Come on now people it’s not rocket science. Why dismiss an artist or album altogether before you’ve even pressed play? Kate Tempest has been collecting critical acclaim as a spoken word artist, hand over fist for years but when she announced that she was releasing a Hip Hop album, some people were vocal in their criticism of Everybody Down.… Before a song had been heard and even though Open Mic battles is what set the lady on her way in the first place.
It’s immediately apparent that Mr Dan (M.I.A, Santigold, Mr Hudson) has created a unique, simmering landscape. Deep throbbing bass lines accompany pops, pings, knocks, bangs, clanks & glitches. While on songs like Theme From Becky and Chicken, some truly industrial, and somewhat eerie, synth work takes the helm. All of these elements are best showcasedwhen things come to a head on the supersonically moody closer, ironically titled Happy End. Although things get a little repetitive once or twice, with Everybody Down, Mr. Dan has afforded Kate a freedom that many MCs would be too daunted to make use of.
Kate makes ingenious use of that backdrop by taking us through the interwoven stories of three lonely souls with each song focusing on one at a time. Socialite parties, broken families, double crossed drug dealers, new found love and more all play out like a loosely scripted urban thriller, complete with the requisite club scenes, plot twists and semi-epic conclusion. It is all extremely well structured and some of the description driven narrative is genius. The nuance in Kate’s flow carries the same air that Mike Skinner had when he ruled the airwaves but Kate’s flow is far more universal.
However if You take into account Questlove’s recent paper on the current state, and dilution of Hip Hop, listening to Everybody Down does bring up some interesting questions. Does having an MC dropping gems on a song automatically make it Hip Hop? Where does Hip Hop end and other genres begin? Is Hip Hop in all its current guises evolution or the beginning of the end? Is any perceived mislabelling of newly formed genres as Hip Hop deliberate? And if so to what end? (Sorry, I digress)
Because of its relatively harsh soundscapes discounting this album after an initial skipping through of its tracklist would be easier than persevering for some. But like a slow burning drama on a Sunday afternoon this long player needs more attention to be fully appreciated. Innovative, genre mashing, involving, intricately descriptive and insightful, Everybody Down is probably the most original Hip Hop(?) Album I have listened to all year.