Tinyman warned us: two years ago, the south London rapper said he wasn’t going to box himself in. “I’m an artist. Primarily, I do rap music, hip-hop music,” he told Reprezent Radio show host Nick Gibbons, who picked up on his use of “primarily.” What did he mean by that? “It’s my favourite genre,” Tinyman continued, “but I’m not going to box myself or limit my abilities.” And fair enough. At the time, he was known for rapping over sunny, boombap production, as one member of London collective ORPHGANG. At the time, he and his peers in the collective – musicians, artists and poets Intalekt, Afronaut Zu, YJ, Kojey Radical, Christopher Blacc, MG and R-Kay – had made their mark on UK hip-hop in that particular style. They helped set the template for other collectives that would follow, from House of Pharaohs, NiNE8 and Little Simz’s Space Age to what New Gen accomplished before they were even released by XL Recordings.
“We were a rebellion,” he says to me now, speaking over the phone in late July. “And now the systems realise the value in what we do. We set up our own shows. We film and produce our own videos. We edit and direct our own videos.” The industry, and its bigger players “they’re seeing it and they’re trying to work with us rather than throwing opportunities at us like we have to be grateful to them.” And so while other ORPHGANG members have been releasing new material, Tinyman’s taken a step back from the spotlight. He had a prolific run, putting out collaborations with the likes of Ray BLK and Jaz Karis while dropping several volumes of his "Orphan Flow" freestyles between 2012 and 2015. Then, he seemingly went quiet.
Now, he’s returned with progressive banger “The Mountains.” The song, produced by Subculture, sounds like 2000s Timbaland fed through a uniquely British prism. Tinyman wrote it while in Cyprus, where he went up into the mountains to clear his head and write. Layers of Subcultures vocal tics and trills – percussive breaths, melodic coos – form the bed upon which Tinyman’s signature flow rides. “Don’t need no flowers in my hair to be carefree, bruh” he raps at one point, before making a nod to “black boy magic” in the next line. It’s not only an ode to his return – ”I’m back like I never left” is the central hook – but marks a natural step forward from the beats fans may have expected from him four or five years ago. Like I said – he keeps us all guessing.
The video, which we’re premiering here, grew from “a sense of needing time away, to develop myself as a person,” he says. “I had to reconnect with friends and family, learn more about myself; just do normal people things. Sometimes, when you’re so in tune with trying to be an artist that you tend to lose touch with the things that really do matter. In the midst of the chase, I had that realisation that I had to stop in my steps and look around; I thought, ‘let me take a break.’” And the sweeping, picturesque visuals – directed by filmmaker Nyiwa Katalayi, owner of visual production company NKDIGITAL – are reflect that. The video’s all about a sense of escapism, though not through hedonism. Instead, it’s a visual representation of booking a two-week break to somewhere warm with shit wifi so you can read books, cook elaborate meals and get to bed by 11PM every night. “As we moved around,” Nyiwa tells me, “we had to make a few stops along the way so that we could catch the drone shots. I was editing the video as I was filming – it was a walking and living project as we were going along.”
In a sense, that approach has been baked into how Tinyman works: try something, adapt, try something else, grow. He’s been rapping since he as about 12, started pursuing music seriously in about 2012, and has flown the flag for his part of south London ever since. After talking about 18 months off, in 2016, “I wanted to do things differently,” he says. “In the past, I felt like I did stuff, but it didn’t really hit the way I wanted it to. So I really tried to take a step back to take two steps forward. Instead of trying to do so much, let me take time away and then come back better. That’s what the foundations of everything were – all about coming back on a different level.” He laughs wryly when I mention it sounds as though he felt some pressure. “A hundred percent. Pressure to deliver.” He mentions how people in his collective have gone on to do great things, and how he came close to second-guessing himself.
But there’s growth in setbacks, too. “A lot of people, who maybe haven’t been with me for the past three, four, five years, they may not know that I’m an eclectic person. I don’t tend to stay on one kind of sound or colour – I experiment, and give people a different side of me, every time.” So every song he makes isn’t the same. He felt he had to show “the levels of improvement – in the visuals, in the production, in the song” as part of a bid to show how his corner of London is making great music, even though it may not be chart-focused, per se.
Since releasing "The Mountains" audio last month, has that pressure reappeared? “Yeah… yeah. While I was away, I noticed this huge demand for artists to keep up appearances, and show that they’re always doing something. They always have to be at this event, or this industry party or whatever. And I’ve never really been that guy!” But it’s a balance, he notes, between staying out there and staying relevant even when you go quiet. “It’s good to keep on pushing, because you never know when someone’s gonna come across you. So it’s good to stay active, in that sense” – just not so active that you become harried.
As for ORPHGANG, they're still going strong, while pursuing their own career paths. “I feel like 2012, 2013, 2014: those were the best years we had. In a collective of seven or eight people, you’re going to go off and do your own thing and improve as their own individual people. That’s what they were before the collective even came into play.” Now, the vision – ”we uplift each other, as a collective” – is finally making sense to outsiders. And as I mentioned earlier, you can see that in how that collaborative model has taken shape among some of the most innovative young musicians in the country today. As we chat, he namechecks how well ORPHGANG’s Afronaut Zu has done, doing lead vocals for Rudimental on tour, or rapper Intalekt and Gee3’s Billy Dukes project. Through it all, you can hear an optimism, a renewed hunger. in reality, that hunger never really left – he's just ready to share that energy, now that he's back from the hills of Cyprus and refreshed. “The time is now. The dots are connecting, after four or five years – it’s a good time.”
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.