Kate Tempest is the best rap lyricist you’ve never heard.
It’s a bold statement, and I’m generally averse to anything described with the words “spoken word poetry” (Saul Williams being the lone exception) but Kate Tempest’s album “Everybody Down“ grabbed me by the throat in the first 15 seconds and would not let go.
Now I can’t get enough.
With a background as a playwright and poet (she’s been awarded the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry for her work, Brand New Ancients) Tempest’s strength lies in her mastery of language. “Everybody Down“ is so rich in detail that listening to it feels more like the experience of reading a novel or watching an IMAX film than listening to a collection of songs.
The album is, in fact, structured like a novel with each track acting as a new chapter. In the first track, “Marshall Law“, we’re quickly introduced to our protagonist, Becky, who’s feeling a little out of place at a party where “everybody has a hyphenated second name.” From there, we set off on a narrative loosely set around Becky, Pete (her suitor/boyfriend), Harry the coke dealer and a host of minor characters in their orbit.
Okay, you’re probably thinking, that’s great and all but what does it sound like?
Well, you can stream the entire album here and some highlights below; if you’re still waiting for me to describe it to you, in short:
Kate Tempest doesn’t really sound like anything else. Sure, you can hear traces of The Streets’ cockney talk/rap delivery, the plutonian gloom of El-P’s older work, Slick Rick’s knack for storytelling — but Tempest is working off of a template uniquely her own.
“Everybody Down” is Kate Tempest’s debut album and it’s a release that commands your attention throughout its 48 minute runtime.
It’s not for everyone, but if you can allow yourself to get immersed in it, it’s one of the most rewarding album listens of the year.