With singles “Looku Looku,” “Mr. Rebel,” and the viral hit “Try Me,” singer-songwriter & producer Tems may have just cemented her place as one to watch out for in 2020.
Tems wants to take on the world. The de facto leader of the Rebel Gang, as her fans call themselves, is determined to remain true to herself by consistently keeping things light while pursuing her undying love for music. “I’m literally just trying to chill. You see me here drinking tea. This is like my second water,” she mentions.
In a chat with Okay Africa, the singer talks about her journey thus far, her future endeavors and more. Read ahead for the interview
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What’s your happy place?
Music is my happy place. Music is the only thing that makes me feel truly at home. If I’m sad, it’s the only thing I can run to. If someone says to me “here’s a billion dollars, just chill” I would still do music. I mean, I’d collect the billion dollars and then do music. [Laughs] That’s how bad it is. That’s how much I love it.Tems
If you could describe yourself with a song which song would you be?
I would say “Mob Ties” by Drake.
Why “Mob Ties”?
Right now, I’m in a space where I need to be super real with myself. This also applies to the people around me. Everyone needs to be on a hundred. I’m just trying to be 100% focused on my work. No distractions. No sentiments. No pretense.
At what point did you decide to pursue music?
It was probably when I was 13. I thought to myself “I’m kinda good at this thing. it’s the only thing that comes naturally to me.” I could make a song about Cornflakes if I wanted to, or I could just wake up and see a bird eating a worm and make a song out of that. It was just very easy, it wasn’t something I had to try for. So I understood music to be my thing and no matter what it was going to take, I had to end up in it.
This last decade we’ve seen genre lines being blurred on a big scale. As an artist contributing to this phenomenon, what’s your take on that?
I think it’s a good thing. I feel music should be categorized but it shouldn’t be categorized in a way that limits an artist. It’s like telling me what to choose. I like music, that’s it. Before I knew about genres, I knew about music. I remember googling R&B. That’s how much I did not know about genres. Before then, I was already writing songs. Imagine if someone had said “Oh you should do R&B. That’s what you’re good at.” “Try Me” isn’t R&B, reggae, or pop. I mean it has pop elements but it’s not pop. I think genres being blurred means progress.
What is your process like when creating music?
Music just comes to me in my everyday movement. I draw inspiration from the things around me and the things I hear. Then I go to my laptop and see what I can do with it. It’s only when I need to record the song that I head to the studio. But most of it happens in my bedroom.
What was the story behind “Try Me”?
I was actually freestyling when it came to me. Freestyling, for me, feels like a release. A lot of things I feel, I can’t explain, I just sing it. So it was one of those days when it was just inside me. I don’t know where it came from. By the time I finished, I knew I had something special.
Did you envision its popularity?
Not at all. Even now, it’s still hard to process. But I do remember praying on the release day and saying to God that it doesn’t matter how many people like the song as long as it reaches someone, somewhere. After I record a song, I listen to it a thousand times. When it’s released, I don’t go back to listen to it again. So when everybody was going crazy over it, I was like “Huh is this the same song? Is it that great?”[laughs]. I really didn’t expect any of it. We didn’t spend anything on promotion. Everything happened organically. That so many people resonate with it makes me feel really good. I’m happy they can feel it.Tems