100% Tems: all eyes are on Nigeria’s spine tingling alté star
The producer, songwriter and singer talks horoscopes and that time she received eight birthday cakes in one day. Show-off.
Tems has always known what she wants, and – more importantly – how to get it.
When Temilade Openiyi was 17, she joined her school’s choir. No one in her family knew (apart from her mother – mum’s the word, after all), but the young hustler had vision. “I started training with the music teacher because I thought my voice was too heavy for a girl,” says the Nigerian artist, “but she really encouraged me to keep going. Ever since I was seven and watched the Beyoncé [Superbowl] Countdown on TV, I’ve wanted to do music.”
Despite getting momentarily sidetracked by an Economics degree, Openiyi never dropped the ball. During term holidays, she would hit up producers to help blueprint her sound. “There were always too many conditions to work with them, or they didn’t understand what I was trying to do,” says Openiyi on the experience, “so I taught myself to produce by watching YouTube videos.”
This unflinching do-it-yourself attitude led to her first track in 2018, the sleeper hit Mr Rebel, which within months accumulated hundreds of thousands of streams despite the singer thinking “it was a simple song from her laptop”. Anchored around her powerful, meditative voice, the R&B and Afrobeats fusing tune was Tems’ assertive hook: “On the ground, I’m the winning sound/I’m the crown/I’m the vibe, I’m the leading vibe”.
Fast forward two years and Nigerian rap royalty Wizkid and Davido seem to agree, with both tapping the 25-year-old to feature on their albums Made in Lagos and A Better Time, respectively. As do her 281k Instagram fans, who have affectionately named themselves the “rebel gang”.
Now with her debut EP For Broken Ears, released back in September, continuing to firm her signature arresting take on the alté genre with the break-out, break-up banger Damages, THE FACE thought it time to get the 100% low-down on Tems…
10%: Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born and raised in Lagos. I’m still based in Lagos currently, I also lived in London during the earlier parts of my life, but when my parents got divorced I moved back to Nigeria with my mum. I’ve been here ever since.
20%: What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
Never sleep on God.
30%: Biggest pet peeve?
40%: What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
Wanting to be in control. I think I’ve kinda let go of a lot of things I couldn’t change. But that’s the only thing I think hinders me – just letting life happen and not knowing what’s going to happen. Just living in the unknown.
50%: Who would you most like to see on the cover of THE FACE?
RiRi. I would like to see her on the cover of everything.
60%: Do you believe in horoscopes?
I haven’t researched and looked too deep into it, but from what I know it makes a bit of sense. I started noticing that some people that share the same birthday as me have the same vibe. My mum and my friend were born on the same day and they act the same.
70%: You rule the world for a day. What went down?
I would rebuild Africa and create a new system where no one has to lose. It would be a win-win for everyone.
80%: How did you celebrate your last birthday?
I got given like eight birthday cakes. All my friends kept surprising me with cakes – I had to give a whole lot out because it was too much.
90%: When did you find your confidence as an artist?
When I realised that I was unique. When I realised that I was good at creating I gained a lot of confidence in myself.
100%: Love, like, hate?
I love real love and honesty. I like food. I hate wickedness.