Tems review, Born in the Wild: Sprawling debut proves Nigerian star is in it for the long haul


“You know I keep it steady,” Tems croons on new track “Get It Right”. The Nigerian star, 28, stays true to her word on her debut album, Born in the Wild – a smooth ride through hazy, brooding songs crafted in her signature Afrobeats sound.

Four years since she broke through with “Try Me”, the ballad to destructive love that she self-produced while studying economics in South Africa, the artist born Temilade Openiyi is resolutely confident in her own allure. No surprise, really, when a chance encounter with Adele ended with the British star serenading Tems with her own song. Drake and Rihanna are fans, too.

In contrast to her warm, freewheeling vocal delivery, Tems’ lyrics demonstrate an impatience for toxic time-wasters. Many of the songs here serve either as gospels to follow or warning shots to those who might want to bring her down. She’s assertive on “Wickedest”, reminding herself of her own power while reflecting on the early days of her success: “Yeah I’m the one got the scene banging/ And I go hard that’s why they keep talking/ Three years and I’m only just getting started.” A playful nod to 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” compounds her rap flow on late standout “T-Unit”, while she keeps it light with R&B and Latin inflections on J Cole collaboration “Free Fall”.

Elsewhere, her teenage love of British pop singer Kate Nash filters through on “Boy O Boy”. Over a simple acoustic riff, Tems sighs her exasperation with a lover in meandering, stream-of-consciousness fashion: “Sometimes I want to strangle you.” The languorous and dreamy “Ready” plays out over little clusters of percussion and sultry thrums of bass. Famous fans will be enamoured by “Burning”, on which Tems touches on the trappings of celebrity with a sweetly plaintive innocence. It’s a recurring theme – if also unsurprising, given the velocity with which her star has ascended. But as confident as she sounds, the musician still welcomes the advice of friends and family, such as on the album interlude “Voices in My Head”.

A debut this assured is rare but, then, Tems evidently is an all-or-nothing kind of artist. Just as her lyrics show her turning away from romantic distractions (she craves real connection), so, too, do her songs make it clear that she’s in it for the long haul. And after a month of headline-dominating pop releases that seemed to disappear almost as dramatically as they arrived (Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande, for example), Tems has put out a record that could outlast them all.