Tems, R&B’s Golden Child, Dials In

When the ground began to shake, rocking her bed to-and-fro like a raft in a current, Temilade Openiyi briefly wondered if she was dreaming. It was a bright April morning and she was still jet lagged from a flight — 12 hours from Lagos, Nigeria, to New York. It seemed unlikely that her hotel could actually be vibrating. And yet there she was, eyes wide open, bobbing along with everything else in the room.

Openiyi, better known as Tems, had stopped on the East Coast on her way to Los Angeles, where she would soon begin rehearsals for her debut appearance at the Coachella music festival. It would be one in a swiftly multiplying series of firsts for the singer, songwriter and producer, whose music slides between R&B, pop and Afrobeats: her first album, “Born in the Wild,” due June 7 from RCA; its first single, the blissful party starter “Love Me JeJe”; her first headlining world tour, kicking off June 11. As far as milestones are concerned, a first earthquake was just another line in the tally.

Tems, a faithful Christian, believes none of it has been in her control. When the earthquake subsided (magnitude 4.8), she said a prayer thanking God for granting her another day.

“You can be planning your whole life and then something happens and it’s just done,” she said dryly, in an interview later that day. “You can control what you do, but you can’t control how life lifes.”

Tems said she has embraced life as a warrior. “Even if they cut your leg, you walk on your knees, you fight on your knees using what you have — and that’s good enough.”Credit…Erik Carter for The New York Times

It would be easy to attribute Tems’s vertiginous career trajectory to divine intervention. Since her appearance on the Afrobeats star Wizkid’s summer-conquering single “Essence” in 2020, she has become the first African artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (via “Wait for U,” a Future song also featuring Drake); won a Grammy for best melodic rap performance; and been nominated for an Oscar, for “Lift Me Up,” a song from the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” soundtrack that she co-wrote for Rihanna after the singer messaged her on Instagram saying she was “obsessed.” In 2022, Tems was a writer and performer on “Move” — also featuring Grace Jones — from Beyoncé’s “Renaissance,” confirming her status as one of the most in-demand and closely watched young artists in the world.

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