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REVIEW: Tinie Tempah - 'Happy Birthday' EP

Will it crack the U.S. market?

By Richard Gilzene on Friday 16th December 2011 Photo by djbooth.net / Parlophone / DL Records Ltd

Having settled into his seat as the UK's go-to guy for party-friendly electro-hop, it's only right Tinie Tempah should turn his permanently Ray-Banned gaze to the U.S. market.

Happy Birthday is part of a multi-pronged attack on the Billboard charts, which began with 'Written In The Stars' being used in promotional ads for the distinctly American pastimes of wrestling and baseball and, most recently, Tinie making a high-energy cameo on X Factor USA.

Crucially for that 'Written in the Stars' nod, the London-born rapper's verses were omitted in favour of U.S. crooner Eric Turner's vocals. Clearly, as some of Britain's greatest musical exports will testify, the road to American acceptance is not straightforward.

So, having slowly chiselled away at his target-audience's consciousness, this Christmas Tinie is bringing out a sledgehammer in the form of a 9-track giveaway EP which showcases a list of friends and industry co-signers strong enough to make it clear he's an artist to be taken seriously.

However, bring your coolest friends to the party and there's a chance you could get upstaged - something that becomes immediately evident on Happy Birthday.

Whether through flow or lyrics, Tinie is comfortably outshined by his guests on a vast majority of the tracks, leaving his skills at home in favour of bringing a U.S.-friendly American twang to his accent.

From the off Tinie Tempah racks up a collection of bronze medals, with Chipmunk and Soulja Boy both comfortably clearing the bar set down on opening track Mayday and Tinchy Stryder, alongside unknowns G-Frsh, Konan and Krept both lapping the rapper on 100k as his laidback flow is overshadowed by the urgency in the others' deliveries.

Luckily Tinie wakes up in time for the marquee tracks, 'Like it or Love' - on which Wretch 32 and J. Cole spit over atomospheric Halloween beats - and the remix to U.S. album cut 'Till I'm Gone,' featuring Wiz Khalifa, Pusha T and Jim Jones.

Both tracks work: especially when Cole World blows the rest of field away with a double-time flow, but neither sound like Tempah is supposed to be the headline act.

The Halloween soundscape on 'Like It Or Love' and the synth bop of 'Till I'm Gone' it works even before Cole World blows his track-mates away with a double-time flow or Jim Jones gives a quick lesson on how to sound swagged out in just a few bars. However, to the uninformed listener, neither tracks sound like Tinie is meant to be the headline star.

Unsurprisingly, the positives on Happy Birthday come when Tinie forgets about ticking boxes for his transatlantic audience, keeps the guest appearances to a minimum, and returns to an original formula.

'You Know What,' and 'F**k It I'm Gone' are airy synth-led tracks that slot in perfectly next to his work on Disc-Overy. The standout track is 'Lucky C**t,' a sneering club-ready bopper that perfectly meshes Tinie Tempah's arrogance with G.O.O.D. music signee Big Sean's swagger.

Who knows, those three tracks alone might be enough to breed some goodwill amongst America's fickle music-buying public. On this evidence though, if Tinie is to have a proper crack the U.S. market, he'll be better off doing it by himself.

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