What do you have in mind when you hear the word rap? Certainly not somebody like Kate Tempest. The British spoken word artist who will come to Hamburg by the end of November is definitely no stereotypical rapper. She has published poetry and is a playwright commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Whether Kate Tempest deserves to be compared to Julia Engelmann remains questionable. This year, she has released her first album as a solo artist Everybody down. In her lyrics, she draws from greek mythology (Icarus) and William Blake. However, RZA from the Wu Tang Clan has had a crucial impact on her work, too. She has a working class background and dropped out of school at the age of 14 to work in record stores. Her album Everybody Down (which was released this year) accompanies the protagonist Becky in twelve songs, all of which can be considered chapters of one narrative. Some of them, like “Theme from Becky”, or “The Beigeness” work as individual songs, others can only be appreciated in the context of the whole album.
Becky is a student who works as a waitress and masseuse, but the lyrics also describe numerous side characters which Tempest juxtaposes in dialogues. Tempest’s technique sounds rather sophisticated, yet her lyrics are as simplistic and as plausible as street art tags: “Wages are fucked and rent is outrageous/Life’s to be lived not agreed with (Theme from Becky)” or “It is true if you believe it/ the world is the world but it is all how you see it/ one man’s flash of lightning ripping through the air/ is another’s passing glare (Marshall Law).”
What makes Tempest so intriguing is the combination of highbrow and lowbrow in her work. She gets her inspiration and her authenticity as an artist from her experience on the street, yet avails herself of her knowledge of canonic literature retrieved in higher education. It remains to be seen how Tempest performs her work on stage, whether she sticks to the order of the album or changes the chronology of the different chapters. Judging from her videos, the audience is in for an exceptional experience. In the many videos that exist of Tempest’s performances as a spoken word artist and rapper, she performs with a force and presence which has not long been seen. In hip hop, there is a thin line between an artist’s awareness of his own message and awkwardness. As opposed to some other hip hop artists, Tempest has not crossed that line so far- and hopefully never will.
When? November 27, 7 pm
How much? 13,90
by Britta Böhm, picture copy right Isabelle Adam via flickr
While writing this article, Britta listened to Ezra Furman.