A rapper's aesthetic is often dictated by his or her ability. For example, it's usually lyrical weaklings who surround themselves with the kind of gimmicky stylings Tinie Tempah employs on his debut album, Disc-Overy, which is overflowing with rote dance beats and crummy guest appearances. But the British MC is far better than these choices would suggest; he's playful and dexterous, managing to cut a respectable figure inside this otherwise dreary effort.
The consistent issue with Disc-Overy is the pairing of Tempah with people who fail to elevate him. A track like "Miami 2 Ibiza," featuring Swedish House Mafia, is a waste of time for both the rapper and his audience, giving him barely any room to speak, stuffed to the gills with extended dance breaks and Balearic baloney. It's the kind of pedestrian production to which he subjects himself much too often. Hit single "Written in the Stars" presents Tempah as second fiddle to Eric Turner's airy hook, a mushy bit of inspirational pap that dominates the song. (To demonstrate the level of nuance on display here, the track was selected as the theme to this year's Wrestlemania.)
Tempah asserts himself more on "Wonderman," which has its share of weak moments, but thankfully relegates them to the background. "Simply Unstoppable" is a commendable piece of pop-rap, with minimal outside presence and a chunky, glistening beat that gives Tempah something to adequately work off. But Disc-Overy is too routinely dominated by kiddie stuff. "Frisky" pulls in Labirinth, a Simon Cowell discovery who blends invisibly into this tedious club track. Tempah needs better collaborators, better production, better chances to exhibit himself, things that he won't find if he continues working in the broad belt of mainstream mediocrity.
It's a place he seems destined to inhabit for at least a while longer. The album's first U.S. single, a remix of "Simply Unstoppable," featured Travis Barker, who's becoming a consistent presence on underwhelming hip-hop tracks. The second is "Till I'm Gone," a duet with Wiz Khalifa, who represents everything Tempah isn't: insistently lazy, clumsy, and dull. But at the moment they're perfect partners, both enjoying mainstream success, both plying the same kind of poppy, inoffensive hip-hop. It's a label Tempah will have to overcome to find a better outlet for his talents.