Tulisa On N-Dubz Comeback: ‘We Are A Lot More Passionate And Opinionated’

It’s the year 2006 and the British music scene is on fire. Lily Allen and Arctic Monkeys are the MySpace darlings of the industry, Amy Winehouse is on the verge of superstardom and Leona Lewis is week by week winning the nation’s hearts during the third season of The X Factor. Before we would even know it, an underground rap trio named N-Dubz were about to make their breakthrough and leave a long-lasting impression.

Made up of cousins Dappy and Tulisa Contostavlos and close friend Fazer, N-Dubz began to create buzz when their single “You Better Not Waste My Time” received heavy rotation on the now-defunct Channel U. The same British digital satellite TV program would also help launch the careers of Lady Sovereign, Dizzee Rascal, Skepta, and Chip, to name a few. As the singles releases continued, their fanbase rapidly grew and N-Dubz suddenly became an expected household name. Their debut album, 2008’s Uncle B, named after their former manager and Dappy’s father, scored seven singles, achieved double platinum status in their home territory, and won them a MOBO Award for Best Newcomer.

N-Dubz remained at the center of the spotlight with future endeavors, releasing more platinum albums, a number-one single, and a book while winning three more MOBO Awards, embarking on back-to-back nationwide tours and starring in their own documentary series before going on hiatus in 2011 to pursue their individual projects. 

11 years would pass before N-Dubz were ready to do it all over again. In May of last year, they announced their comeback single “Charmer” and a UK arena tour that proved to be in high demand. With even more single releases and the world still at their feet the second time around, the only thing that has been awaiting the threesome was another album. Finally, the wait is nearly over. Timeless, the group’s fourth studio album, will arrive on August 4 and is set to be followed up by another arena tour in 2024. 

Just days before its release, the female boss herself Tulisa spoke to EUPHORIA. about the creative process behind the new album, what territory she’d like the group to crack next, and what song she still never gets tired of performing.

Timeless is about to drop! How does it feel to be putting out another N-Dubz album after all these years?

So many emotions! Apprehensive, excited, nervous, and a little bit overwhelmed. I sometimes get too emotional about it, so I just have to detach. I’m like, it’s not really kicking in that it’s happening. 

How long have you been sitting on the final product?

The final product was done on a deadline. Half the framework I’d say was done two years ago. And then in the past year, the second half was completed and then the actual finalization was done in a two-month period, like late-night studio sessions, just going mad. I think there’s even one verse missing from Fazer’s because we just didn’t have the time to put it on there. It’s always the way, isn’t it? We’ve been there mucking about in the studio for six years and then it’s still late even on the deadline [laughs].

I saw on your Instagram Story where you explained that you had recorded some of the album in a studio where Michael Jackson had recorded his music. Were you aware of this going in?

We actually found out as we were going there. It was an amazing experience because the owners there, they got on with Michael really well and they actually had a backlog of unheard material. At the end of the trip, they actually brought us in and obviously took all phones away and stuff and let us listen to unheard Michael Jackson stuff. It was one of the most epic experiences ever. 

Was the decision to title the album Timeless unanimous?

We were all debating on others and we had our ideas, but it was actually Dappy that came up with Timeless and that was the one title that we could all agree on. It made sense because there was a lot of hype. We’d just come back off of tour and stuff and even though Daps had been saying, “Oh you know, we’re timeless, we’re timeless,” Aitch had come on stage with us and said, “N-Dubz are timeless,” so everything just kind of fit.

What were the other potential titles then?

Oh god, there were two of them. Back to the Future was one.

Wasn’t that the name of the tour in the end?

No, that’s where there was confusion. That name was floating around and it was said that the tour was called Back to the Future, but it actually wasn’t. The title I came up with was Retribution but that was me getting all a bit Resident Evil on everyone [laughs].

What was the dynamic like this time around during the album creative process?

I’d say a little bit more stressful because we are all very refined, strong-headed characters. Now we are older, we are refined in our art and what we do, so we are a lot more passionate and opinionated. What I found we did with this album is we worked together a lot more on the writing, whereas we might muck about or Dappy would start a hook and then I’d go off into a room, I’d write some stuff, and then come back in. We all sat in the room from the get-go and came up with everything bit by bit, all having our little input and even co-writing each other’s verses. It was a lot more family-orientated.

Since N-Dubz has a large live following and you recently performed on a nationwide arena tour, did you have the live shows in mind when creating this album?

Definitely. I mean, two of the songs only got made off the back of a freestyle on the November tour. There’s the breakdown bit where Fazer is on the piano and we’re singing “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” and “Best Behavior” and Daps came up with a little melody, “There’s just no place like London.” I came up with the harmony and then we ended up going back into the studio and turning that into a whole record. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album and the same with “The Lights,” we turned that into a record as well. This time, it actually worked the other way around as we were live on stage inspired to finish making the album.

