended up thinking like that. It’s important for me to take people on the journey with me. In the same way I’m being exposed to new things, it’s not fun if it’s just me and I come home after a long day and I just tell my family about it – I want them to see it as well.

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“So many people get ripped off when they ‘make it’ – even people like Bernie Ecclestone and Simon Cowell still get targeted and exploited. Hopefully, what I am doing won’t stop any time soon and it’s important for me to be around people I trust. But it’s more than that, I want to empower those around me as well. There’s no point in them being there if I’m just barking orders.”

And empowering is something Tempah does consistently, helping out friends and making sure they feel a part of his success. He lights up and leans forward in his chair as he tells me about sharing his good fortune – for a moment it feels like he’s going to take me with him on his journey, too: “I tell people: ‘If you are interested in photography, let me introduce you to photographers. If you like art then when I go to a gallery come with me. If you like fashion, come and sit next to me at the shows.’ It doesn’t hurt anyone and it means I am around people I am comfortable with. And who knows, maybe in five years time one of those people may be a famous photographer and I will be older and forgotten and then he can take me along with him.”

Rolex Day-Date
Tinie Tempah

The Dresser
On the subject of his innate fashion sense, Tempah states that, coming from a Nigerian family, opulent dressing was a part of his life growing up. “My mum used to go to Switzerland to buy fabrics traditionally used in Nigerian garments,” he explains. “She’d bring them back to London and sell them. I used to go with her as a young boy and I’d watch in awe as my little African mum would be bartering and hustling. They loved her and would say: ‘Rosemary, you always do this, but for you…’ I loved this interaction. My mum also had a cleaning job and in between all of this she would go and study for her degree and apply for other jobs. She is really amazing and it’s thanks to her that I have never been afraid of hard work.

“So I was aware of fashion from a very young age and then, when we started shooting videos, I loved that I had to wear all these great clothes. My cousin Dumi has always been ahead of the pack with clothes and he put me onto certain brands – and then we started travelling. Written In The Stars was huge in Scandinavia and we spent a lot of time there and discovered a huge fashion culture – the tapered jeans, double denim, really cool street brands like Acne. Very quickly fashion became a normal part of my everyday life.”

A regular face at GQ magazine’s Men of the Year Awards, today Tempah is an integral part of British men’s fashion, working as an ambassador for London Fashion Week Men’s (LFWM, previously London Collections: Men) – an honour he takes seriously. “I think Dylan [Jones, Editor of British GQ] invited us to do a performance somewhere and we just took a liking to each other,” Tempah says of his role with the British Fashion Council (BFC).

“He’s a really nice guy – I call him Dylz, I think he likes it. It makes him laugh. He’s been to our studio in East London and seen what we do and I think he was impressed. He invites us to a lot of events and we always sit together. We just get on and I think that’s one of the main reasons he and Caroline Rush from the BFC asked me if I wanted to be an ambassador. I was already going to the shows, so it made sense.

“LFWM has been going for about four years now and in the beginning it was nowhere near as big as it is now. Obviously it’s because of the designers and their brilliant work but I like to think a little of its success is down to the ambassadors raising awareness – even Tweeting that you’re at a show or Instagramming it will create a buzz. I constantly do that and I go backstage to meet the designers – a lot of who are my age or even younger. New guys like Agi & Sam and Lee Roach, they’re all so young and often when they see me coming, they’re like: ‘Shit, it’s Tinie!” I tell them I love their stuff and to keep it up. Any encouragement I can give I do. I think the whole re-branding of London Fashion Week has worked incredibly well.

As a British man with Nigerian heritage, Tempah believes that his personal style reflects the diversity of the city he grew up in: London. “I like to dress up properly – I love a well-cut suit, whether English or Italian, but in the same way I also like to wear street clothes. Basically I’m a 27-year-old black guy from London. And in the same way that I love a good suit, I love to wear a tracksuit when I need to run to Tesco Express to get some milk. So I would say that I aim for that perfect balance between high fashion and high-end streetwear.”

“I want to make my mark in the world and do something bigger. And I want to help the next me – the person that is looking at me, at the way I dress or my music – I want to inspire them to step up and do something.”

Golden Times
When it comes to style, Tempah’s tastes have certainly changed since his boyhood days. He smiles: “To be honest, when you grow up in a working class area with limited opportunity, a lot of people compete to be the loudest. It’s kind of the reverse of when you go to a very affluent area like Holland Park and there’s a VW Golf parked outside a £25 million house. There’s a different mentality, a different way of thinking. Anyway, a lot of people in my area were hustling and making money quickly and they would buy a nice watch – a status symbol. People would nudge each other and say: ‘Ooo, he has a £3,000 Submariner he must be doing well. Look at him. Check him out.’

“When I spoke to the older guys, they would tell me that whenever you walked in somewhere you were being judged. People are always stereotyping, so sometimes when you have a watch on it throws them off. As a 16 year-old I didn’t really see it but as you get older you realise how superficial the world is. People look at your trainers, your watch, your chains and jewellery. It’s human nature. And when I learnt that fact, that’s when the fascination started.”

