People like Jay-Z and Kanye West played a huge role in shaping Tehn Diamond’s love for hip hop and it took people like them to make him understanding that hip hop it’s an art form, which is why he is the artist he is today. He is all about telling truth through his music and understanding the business side of it. Learn more about Tehn Diamond in this interview.
Who is Tehn Diamond?
Well, I like to believe that if somewhere in the near or distant future, Steve Jobs, Jay-Z and Fela Kuti bumped heads at the gates of Heaven . . . Tehn Diamond would be the argument they had. You only need to listen to “Happy”, “The Year Before Rap” & one of my unreleased songs “Tell Them” to understand why.
How would you describe your childhood?
In a word, liberal. I didn’t grow up very immersed in my culture. My father grew up with a very education-centric upbringing, so when he later graduated as an Economist his career, it allowed me and my siblings to see some of the wider world at an early. Seeing the fruits of my old man’s hard work showing us all these wonderful places, people & things, coupled with my mother’s love and great believe in all we set out to do, made for a very rich childhood.
How did the name Tehn Diamond come about?
Well, my name is Tendai which means “give thanks/be grateful” and when I started performing in Australia my stage name was Diamond. Close friends started calling me Tendai Diamond, which I liked but I didn’t think it sounded like a great stage name. This is how it later morphed to Tehn Diamond, both incorporating my real name and my stage name’s essence. A name which I take to mean, “Give thanks & Shine”, a subtle balance between humility and the pursuit of success and glory.
Who or what made you fall in love with rap music?
Growing up I wasn’t exposed to much rap music, nor did I really care for it to be honest. I feel like nobody was speaking to me or for it, was only until after my parents divorced and I found Jay-Z that I understood. He spoke about emotions and ambitions that felt close to mine, but were taking place in a totally different space and time to where I was. But the hunger, the truth and reality of the way he used his words caught me and stuck with me. It would only be much later when an artist named Kanye West dropped his debut album that I fell in love with the art form. After that I dropped out of my degree and had the courage to carve out my own space in hip-hop with my own story. I’ve gotta say though, the one person who really helped me expand my hip-hop listening and perspective was a friend I made at university by the name of Mpho. Just a cool dude from Botswana with a deep passion for the art, he was my first teacher. When I first became, the Student Of The Game.
You were a support MC for DJ Smoove at HIFA how was the experience?
Wow, I think that was almost 4yrs ago now, but yea myself and MC Chita had the opportunity to emcee for the legendary decksmith DJ Smoove. Both an honour and a privilege. At the time that was the biggest crowd I’d plied my trade in front of. That experience was AMAZING.
Some of your career highlights were opening for Brick and Lace how did this come about?
Well at the time I was working very closely with an incredible emcee by the name of Ill-Ceey and he was in fact booked for that show. He rung me up and asked me to share the stage with him, the rest is history. Got to really spend some time with the ladies from Jamaica and their management, some conversations and pieces of advice that really helped guide my eventual growth and movements through the growing hip-hop industry.
Tell us about Student of the Game: Higher Learning and Student of the Game: Boys will be Boys.
#SOTG1 was born out of genuine frustration and fear, the kind of fear that I could only face and overcome by actually putting that first body of music out. So most of those songs came from a very personal and vulnerable place. More than anything I was trying to prove to myself that dropping out to pursue my music was the right thing to do. So I put my heart knee deep into it. I wrote and recorded the entire project in Brisbane, Australia and released it a few weeks before I would have to return home and “face the music”
#SOTG2 was a completely different project, I was working in Singapore as a performer at one of the biggest hip-hop clubs in Asia, The Arena Live. For the first time in my life, I was living my dream, complete with a bilboard with my face on it, great pay and actual fans. That entire experience or glimpse into “the life” is what inspired this project. I was just a boy, living a boy’s dream, hence the title “Boys Will Be Boys”.
Your single Happy ft. Jnr Brown has been getting good attention on the web all over Africa what do you attribute this success to?
