Becoming Tems – “If Orange Was a Place” review – Emma Daraloye
Three years ago, Tems was at a crossroads, stuck between settling for a 9 – 5 job or a music career, she chose the latter, and, at the moment, she is one of the most sought-after vocalists in the world.
Temilade Openiyi was born to a Nigerian mother and a British-Nigerian father. Her parents separated when she was five. She found solace in music and poetry while in secondary school. With the help of her music teacher, she became aware of her vocal strength and despite her initial resistance to University education, she studied Economics at a South African University.
Her displeasure with the beats offered to her by Nigerian producers led to her teaching herself music production on YouTube. This process birthed her defiant debut single ‘Mr. Rebel’ (July 2018). It took more than a year for the industry to notice Tems’s ingenuity although Ladipoe already caught on early and featured her on ‘Falling’, a track off the Talk About Poe LP in October 2018.
In the last quarter of 2019, Tems ‘Try Me’ became an unlikely anthem in the pop-centric Nigerian music industry and achieved appreciable rotation via ad and word of mouth.
In September 2020, Tems released her debut EP which was titled For Broken Ears. Songs like ‘Damage’, ‘The Key’ off the project received heavy rotation with the chanteuse bringing to the fore her production skills on four tracks off the project. The following month, Wizkid dropped his much anticipated Made In Lagos album with Tems featuring on ‘Essence’, an Rnb/alte slow burner.
The song has been the stepping stone for Tems’s global disruption and now backed by a Justin Beiber remix, the song is currently No 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The first Afrobeats song to ever attain such a milestone.
Tems didn’t get to her current state by sheer luck. It has been a trajectory of strategic moves by her and her team. She has stuck to her signature Rnb/Soul, becoming one of the leading vibe of her generation as she proclaimed on ‘Mr Rebel’.
Her vocal strength has been noticed by the likes of Davido, Rihana(they met recently). She was surprised when Adele belted her vocals to her runaway hit “Try Me”.
She was the only African on Drake’s Certified Lover Boy album. ‘Fountain’, her record with the Canadian artist, currently sits at No 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
To consolidate on her recent success, she announced her new deal with RCA and also released her second EP last month. A warmer and lighter project titled If Orange Was A Place.
The lead single ‘Crazy Tings’ opens the EP with Tems’ vocals sleekly meandering through an up-tempo beat rooted in reggae with an infusion of afrobeat. ‘Crazy Tings’ deals with a toxic relationship; it’s still a nod to the themes of FBE. She effortlessly hits the notes.
IOWAP is a reflection of Tems’ new state of mind, her aspirations, and liberation from depression.
On the Brent Faiyaz assisted ‘Found’, she unleashes her journey to self-discovery. She still has moments of doubts but Brent Faiyaz calms with his reassuring lines;
“Before this gets out of hand/No more distance, let’s just dancе (Ooh, ooh-ooh)/I’ll mind my manners (I’ll do)
Won’t take advantage”.
On the Jonathan Christian produced uptempo track ‘Replay’, over an acoustic guitar and drum-based instrumental, Tems brag about her vocals and her waist while giving off an unbothered attitude towards her perceived enemies. ‘Replay’ is confrontational ‘and is a thematic allusion to her debut ‘Mr Rebel’.
In the second verse, she reveals a snippet on how she triumphed over her imprisonment in Uganda; a burst of emotions. The lyrics are confusing no thanks to the myriad of topics Tems tries to touch on on the track.
On the heavy bassline track ‘Avoid things’, she belts her emotive vocals to her lover; sequentially arranging the story. She blames him for her woes; a plea for help, love. For ardent Tems lovers, these are tropes she explores in her music.
Tems’s arresting vocals remain her strength, even when she talks about her anxiety, trauma depression, she is subtle with it. The former becomes the trope on ‘Vibe Out’; a burst of emotions about life and stardom with a hazy silver line.
Although a lot of fans expected an album, they will have to wait for a year more, for now, as Tems unfurls her newfound journey. IOWAP is a slight departure from the grim and hurtful tales of FBE. The EP is lighter and incorporates Rnb/Afrobeats/Dancehall sound with Guilty Beatz providing the pristine production Tems needed as she embarks on a sonic globe-trot.