For developing a love of watches, Tempah again credits his cousin and manager Oburota who, early on, used to buy and sell cars and use the money to buy and sell mid-range watches like Rolex Submariners. “Dumi would make £7,000 and buy a watch and sell it on for £8,000 and just keep doing that. He  always had watches and one day when I’d made a little bit of cash he went halves with me on a two-tone Sub with blue dial. The bezel used to fall off sometimes but I had it and it was cool and everything was great. I was 18 and felt like a legend – any 18-year-old lad will understand what I mean.

Royal Oak Selfwinding

“But I was never happy that it was pre-owned and I knew that one day I’d have enough money to buy a brand new one. My first album Disc-Overy went platinum [today it has sold over 1 million copies] and nobody could really believe it. Suddenly I had a bit of money in my pocket and I went and bought a Day-Date with President bracelet. It was beautiful and rose gold, which wasn’t a big thing at the time, but it looked great on black skin and I thought girls would love it. I remember I went to HSBC and I took out £18,000 in cash – as a 20-year-old kid it was momentous.”

Despite his love of gold, Tempah insists he has never been a fan of bling: “I don’t like stones and after-sales iced-out watches, but I see gold as classy and it was important for my first proper timepiece to be both gold and beautifully made. I do secretly quite like the Rainbow Daytona so that watch may well be my mid-life crisis watch,” he laughs.

And that first Day-Date is a piece that will stay with Tempah forever. “It taught me what a watch could mean,” he says. “Girls would fall for it and want to try it on. I’ve always said when I meet the mother of my child I will give it to her and then to our child. That’s something I really love about watches, they are full of memories that you can pass down through the generations.”

Tinie Tempah

Falling for Audemars
Today Tempah owns about a dozen serious timepieces including Rolexes, a Panerai and a Raymond Weil. But at the moment, his heart – as well as his wrist – belongs to Audemars Piguet.

“I knew the brand. I always saw it as the next level up. I guess I learnt more about brands through the people I was mixing with. The EDM boys and all the house guys like Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris, David Guetta. When I started getting into festivals, these were the cool kids – long hair, leather jackets and they all had APs. Steve Angello has a ridiculous watch addiction and carries them around in watch winders. When I did Miami 2 Ibiza with Swedish House Mafia, I didn’t even have an AP. It was my aspiration and the minute I could, I bought one.”

Surprisingly, Tempah’s first Audemars was an airport purchase, “I was going to Nigeria and had time to kill and there was a Mappin & Webb there. My career was going well and I’d had another big success and I just wanted to know what it would feel like to put my card into a point-of-sale machine for that amount of money. My heart was beating out of my chest during that tense moment when I waited to see if the sale would go through, which all added to the joy of the purchase. It’s not what life is about but it is one of its little pleasures. The watch was a rose-gold Royal Oak Chonograph on a leather strap and once I bought it, I was hooked on the brand and I got really close to it from then on.

Audemars Piguet

“I guess press pictures of me wearing it got me on the radar of Audemars Piguet and eventually I got talking to François [Audemars Piguet’s CEO François-Henry Bennahmias] and Jose [Audemars Piguet’s UK General Manager Jose Torrens]. I was invited to a few events and we just got on really well. I played Audemars Piguet’s Offshore party a couple of years ago and François invited me out to Le Brassus. I met the watchmakers and I then had a next-level awakening of appreciation for the craftsmanship of watchmaking and AP’s unrivalled attention to detail.”

On the day we meet, Tempah brings a selection of his own watches and talks me through some of his favourites – unsurprisingly, all but two are by Audemars Piguet. “This one was a gift from an old girlfriend,” he says handing me a well-worn Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea. “She was really sweet and she knew how much I liked Rolexes at the time so bought this one for me as a surprise. She even had it engraved. We’re not together any more but the watch will always remind me of the good times we had – that’s what I mean about timepieces telling stories.”

It was in 2014 that Tinie played the Audemars Piguet’s Offshore party. “The event was a roaring success,” he says. “After the gig, Francois came up to me and said ‘I’ve never seen anyone perform like that. Come with me.’ He put a watch on my wrist – a Royal Oak Offshore Diver ‘Boutique Edition’ with silver dial, white ceramic case and white rubber strap – and we all took a picture. I went to take it off and he stopped me and said: ‘It’s for you.’ He is such a generous person – on my 25th birthday, he sent me 2,500 roses. He really is a great friend.”

Tinie Tempah

Tempah continues on his Audemars Piguet journey: “This rose-gold Royal Oak I wore on The X Factor when I did the judges’ houses with Cheryl. It’s my favourite of all my watches, my trophy. Then there is this one, the new 2016 Royal Oak Offshore Diver in yellow. It is my most recent addition and something I just decided to treat myself to. I was performing at a party in Ibiza and I needed something loud. To be honest, it’s become something of a tradition to mark a momentous occasion with a watch. It’s a rather nice habit I’ve fallen in to.”

Confirmation then that Britain’s pioneering rapper, fashionista and owner of record label and fashion brand Disturbing London, is hooked on time. Tempah agrees: “Most things in this world devalue, but watches are both understated and underrated. They are great to gift and something to pass on and they all have a story attached – that’s why I love them, the sentiment and the fact that in this digital age where everything is changing and we are relying on computers to do our job for us, it’s nice to have something that is old school and in correlation with the moon and stars. It’s just cool.”

Royal Oak Offshore Diver Chronograph

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