It’s 1pm in East London and Tendai has just polished off a very late breakfast.
“I wake up late, OK,” says the musician with a laugh, Zooming in from his flat. “And I’m a big breakfast guy. Today wasn’t anything crazy – just Crunchy Nut. The honey one only, though. Recently, I’ve not been able to have any other type of cereal.”
Tendai, 23, used to frequent his local café for breakfast every day, but has since stripped things back to a trusty bowl of cereal. Then, it’s onto the studio for a mixing session to put the finishing touches on three.one, the first in a series of three musical projects.
“Basically, this is me telling the story of a very tumultuous year in my life,” Tendai says. “I’m telling it through sound and narration in a kind of triptych – it shows how I’ve manoeuvered my life through drugs, women, anxiety and depression. It’ll be nine songs in total, three per drop. It’s the story of a very overwhelming year.”
three.one’s lead single, Ughh Parents Evening, tells the story of a romantic tussle against a backdrop of distorted guitar and synth-laden beats: “Heard your confession, so testify /I build a wall, want you to climb, want you to try /But you tell me it’s wrong, tell me why”. The tracks sits between want u bck:* and t — revising ttyl x, all nostalgic tracks that straddle indie rock-balladry and alt‑R&B.
Born and raised in Canning Town, East London, Tendai’s made a name for himself over the past few years for his poetic lyricism and seamless ability to move from one musical genre to the next, from indie to garage to R&B, refusing to be boxed in by any particular sound. He’s released a string of critically-acclaimed singles since signing to 0207 Def Jam (the UK arm of legendary record label Def Jam Recordings) in 2021, the same year he co-produced Stormzy’s last album, This Is What I Mean.
For now, Tendai is basking in the “cathartic release” of putting his new triptych project together – a piece of work he hopes will encourage his listeners to “be formless”, as he puts it. Keep scrolling for his takes on theatre, hot crossed buns and doom scrolling.
10% What kind of emotions and experiences influence your work?
Film and plays, in terms of scenes. If there’s a scene in my life or something that I’m seeing, I’ll try and articulate that through lyrics or sounds. But also real life events, ones that are potentially hard to talk about. I didn’t know until recently how much my actual life influences my music.
20% How would you like listeners to feel when they hear your music?
I’d like it to make listeners feel free, for sure. When I think about what my creative purpose, it’s to free not just myself but artists as well. Music should free you.
30% Is there a play that you tend to go back to?
I really like Elmina’s Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah. I love his ability to tell one story as three different stories in that.
40% If you were cooking to impress someone, what would you make?
If I was cooking I’d already be impressing them, because I don’t cook. I’m pretty good at pasta, actually – mince meat, basil, something interesting.
50% So… bolognese?
Not quite! But something similar, for sure.
60% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
It was given to me through a lyric: my greatest fear is getting big without growing. That’s mad. So many artists pursue a big moment that catapults them to a certain amount of success and exposure, but that sometimes happens before they’ve spent time growing their artistry and understanding who they are or what their purpose is. That’s what growth is. That changed my approach to music-making. I want to make good art.
70% Love, like, hate?
I love hot cross buns, I like rock music and I hate people standing on the left hand side of an escalator. If man’s on an escalator and someone’s on the left hand side where people are supposed to be walking… Why? Now I have to push you bro, or I have to wait. Just stand on the right.
80% What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
I’ve never been a mad scroller, but lately I’ve found myself scrolling mad. I want to kick that. But my feed is so cold! It’s hard.
90% You rule the world for a day. What goes down?
I’d return all stolen jewellery and artefacts to their natural country – Indonesia, Tanzania, The Philippines. I’d also make it illegal for people to have phones at art galleries and performance venues.
100% If you could go back in time and watch a musician perform, who would it be?
Michael Jackson. And Blur or Oasis.