Tems Builds Up To Her Debut Album With “Me & U”

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Late last month, Tems uploaded a tweet containing only a picture and a date, two items that would be vague in most Twitter posts, but for an artist, were quickly understood to be a tease for new music release. This sparse announcement later revealed to be for Me & U, her newest single, generated some controversy before the song’s release, but thankfully, not the kind that would be sufficient to threaten the “no controversy is bad controversy” dogma that many believe in. If anything, that extra burst of attention, unplanned granted it was, is just the kind of harmless publicity a pivotal single requires to increase the audience that awaits its release. The mix-up came in Tems’ cover art, which depicted her around the water, a common theme for female artists, especially this year—see SZA’s cover for SOS or Victoria Monet for Jaguar II

But Tems’ cover art was a little different, a lot more spiritual. She posed in an all-white dress in what appeared to be a shot of her standing on water that glistened as it reflected the sun. Her dress as well as her pose, urged some fans to compare her with Yemoja, a water deity in Yoruba traditional religion. Tems rejected the comparison, but perhaps a little forcefully In a tweet, she said that her new single was influenced by Jesus Christ and that the art recreates the instance in the Bible that he walks on water. 

The ensuing controversy meant increased scrutiny upon the new track’s release last Friday. Tems delivered on spirituality alright. The song shows her intention to get closer to God, to understand Him on a personal level, and to learn to trust in him completely. “Give me one break, I need faith/ Faith to believe you/ Faith to receive you”, she sings, imploring her creator to reveal his presence in order to strengthen her own faith. She weaves this spiritual yearning into an RnB-Pop production that bears distinct marks of Amapiano, which she handles alongside Guiltybeatz, the pair reuniting after their work together on Tems’ last EP, If Orange Was A Place

Another familiar element Tems reprises for her new release is a fixation on immaterial things. Her two EPs show a longing for freedom, a thirst for peace, and a desire to understand herself better She centers her music on herself even when more outward topics like romance are low-hanging fruits. This reprisal of her astute penmanship puts to bed any doubt that her two-year hiatus may have slackened her skill, and it is a relief to discover that is not the case in Me & U

Tems is currently working on her debut album, which has been teased even before the release of If Orange Is A Place. Wizkid and Drake reportedly feature in the album. A few media appearances in the past month — an interview by Kendrick Lamar, a live appearance on Zane Lowe’s Apple Music show, and a cover appearance on Elle magazine—have brought Tems back to the forefront of music conversation, and it can be assumed that Me & U is her first proper build-up towards the album. Expectations are high, and rightly so, as the album holds the potential to solidify her newfound position in world music. 

Since Wizkid’s laudatory tweet on the 23rd of February, 2020, Tems’ trajectory has been ever ascending. The tweet was made in tease of Essence, Wizkid’s tonic RnB number that would appear on the deluxe of Made In Lagos, and, when it did, signaled a change in status for Tems that was as sudden as it was total. From then, greater collaborations rolled in. First with Justin Bieber for its remix, then with Drake for Fountains and later, Drake and Future for Wait For You, a sample of Higher, off For Broken Ears, her debut EP. Other co-signs also arrived—Rihanna and Adele revealed themselves to be huge Tems fans—but even more significant than any of these collaborations was the attention that her new fame brought to her previous songs. 

When Essence blew up in late 2021, some Nigerian and African stars were also making global waves — CKay, Amaarae, Fireboy, and Wizkid himself. These acts enjoyed the popularity that these releases extended to them, and, to some extent, could sustain the momentum for subsequent tracks. But none came close to enjoying the kind of retrograde attention that Tems’ discography enjoyed, which meant that even songs from her debut EP, released when Tems was still finding her feet in music in 2020, began to make their way up global charts. Even now, Damages, Higher and Free Mind still sit in the top 50 of Billboard’s Afrobeats charts, and the latter two tracks claimed Gold and Platinum certifications respectively in the US only this week. These are songs she self-produced through YouTube DIY videos when she had little resources. 

In September 2021, If Orange Was A Place arrived, timed perfectly to capitalize on her newfound buzz. There she opened up her creative process to allow for a co-producer and a featured artist for the first time—GuiltyBeatz and Brent Faiyaz—with changes also appearing on the management side of things, as she debuted the project under RCA Records. These changes helped her to craft a project every bit as sublime as its predecessor, an assertion that was proven when the EP began making similar exploits. Since then, she’s gone without any proper release of her own, but rather strengthened her profile with smart collaborations, helping to write Lift Me Up with Rihanna and appearing on a track Beyoncé’s latest album, Renaissance

Her debut album, still unnamed, presents a chance to establish her profile in a way that unshackles her from these celebrities and confers on her irrefutable star power It is no surprise it has not been rushed. Me & U is her first step towards this goal and a fine way to kick-start the momentum for the album’s eventual release.