Not many people ask me this, but if they did ask me who I’d most like to be able to write like it would probably be Kate Tempest: performance poet, novelist, rapper and the first winner of the Ted Hughes Award who is under 40 years old.
It would be foolish to say that she doesn’t sound like anyone else: I can’t think of any artist, whether author, musician or anything else that hasn’t had some kind of influence and context. In Kate’s case she has influences in the British rapping scene from Mike Skinner of the Streets to Roots Manuvah to Wiley (the latter two also being on her label Big Dada). To my ears she has most in common with Mike Skinner, Frank Ocean and John Cooper Clarke insofar as she tells a narrative story that invokes a view of the world that is immediately recognisable, contains people with human failings, but also suggests at that side of life where there is danger and moral confusion.
Her latest album, Everybody Down is like an album length novel with each of the twelve tracks like a chapter in a novel, and one with voices that feel real and genuine, with Kate’s South London rap set against a percussive beat that is less abrasive than that of, say, Dizzee Rascal’s early Grime beats and different again to the J Dilla loops of American Hip Hop.
But what I most like is her ability to capture in not very many words and with a rhythm that appeals to my taste in music, the inner landscapes of her characters and the social context in which they operate. The characters aren’t mere ciphers and the landscape isn’t a mere backdrop.
On the other hand, don’t expect me to ever be able to produce poetry or even prose like Kate’s. Her style is not easily emulated and could so easily sound like a pale copy if I should ever try…