Who Runs the World? Tems Does

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There’s a new queen in town, and her name is Tems. Temilade Openiyi, better known by her stage name Tems, is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and record producer who has grabbed the music world by the jugular and has refused to let go. 

Her sultry vocals, introspective lyrics, and ability to blend Afrobeats with R&B have very quickly made her a global phenomenon and record breaker. In a short period, she’s gone from bedroom beats to collaborating with music royalty like Beyoncé and Drake. The only appropriate qualifier for this meteoric rise and why she’s become such a powerful force in music? Tems Supremacy.

Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Tems discovered her love for music at a young age. She immersed herself in the sounds of 90s R&B icons like Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion, and while music was her passion, Tems initially pursued a degree in economics at Monash University College in Johannesburg. However, the pull of music proved, quite like a siren’s call, irresistible. She threw herself into learning music production through online tutorials, honing her skills and crafting her unique sound.

After graduating and a short stint at a media company, Tems made a life-changing decision to pursue music full-time. Her self-produced song, “Try Me,” released in 2019, became a breakout hit in Nigeria, marking a turning point for the singer. Nigerian audiences loved the song and quickly made it an anthem with its fresh vocals, lyrics, and overall vibe. The accompanying music video showcased Tems’ gorgeousness, confidence and enchanting stage presence, and Nigerians couldn’t get enough.

“Try Me”‘s success caught the attention of Wizkid, one of Afrobeats’ leading men and a living legend in his own rights. He invited Tems to collaborate on his album “Made in Lagos,” and together they created the global smash hit “Essence.” This song catapulted Tems to international recognition, topping charts worldwide and establishing her as not just a pretty African face with nice vocals, but a force to be reckoned with.

Her talent didn’t go unnoticed by other music heavyweights. In an iconic move, Tems co-wrote Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” for the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, proving the reason she has a reputation as a skilled songwriter. Showing no signs of slowing down, she secured a coveted feature on Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” album, and she hasn’t stopped since.

One thing Tems thrives on is collaboration, drawing inspiration from established artists across different genres. She cites Lauryn Hill and Sade as major influences, admiring their ability to achieve both critical acclaim and commercial success while staying true to their artistic vision. These artists have shown her that artistic integrity and mainstream appeal can coexist. However, Tems’ influences extend beyond neo-soul and R&B. She also acknowledges the impact of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, whose music has and continues to inspire generations of Nigerian artists. She skillfully blends these diverse influences, creating a sound that is uniquely her own. 

Tems’ approach to songwriting is as unique as her sound. She prioritizes feeling over structure, often chasing a vibe or melody that sparks her creativity. This intuitive process involves experimentation and improvisation – she’ll record freestyles and vocal snippets using her phone’s voice memo app, building a vast library of tunes and sonic fragments. Later, she sifts through these recordings, searching for elements that have the right sound and can be developed into full songs.

This method allows Tems to tap into emotions and express them authentically. Lyrics often come last, adding the finishing touches to a musical foundation built on raw feeling. She describes herself as a “vessel” for music, passively receiving sonic messages and translating them into enthralling melodies and lyrics. However, this creative freedom isn’t without its challenges. Sometimes, promising musical ideas get lost or abandoned in the vast collection of voice memos. For example, the title track of her upcoming album, “Born in the Wild,” began as a freestyle years ago but was initially forgotten. Thankfully, inspiration struck again, and the song eventually found its way onto the album.

The ‘Mr. Rebel’ singer’s songwriting is deep and honest, and she isn’t afraid to explore complex emotions, creating lyrics that hit listeners on a personal level. Her voice is rich and soulful, capable of conveying a wide range of emotions. Whether it’s belting out a powerhouse ballad or delivering a sexy R&B tune, Tems commands attention with her vocal performances. 

Tems’ artistry has culminated in her new debut album, “Born in the Wild,” released this June (yes, she worked with all those big names even without an album!). This album explores new sounds while staying true to the emotional depth and lyrical honesty that have become her trademarks, and also showcases her artistic evolution. 

Tems’ rise within the music industry is undeniable proof of her incredible talent. She is a skilled songwriter, a role model, a baddie, and a force. With the release of “Born in the Wild,” other artists are going to have to fight to snatch the crown of leading lady in contemporary music from her. Her impact on the global music scene is also palpable. She has dressed up Afrobeats, introducing a new and more versatile side of the genre to a wider audience and inadvertently paving the way for other Nigerian artists to do the same.

Yes, we’re Stans, and for very good reason. All hail the queen!

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