Timing is everything, and for rising superstar Tems, the time is now.
The 26-year-old singer-songwriter is on everybody’s mind after lending her vocals on the chart-topping Wizkid hit “Essence” and leaving fans of the song questioning who is singing on this tune? Recent years have seen the popularity of Afrobeats blare loudly out of more speakers in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and various places in-between.
The popular West African sound that fuses rap, R&B, electro, bashment, and dancehall vibes has become the ultimate feel-good melody that makes folx happy and energized to move. Tems and Wizkid captivated listeners with their chemistry — and that undeniably fire hook — that has reached beyond their native Nigeria.
Tems is part of the next wave of Afrobeat hitmakers who are beloved outside the diaspora. She is proving that her massive global impact comes from past hard work and effort with songs like “Mr. Rebel,” “Looku Looku,” and “Try Me” serving as the foundation for eager listeners and uber fans who have since labeled themselves “rebels.” And now, with “Essence,” Tems has begun to make history, earning her first no. 1 spot on BBC 1Xtra Airplay Chart, and her first career entry on Billboard Hot 100.
Tems, who is an avid listener of Aṣa, Adele, Lojay, and Zinloeesky, doesn’t feel like a novice in this music game. Speaking from her studio in Nigeria, she understands just how “Essence” is “breaking barriers globally,” and relishes in knowing that it has become the first song on Billboard Global 200 to contain Yoruba vocals and chart amongst the top 10.
You don’t need “no other body” when Tems is on the scene. In an effort to celebrate her recent success and her hauntingly sweet and arresting vocals, here are five things you need to know about the BET Amplified International Artist of the month.
She understands the power of manifesting a name
Born Temilade Openiyi in Nigeria, the Yoruba meaning behind her name is “mine is the crown”. While currently captivating the music world’s attention, Tems might not understand why her parents named her that, but doesn’t deny the impact its meaning has on her life in general.
“I wasn’t winning throughout my whole life,” the 26-year-old shares in a call with BET.com. “But I guess [in respect to my name], everything is mine and I am everything. With God, there is nothing that you can’t do [and my name] shows that I belong to everyone and we belong to each other.
She dares to be different
The term “Tiger mom” has been etched into the world’s collective conscience, but for most children of immigrant parents— it is an everyday thang. There is a profound sense of duty for many to live up to the sacrifices of their elders by becoming a lawyer, a professor, or a doctor. Tems, who graduated university from Monash South Africa with two degrees, remarked that she reflects the voice of other young Africans, who are deciding what life looks like for themselves.
“With my parents, I graduated and I was like ‘now it’s my time for my life and that’s just what it is,’” she said. “Everybody will have their expectations of you and what they see, but that usually is underrated and not anything great. That’s where we have decided to do what we’re here for, take the leap, and just jump straight into it.”
She's honored to be a trailblazer for the culture
“Essence” is such a phenomenon that music snobs write about its success while hinting that Afrobeats and its respective subgenres are the next sound to impact America. The secret they don’t know is that the artists and sounds coming from the diaspora have been popping for over a decade-plus.
Tems alongside Wizkid are the first artists to feature vocals in Yoruba on a chart-topping song, according to Billboard, highlighting the critic’s point—but try convincing her of that. “I can’t say why ‘Essence’ stood out,” the singer-songwriter shared. “I can say I did my best on the song, ultimately it really is God’s grace why people like the song.”
She admits the ‘Essence’ remix is uncontrollably dope
As Diddy aka Love, would say, “Hit them with a remix to make sure that they play me twice,” and such can be said with “Essence”. Featuring Justin Bieber, the Wizkid and Tems duet became an even bigger supercharged smash and recently cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (as of press time it was at no. 3). The single’s rise is marked as the latest success for the genre, but Tems’ reaction was one of surprised joy.
“I think he [Justin Bieber] killed it,” she confided. “Wiz is one of the greatest artists from Nigeria and [adding] Bieber is just more blessings and grace, which is really good! The song is amazing still [and] I think Justin definitely added to that.”
She Knows She's On The Cusp Of Something Huge
The popularity of Afrobeats has grown internationally over the last decade to one of the world’s most popular genres. Superstars such as Yemi Alade, Sarkodie, D’Banj, Burna Boy, and, of course, Wizkid have become emblematic of the reconnection between Black America and the diaspora. Designed to be upbeat, fun, full of love, and danceable, Afrobeats is an insta-celebration whenever and wherever you play it.
Tems understands her place as a rising star in her own right and acknowledges the healthy future that it has on the culture. “Afrobeats, Afropop, it’s [all] definitely about to be popping [everywhere],” she exclaimed. “It’s a new sound that people are getting into. I’m already hearing our influence on people’s music and I think [Afrobeats] is going to go further than we’ve seen so far, for sure.”
Take a listen to the best of Tems from Spotify below:
Kevin L. Clark is an editor and screenwriter who covers the intersection of music, pop culture and social justice. Follow him @KevitoClark.