That song was written in late 2011, maybe even earlier, and I held onto it. People would come through to the studio or hear us at shows and just spazz whenever they got a whiff of that track. So I always knew it was special. When the new stations Star and Zi FM came out, the latter were the first to play it. So it leaked late 2012 and got the other stations hunting for it. People were requesting it an we were all over the show performing it and doing countless interviews. Soon as it hit No. 1 on Zi we made a plan to get a video shot for it. That dropped on 31 December 2012 and the rest is history in the making I guess. From Take Fizzo’s super club worthy production, Jnr Brown’s ghetto slick and savvy hook to my kinda dark cautionary narrative I think we managed to just capture the imagination of the people.
Who would you say are some of the musicians that have had the strongest influence on you and how?
Jay-Z, nobody plays the middle between lyricism, commercial appeal and relevance better than that man. I respect his business acumen so much too. To me, he’s the blueprint, I like to think my minor success so far is a testament to that.
Fela Kuti, a man of the people and great vision and conviction. Where Jay-Z helped me find the value in telling a story as true to me as possible, it’s Fela who’s music and life story have helped to find deeper relevance and context in my own.
What inspires you when you write your lyrics?
My own truth in that moment. Be that in relation to my heart at the time, my thoughts on things going on around me or just a really dope beat that speaks to me . . . I aim first and foremost to express my truth and then craft that in a way that it speaks to another individuals truth.
If you were not an artist which career would you have loved to pursue?
I think I’d be in marketing or advertising, in the corporate world I’d say that’s the one occupation that feels like what it feels like for me to create music. It’s an art in itself and when done right comes from a place of truth, a truth that in marketing you hope to translate to a wider audience.
What keeps you motivated?
That fear of failure that got me started. It stays biting at my ankles and I just stay running ahead. It’s a rush for me. When I’m told I can’t do something, I go ahead and do it. And I do so with my all, I love to work hard and achieve all the little goals I’ve set for myself. I think I’m also guided by love, first and foremost for living my dream and secondly for all the things I believe I can make possible for my loved ones through and with these pursuit of mine. So I press on, despite my fears.
What is one thing you would like to change about the hip hop music industry?
The need to follow fads, or rather the fact that so many seem to wanna follow the latest fad. They spent so much time looking up and around at what others are doing instead of looking inside themselves for that truth that’s essentially unique to them. Other than that, I love “the game”. I love what this music does to the people when it’s done from an honest place.
You have performed around the world. What have you learned from the experience?
This is an art form, but the business is the backbone of keeping that art alive. So I treat my career like an SME, whilst keeping in mind that truth is still at the heart of what I do. I learned a lot of discipline and about the kind of work ethic required to even make a dent in this industry thanks to my travels.
Any books you are reading at the moment?
I’m reading “Today Matters” by John C. Maxwell. In all my planning and grinding, this book has really helped to focus on the moment whilst keeping a side-eye on the bigger picture without getting caught up in that too much.
Which artists locally and internationally would you like to work with?
Locally I’d like to work with Ba Shupi and the legend Tuku.Internationally, I’d like to work with Khuli Chana and Andre 3000.
Besides being a musician, what other projects are you involved in?
I’m trying be the next blueprint for how to move in this industry, so I have a heavy hand in a number of projects. I just recently sold an equity stake in The Happy Tee Co. which handles all of the merchandising side of the grind, I do commodity broking but only seasonally and I’m also looking into other grinds like property development and social media consultancy. I like to stay busy and I’m also working towards being able to independently find my debut solo album “The Perfect Tehn” later this year.
What advice would you like to give to up and coming musicians?
1. See the art in your business and nurture it. We are all creative beings.
2. Learn the business of your art and apply it. We all have to eat.
Who is your female celebrity crush in Zimbabwe?
Malaika Mushandu, Miss Zim 2011. I adore her, not just for her beauty but for how well she represented our nation on the world stage. So yea, her