I think “London” is my favorite too!

It’s becoming more and more of a favorite for me. Initially, for me, I’ve lived in London pretty much all my life aside from sort of stepping up to Hertfordshire a little bit, and then this year I kind of decided I wanted to move further up north, maybe to the Cheshire area. So I was like, “How am I gonna write a song about ‘there’s just no place like London’ when I’m moving further out [laughs]. But the more I hear it, regardless of loving being in London or not, because I’m not really a London person anymore, it’s just a smash. Like musically, sonically, it’s just incredible. It’s like a little masterpiece. And with every city we go to, we can just change the title.

Yeah, exactly! Is there a particular song that you never get tired of performing from the early days?

“Best Behaviour,” every time. It’s a real moment. You can get people to sing along but when you start singing “Love is all I need.” The crowd, the energy, and the atmosphere are just literally euphoric, it’s insane. I think it’s just one of those songs that everyone can relate to you. You’re always gonna have singletons in the crowd and you know, it’s a universal language, so everyone just gets really in their feelings, it’s really emotional. I’ve shed a couple of tears a few times performing it live. 

Hearing your verse in “Girls” is definitely always a moment!

It goes down a storm. “Girls” is another big one! It’s so hard to pick the records when going on tour. Me and Dappy always battle at that because he always wants the new stuff. I’m really an N-Dubz fan in N-Dubz, so I know what the hardcore fans want and there are certain times when he is like, “Wo we can cut that.” I’m like, “No, you can’t cut that verse out for them. They need that verse!” I’m always fighting for the nostalgic fans and then he fights to make it modern, but that’s what makes N-Dubz, N-Dubz, you know? 

How have you felt about the reception to the new music? You’ve received a warm response from the singles so far.

For me, I’m just excited for the album drop because the thing is, we’ve never been single sellers. If you look back at our entire history, we’ve always been album sellers. That’s what got us our status and our success. We’ve always got this really complex and diverse body of music going on. So even though we’ve been banging singles out, it’s all about the album. I feel like the reception has been great, but this is the moment that I’ve been waiting for, the album. This is when you’re really gonna know what people think of the new end of music because there’s gonna be songs on there for everyone and everyone will have their top three and different fans will have completely different lists to others because they’re so versatile. 

I think that’s where N-Dubz have really lucked out, especially in today’s day and age where albums have lost their value a little bit. You’re lucky to have always had fans who are interested in the songs past the ones they hear on the radio.

Exactly. And that’s what you wanna be realistically. Especially if you want longevity, you wanna be album sellers. You want people to buy into the brand, you know what I mean? Not just a single, because anyone can sell a single, and if people aren’t interested in anything past that particular song, there’s no longevity in it. So we’ve been very blessed to have that cult following that buy into every aspect of N-Dubz. I think that’s why we sell more albums than we do singles.

Did the dream of becoming stars become bigger than you ever imagined?

Do you know what, I was one of those manifesters. I believed my entire childhood that this is what I was gonna do. I believed it to the max. The only moment I had was, because we started when we were 11 we still hadn’t had any success yet when I was 17, I had a bit of a moment where I had a reality check, like, oh shit, this might not happen. And it was very brief, I’ll tell you, it was literally a period of three months where I went really down and up. I was like, “Oh shit, we’ve been doing this for how many years now.” And literally within that three months of me going down mentally it just went mad and I was like, “Nope, I knew it.” I’ve been blessed by that. And I do believe in the power of manifestation. I think if you really believe something and you have the vision, you’re more likely to get it.

N-Dubz are still reaching new milestones. There must be so much more you want to achieve.

A hundred percent. For me, it’s cracking into European territories and branching out. ’cause The only thing is with N-Dubz is that we have that cult following, it’s very British and British culture based. But you know, even back then, you listen to the music and it is universal. It’s pop and pop is the universal music. I think especially with this new album, if any of them have got the ability, this would be the one to do it. For me, the next step would be taking it outside of the UK.

And lastly, what are you hoping your fans will take away from the album when they hear it?

I hope every N-Dubz album gains a new N-Dubz follower. People will just feel inspired that there will be a song to fit that mood. Every day I have mood swings and for me, I’m one of those people, I just wanna listen to a song that I can relate to. If I can’t find a song on my nearest playlist, I just put on the N-Dubz album and there’s a song for every single mood. So I hope people can relate, feel inspired, or be cheered up on a certain day, or just hear a love song that relates to the situation and helps them get through it. I hope we can touch them through the music.