Review of Kate Tempest’s “Broken Herd”

I have been whispering this amongst friends for a while, but I figured I may as well formalise it. Kate Tempest is the most outstanding British emcee I have heard, period. Her live, spoken-word album “Broken Herd” is testament to this declaration.

For those who believe art should be more than mere escapism, Kate is pure gold. Her poetry starts from the gritty realism of London streets: “London is as London does and I hear London calling”. The transcendence offered is not merely to find beauty in the world as it is – the overriding message is to change the world as the present is gruesome, cold and indifferent. We – common humanity – have a capacity that far outreaches our current output and way of being. The drive of the album is to encourage us to attain our essence, to overthrow the shackles of capitalism that have alienated us from our core being “Just ‘cause we can’t see the bars, don’t mean we’re not in prison”. Kate’s position is humanistic in the essentialist mould “life is about getting back to what was given”, yet her poems distil this message into a potent form that has a universality that could never be attained in the academic world.

Hands down, Kate is one of the greatest emcees to have graced the mic in Britain. Her technical ability is among the best, switching flows effortlessly. Her lyrical content in unsurpassed in my eyes by any other rap artist I have heard. For a long time, I have argued that Hip-Hop is a modern form of poetry. Yet, no other emcee, to my mind, has made this as apparent as Kate Tempest. Kate unashamedly laces her verses with the wisdom of the great figures of literature, citing Sophocles, Beckett, Shakespeare, Joyce, Blake…among many others. If you want to learn how to write, “you must read”.  In The Becoming Kate cites “the Wu” as her inspiration. A mix of Wu-Tang clan and Blake may sound pretentious – but Kate is far from that. Maybe if one replaced the gritty, gravelly London accent that courses through her prose with a middle-class plumy accent one would judge her differently. But it is the eloquence of her words, her construction of sentences, her ability to sum up a feeling amongst the youth in a matter of utterances that makes Kate one of the voices of my generation. I write this, not because I agree with what she says. In fact, philosophically, I am poles apart from Kate at points. Her poems are awe-inspiring, not simply because they pick up upon a message that needs to be told, not because they conform to an agenda, but because they are brutally honest – stripping off the pretence and offering one unrefined, articulate, intelligent, motivating prose that will awake all with an open mind to a world that we have been socialised into and/or too lazy to confront.

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