A handful of words often tell you everything you need to know. When asked, who is Kate Tempest? She gives a brief, albeit telling answer…
“Kate Tempest is the words,” she responds.
For a woman whose public life remains rooted in poetic magnetism, five words serve as an apropos summation. Yet, her actions beg you to surmise so much more.
That’s because you haven’t ever seen, heard, or experienced anyone quite like her. Tempest uncovers the missing link between the Golden Ages of literature and hip-hop. The London-born BRIT Award-nominated spoken word artist, rapper, poet, novelist, and playwright rhymes with a century-turning fury. Since her emergence in 2011, she has redefined what it means to be a wordsmith in the Modern Age. To date, she has published three poetry collections, staged three plays, and released two studio albums—Everybody Down (shortlisted for the 2014 Mercury Prize), and Let Them Eat Chaos (shortlisted for the 2017 Mercury Prize). Along the way, she entranced audiences on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NPR’s “Tiny Desk,” and more. Not to mention, she garnered widespread critical acclaim from The New York Times, The New Yorker, Forbes, and more, to name a few.
In the midst of this whirlwind journey, she performed a passage of her popular 75-minute narrative poem, Brand New Ancients, on Charlie Rose. Legendary producer and American Recordings founder Rick Rubin caught the show, tracked down her phone number, and made a call. This set a series of events in motion that led to her 2019 debut for American, The Book of Traps and Lessons.
However, she took a bit of a creative detour to get there by releasing Let Them Eat Chaos first.
“We were trying to find the right tone for The Book of Traps and Lessons,” she admits. “The demos were great, but they weren’t right for what we wanted to do together. So, we put The Book of Traps and Lessons on hold and made Let Them Eat Chaos instead. We couldn’t have made this record without making Let Them Eat Chaos. We couldn’t have made Let Them Eat Chaos without trying to make The Book of Traps and Lessons.”
Along the way, the producer pushed Tempest into new territory. Over the course of five years since their initial call, her process markedly evolved. She increased the attention to detail and working with Dan Carey, she developed an enriched perspective that would invariably inform the entire body of work.
“Rick has such an intense ear that when he listens to you, you hear things in your own work that you had no idea were there—both strengths and weaknesses,” she explains. “He encouraged me to look for the ‘essential’ in my own practice, to turn everything that wasn’t integral down, and get closer to the core of things. Dan and I generated a lot of demos finding what he was looking for—this freedom from the beat. When we had the breakthrough, it was intense. I just felt elation. ‘Hold Your Own’ was the first song that really made sense to us. That helped to determine the direction of the whole thing. My vision for the album as a whole, thematically, came into being after the vision for the album as a form, which is the first time I’ve made music that way.”
As a result, the tracks comprise a narrative thread. Intentionally cryptic and often obtuse, her delivery lights a fire on the opener “Thirsty” that burns brightly through the conclusion “People’s Faces.” Meant to be listened to as a suite in one sitting, it never explains “what is hopefully implicit,” but rather encourages and provokes a gut reaction in the most unexpected manner—via “the words.”
Ultimately, she fosters a lasting connection in between those words.
“I hope that people feel connected,” she leaves off. “I hope they connect with the work, and that this connection enables them to connect with themselves, and that this connection encourages a deeper connection to others. It might sound like high hopes. At this stage in the game, you have to know your motives. Otherwise, why even try?”