Imagine that, in some alternate universe, urban music was first created in the United Kingdom. The American market caught on years later, but made a poor homegrown imitation of the British genre. There was no Jay-Z, Tupac, or Biggie to push the form into new shapes and ideas. Instead, urban music evolved by the first year of the 2010s to merge with grime, techno, and R&B and become the mainstream form of UK music. 


Can you imagine that? If so, you're ready for Patrick Okogwu, better known as Tinie Tempah. His new album "The Disc-Overy" is light-years beyond what has been produced in British urban music in the past, as if the genre took a quantum leap into the future in the space of very little time. 


The album is decidedly mainstream, and yet manages to hold onto all of the eccentric tropes of the UK Urban scene from the past. It's grimy. It uses several truckloads of synths. There's all sorts of guest appearances, drawing from R&B, indie pop, and house music. 


The production is impeccable as well, with nearly every song having a complexity that's been pretty much unheard in this type of music until now. The songwriting and the lyrics are smart and cynical, most of the time. 


Yes. It leaves Dizzee Rascal in the dust. This is what Dizzee was going for when he morphed from odd indie grime artist into a pop star. Tinie Tempah figured it all out. 


All of this doesn't mean that this is in the running for Best Album In the World, but I think it may prove to be one of the most influential, in the long run. 


From the moment Tinie burst onto the scene earlier this year, it was obvious that he was taking things several steps beyond. First single "Pass Out" is here on the album, with it's brilliant synth riff, slides into reggae, and versatile vocals - it's the song that even those who hate all urban music would have to admit is a monster. Listen to it again here, in expanded form : everything from the skittering drums to the rap cliche "Aaayy"s add into a gorgeous composition. And now : extra added obscenities, not evident on the single version!


"Frisky" is nearly as clever. Here the synths are as light as air, and the "BOO-la-la-la-la" chorus sucks the listener in. There's a ton of other stuff going on in the song; the filtered vocals, Labrinth's performance, etc. etc. Cool. And the great line : "Would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit?"


The third single you've all heard as well : "Written In the Stars" features a Bruno Mars cloned vocal from Eric Turner, and follows the "Empire State Of Mind" idea that Jay-Z did with Alicia Keys last year. All three songs are full of the kind of rap braggadocio that's more common to American artists than to British ones. Of course, the Americans have moved a bit beyond that now, and into a more introspective lyrical line in popular songs. That's all right; in every other way, Tinie Tempah matches his American peers. 


Then there are the songs you haven't heard. For the most part, they're nearly as complicated as the hits; it doesn't look as if Tinie will run out of ideas soon. "Simply Unstoppable" is grimy and a bit spooky, mixing genres right and left. "Illusion" has a happy little riff, and bounces into a tinkling piano and another of those trademark staccato drumbeats. 


"Just a Little", featuring vocals from Range, is more than likely a future single, similar in many respects to "Written In the Stars", and this time tells a love story rather than a list of why Tinie Tempah is great. It's epic, and will also become a concert anthem. 


There's all sorts of women who have jumped onto the TT bandwagon. The last three songs on the record feature a different female vocalist. "Invincible" features Kelly Rowland, and may be a shot at the American market. It's not bad, but Tinie still sounds very British, and that may be a detractor. Ellie Goulding turns up on "Wonderman", all about how Tinie is actually a superhero. Ellie's vocals are twisted, filtered, and strained through a cocktail mixer, so that the song sounds like Tinie with an even more digital version of Ellie than usual. Finally, Emeli Sande provides a vocal for "Let Go", which sctually doesn't seem to feature epic synths. 


There are some tracks on here which are worth one listen, and that's it. "Snap" is ill-conceived, as if it was an early song which was added in as filler. It's got that scratchy, Wu-Tang kind of sound to it, and also has the simplest structure of anything here. "Obsession" is choppy and intense, but here is just a bit annoying, as if the spirit of Eminem had taken over. 


All in all, though, Tinie Tempah has put together an impressive debut. If you're already a fan of urban music, whether it be the American or British variety, you'll be happy with how this album takes it all to the next level. If you can't stand this sort of stuff, then try it anyway; you might be surprised at how all the sound collages and dynamics merge to make an occasionally confusing, but cohesive whole. 


I give "The Disc-Overy an 8.5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10. 
 


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