'There Was More I Wanted To Say': Kate Tempest Turns Hit Album Into 'Bricks That Built The Houses' The rapper's debut album, Everybody Down, followed Becky and Harry, two Londoners struggling with love, work and drugs. Now her new book, The Bricks That Built The Houses, takes a look at their pasts.

'There Was More I Wanted To Say': Kate Tempest Turns Hit Album Into A Novel

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/477329398/477529403" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Millions of people have heard the story of Becky and Harry. These two characters are Londoners in their 20s. They're struggling with love, drugs, work. Their story runs through the hit album "Everybody Down."


KATE TEMPEST: (Rapping) Who's bad, said the the kiddy in the Jacko hat, to the kiddy in the Rooney shirt, dragging back the curtains in the room in her daddy's flat, a young girl heard the truth in an alley-cat, howling on the roof next door, imagine that...

SHAPIRO: Kate Tempest is the rapper here. She's become kind of a sensation, winning awards as a performer and as a poet. And now she's also a novelist. She's expanded the story of Becky and Harry into a book called "The Bricks That Built The Houses." Kate Tempest, welcome to the show.

TEMPEST: Thanks for having me on. It's good to talk to you.

SHAPIRO: So as they say, you started telling the story of Becky and Harry in a rap album. We're going to drop in a few tracks from that album into this conversation.


SHAPIRO: For people who don't know, just briefly describe who these two people are, Becky and Harry.

TEMPEST: Becky is a dancer. She makes her living as a waitress as well and she works as a masseuse, but she works in the kind of the shady end of that trade, shall we say, where she...


TEMPEST: ...She's an erotic masseuse, which she is absolutely fine with and comfortable with. She's made that decision and she uses it to support herself in pursuing her dream of becoming a dancer.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) Becky is a young woman, heart full of earth, eyes full of morning spent without sleeping, grew up in a city where it's hard to be heard and nothing really has much meaning.

SHAPIRO: And then there's Harry.

TEMPEST: Harry is a super cool human being who...

SHAPIRO: I love that you say super cool human being because you changed genders between the album and the book.

TEMPEST: Yeah, that happened. She's now a woman. She's very cool. Everybody in her life thinks that she works in recruitment but actually Harry is working very hard distributing cocaine to kind of media moguls and unsavory kind of celebrity types. She has also got a dream that she's chasing, which is that she wants to open up a kind of - a community space, a restaurant, a cafe, a kind of bustling Harborne Center of her place where she's from, South London.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) All I ever wanted was a place of my own, his eyes wide and trusting, he's staring at her, desperate for something to click. He is opening up. This is it, a real classy place, the whole bit...

SHAPIRO: Will you read a paragraph or two for us?

TEMPEST: Sure. (Reading) the city yearns and cracks the bones in her knuckles, sends a few lost souls spiraling out of control. A girl is digging through a skip with cold hands looking for copper piping. Another girl is at home reading. Another girl is sleeping deeply. Another girl is laughing in her friend's flat, getting her hair done. Another girl is in love with her girlfriend and lying beside her and feeling her breathing. Another girl is walking her dog around the park, tipping her head back to listen to the wind as it shouts in the trees.

SHAPIRO: Do you think when you're writing about whether the words are going to be consumed by the eye or the ear, whether you're writing for somebody to hear it spoken or read it on a page?

TEMPEST: That's an interesting question. I kind of think that all literature - all written words should be read aloud to really be understood.

SHAPIRO: Really?

TEMPEST: Yeah, I think so. I mean, that's a big ask because you're not going to sit down at home and read a whole novel out to yourself. But there will come lines or moments that you will just feel compelled to, as the reader, just read out loud, you know, just to kind of understand what that means or how that work. I feel like there is a moment when language lives and that is when it is read with the same kind of electricity and vigor as it's written with, you know? So the writer, the writing and the reader have to all be kind of burning at full volume and at high temperature in order for this kind of electrical current to surge between three points and create this living thing, which is literature when it really works.

SHAPIRO: You know, Kate Tempest, you have had this incredible rocket trajectory as an artist. And a lot of your praise mentions that you channel this kind of aimless disillusionment of a certain slice of young London life. And in this book, one of the characters says if he dies he would leave nothing behind him, no legacy, nothing of note. So now that you have a legacy, now that you are successful, now that you are touring the world, do you find it harder to channel that kind of anonymity and aimlessness that you've been so praised for?

TEMPEST: Well, no, not really. I mean, I wouldn't describe the people that I'm writing about as disillusioned. Like, I find them full of light and love actually and optimism. But that's not often how they're perceived when I begin to talk about them because their lives - their lives are difficult. But the thing is I've been working on this body of work for a long time - five or six years getting to end of this particular chapter. And now I feel like this novel is the last kind of gasp of me trying to get this thing out of me which is about where I grew up and still live, which is a changing place.

It's a kind of love song and it's an elegy. It's a celebration and it's a kind of scream of, like, despair. Like, it's all of these things. But I don't think that I will fall into this trap of running out of things to say or whatever because I'm still in the world. I still live. Just because I'm occasionally, like, in a tour bus doesn't mean I'm going to start writing about the perils of the road. It's like - I'm a living, breathing person who lives in a city full of people and life. And I'm affected very much by everybody that I pass, you know, in my daily life.

SHAPIRO: But it sounds like you're saying we may have seen the last of Becky and Harry and the others in this story.

TEMPEST: Yeah. I thought, like, I'm ready to kind of move on and meet some new characters and introduce you guys to some new characters. And if they come back - if they come back into my brain and ask to be told again, then I'm not going to tell them to get lost. I'll try and see what they've got to say, you know?

SHAPIRO: Well, I've enjoyed hanging out with these characters and look forward to meeting the new ones. And I've enjoyed hanging out with you. Thanks a lot.

TEMPEST: Thank you, nice one, and thanks for having me on the show.

SHAPIRO: Kate Tempest's novel is called "The Bricks That Built The Houses."


TEMPEST: (Rapping) You're so focused on finding the differences you ignore the bonds that bind us. Got my hand on my heart when the rhythm hits...

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.