Stormzy co-signed tendai sits down to speak the power of grime, building a cult fanbase and tapping into a youthful nostalgia.

Finding beauty in the mundane, through a slew of notorious EP releases, tendai is deftly establishing his own cinematic universe. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter sees himself as a director, navigating stories through both beautiful and unclassifiable soundscapes of far-reaching genres. Returning with his second project of the year, ‘three.two’, operates on its own terms, telling tales of distress over free-flowing production. As one of the first signings to 0207 Def Jam, a subsidiary of universal music, there was a lot of pressure on the multihyphenate, but in 2023, he’s proved doubters wrong time and again.  


Growing up in Canning Town, East London, tendai’s built a network of admirers and collaborators across music. With only a single to his name, he hopped aboard Stormzy’s third album, ‘This Is What I Mean’, producing what became the artist’s most defining record to date while lending vocals too.


This year, tendai’s been focused on his own goal, releasing two solo EPs in quick succession. Finding his voice, while refusing to be boxed into a particular sound, the projects’ dovetail poetic lyricism and hypnotic instrumentals. Released in April, ‘’ was unapologetically influenced by London, representing the city’s scene of today while referencing its natural vivacity.  


Unwilling to rest on any laurels, last month, tendai broadened his repertoire through ‘three.two’, dropping another selection of songs that proves his worth as a musical polymath. With its low-end grooves and grainy melody, standout single “Champion Lover .” showcases a romantic tug-of-war, where the artist intricately relays the anxieties of a long-term relationship: “You say “On the other side, it looks so easy” / Well, sometimes you sound so greedy.” Across the three tracks, tendai explores depression, drug abuse and other tumultuous themes he’s experienced over the past 12 months.  


As of now, tendai is keen to keep releasing consistently and lead listeners down new corridors. ‘three.three’ will have to wait, but he assures us that new music isn’t far away. We spoke with the rising star about the importance of vulnerability, making music with authenticity and more. Tap in below. 

Congratulations on the new EP. You’ve mentioned previously that you look to the world of film as inspiration for your music. If ‘three.two’ was a movie, what would it be and why?

If ‘three.two’ was a movie, it would be ‘Lost In Translation’. There’s something about that film that feels so youthful; it feels like the magic of young love and everything that comes with it. “three.two” is a romance film to me, referencing the highs and lows of love.
The three songs feel like a coming-of-age story, where you play the role of a protagonist in pursuit of self-indulgence. What ultimately would you like listeners to take away from this project? 
I want listeners to leave with a sense of excitement for their youth, whether you’re 10, 23 or 62. I wanted everyone to feel an adolescent energy. I think that’s why it feels like a coming-of-age story.
As an artist, you’ve got a really strong visual identity. The music video for “Champion Lover .” just came out, how do you look to build your stories into something visual? 
The stories, or songs, I write are so visual to me; I can almost see the scene while I’m writing them. The record’s visual aspect is a beautiful way for me to add context. I normally start with a ridiculous idea and then the team and I all try to figure out how we can make it possible.
Did you have a particular music scene locally that you connected with growing up? Or has the internet been your source for finding collaborators and like-minded people? 
The grime scene was everything to me; it’s where I learnt about cadence, lyrics and projecting energy on records. Growing up in East London, grime was everywhere. My brother rapped so I watched the scene unfold while being connected to it.
You draw inspiration from so many artists: Damon Albarn, Björk, Elton John and J Dilla, to name a few. Do you see a common thread in these musicians that connects with you? 
I feel like, what I have learnt from all those artists, is to be specific. I feel they all had such a specific sound, a specific writing style, and aesthetic that is so important in any artist’s journey. It’s the ability to be yourself, which to me is invaluable.
Working with Stormzy on his latest album, ‘This Is What I Mean’, must have been crazy. It’s been out for seven months now. Looking back at the creative process, is there anything you’ve taken away and tried to incorporate into your own music? 
I learnt so much, but mainly the concept of musical freedom and incorporating that into my own music.
Where are you most productive artistically? Do you find it easiest to write in a studio or in the comforts of your own home? 
I love going to the studio; it’s definitely a happy place for me. Writing, however, is very sacred, so it seldom happens in a studio. I always write in my home, in my own creative space. Being vulnerable in music is so important, and I feel happier doing that alone.
What elements of your production process are you keen to improve on? It feels like your artistry is already at such an advanced stage. 
I feel like I’m at the point where I can do anything and make whatever genre with authenticity. Currently, I feel drawn to the power of simplicity and the power of representing something much more specific. So I’d say that I want to improve on my simplicity.
This year we’ve had ‘’ and ‘three.two’, can fans expect a ‘three.three’, or are you looking to pursue any new ventures for the rest of 2023? 
I think one day ‘three.three’ will surface. Right now, I’m not ready for people to hear that part of the story. I’m very excited to keep releasing and be consistent though.
And where do you see yourself in five years? What would be your dream scenario?
In five years I see myself as a very integral part of a new scene and generation of London artists. I see myself building a cult fan base and at the cusp of going global.

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