One of my happiest discoveries doing the yearly RapReviews UK month was Kate Tempest’s 2014 album “Everybody Down.” It is an impressive mix of poetry and hip-hop that mostly lives up to its ambitions.It remains one of my favorite hip-hop albums of the past few years, in part because it is so different from anything else out today.
Her follow up, “Let Them Eat Chaos,” is a continuation of the formula she used on “Everybody Down”: storytelling poetry over electronic beats. Tempest has refined her craft, working with a less unwieldy story that adapts even better to the song format than the somewhat convoluted narrative of “Everybody Down.” There are fewer awkward info-cramming bars, fewer characters to keep track of, and less plot to have to drive forward. Instead, she tracks seven characters living on the same block, and their intertwining lives.
“Let Them Eat Chaos” is a poem set to music, but it doesn’t feel like it has been forced into its hip-hop incarnation. It works just as well as a piece of music as it does as a book of poetry, and the delivery adds a lot to Tempest’s words. She’s a good rapper, finding a comfortable flow with her words that never loses the rhythm no matter how intricate the rhymes are.Even the spoken-word interludes (like “Brews”) don’t slow the album down. She could be rapping about nothing and it would sound good. Thankfully, she’s not rapping about nothing.
“Let Them Eat Chaos” is more subdued musically than “Everybody Down.” There are some uptempo numbers, but they aren’t as banging and there are more quiet moments in between. That isn’t to the album’s detriment, however. Even if the beats aren’t loud, Tempest’s impassioned delivery ensures that you won’t be falling asleep. “Let Them Eat Chaos” captures the ennui and uncertainty that strikes early in the morning. Her seven protagonists are struggling with trying to find meaning in their lives, surrounded by a backdrop of global uncertainty and chaos. Tempest does an excellent job of juxtaposing everyday struggles with larger political and economic concerns, like the woman trying to party anxiety away on “Europe Is Lost”:
“I feel the cost of it pushing my body
Like I push my hands into pockets
And softly I walk and I see it, this is all we deserve
The wrongs of our past have resurfaced
Despite all we did to vanquish the traces
My very language is tainted
With all that we stole to replace it with this
I am quiet
Feeling the onset of riot
Riots are tiny though
Systems are huge
Traffic keeps moving, proving there’s nothing to do
‘Cause it’s big business baby and its smile is hideous
Top down violence, a structural viciousness
Your kids are dosed up on medical sedatives
But don’t worry about that, man, worry about terrorists”
While Tempest does an excellent job of capturing the desperation of everyday life, “Let Them Eat Chaos” is hopeful. Her characters are never caricatures, but instead feel fully lived and realized. Despite the depressing subject matter, the album ends with the characters finding community with one another. As she pleas at the end of the intense “Tunnel Vision,”
“The myth of the individual
has left us disconnected, lost, and pitiful
I’m out in the rain
It’s a cold night in London
And I’m screaming at my loved ones to wake up and love more
I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more”
“Let Them Eat Chaos” is another fantastic album by an incredible talent.