In February 2010 the UK airwaves exploded with a track, Pass Out, by a previously unknown rapper called Tinie Tempah. The song effortlessly straddled hip-hop, dub and drum and bass in less than four minutes, reached the number one chart spot and launched Tinie – the only British rapper ever to break the US – into the stratosphere.
The man behind that track – and two of Tinie’s other singles, Frisky and Wonderman – was Labrinth, a well-mannered 22-year-old east London producer hailed as the UK’s next pop genius.
Although he is an in-demand producer – with Rihanna, Usher and Cheryl Cole all wanting to work with him – he made the bold move to put most of them on hold and launch his own career, with his debut album, Electronic Earth.
On the record, Labrinth plays every instrument and recorded it completely by himself, although he laughs off any comparisons to Prince, who famously did the same at his 1980s peak.
“I’m not sure I could write songs as explicit as his. It’s nice to have the comparison, but I’m nothing like Prince,” he says. “I’m not sure I could ever be said in the same breath. Not yet anyway.”
Although his confidence isn’t quite up there with the Purple Rain hit maker, it has grown plenty in the time spent playing live between releasing first single, Let the Sun Shine, in September 2010, and his second, Earthquake, a year later.
“It’s been a really healthy and important year. If you listen to the difference between Let The Sun Shine and Earthquake, you can see an instant impression being on the road has made on me as an artist,” says Labrinth. “You can have chart success, you can write for millions of other people, but that’s never going to change how you project yourself as an artist during a show.”
The singer has a natural charm both on and off stage, which quickly wins over audiences. His recent UK tour has seen fans eagerly singing every word of his songs back to him. Labrinth isn’t afraid of a little audience interaction, either.
He explained: “I get a lot of beers thrown in the air, because we get a lot of slam dancing with my crowds. And I’m always throwing quite a few things into the crowd as well. Hats, trousers, coats, everything. I get crazy on stage, man.”
Unusual for an artist whose singles have all been fizzy slices of futuristic neon electro-pop, he also appears with an acoustic guitar, his favourite instrument.
He says: “I do love my synth keyboards, but the guitar, for me, it just writes the songs so easily. Even if I’ve written a song on synth, I can still play it on guitar. I can play my whole album just on guitar.”
With Electronic Earth ready for release next month, Labrinth is hoping it will change the way people perceive him.
He explains: “Everything I do is ‘urban’ even if it’s not urban – I’m called a rapper when I’m a singer, but this album will show people there’s more and I can be accepted as a musician, or creative person at least.”
The album comes out under Labrinth’s own Odd Child imprint, a derivative of media mogul Simon Cowell’s Syco records – mostly responsible for the output of The X Factor’s winners. But he’s not bothered about being on the most uncool label in pop; in fact, he welcomes the challenge.
“Syco is the least credible record label to be on, that’s true,” he says. “But I’d rather be the odd child at Syco than just another ‘urban black artist’ on any other label. I’m changing the record label, it’s not changing me.”
Electronic Earth is out on April 2
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