This is an extract from the latest slice of insight and brilliance on the High Profiles website, as Simon Jones talks to Kate Tempest …
You quote William Blake at the start of all your books and he seems to me to be a presence on almost every page you write. When did you first encounter him?
I was about 20. Maybe earlier, but that was when I discovered him on my own terms. It was The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and it just absolutely, like, rang me like a bell. It just shook me. To read things like ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ is very useful for a 20-year-old, you know? ‘Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.’ At that time, that was exactly the validation I needed to be throwing myself in the directions I was throwing myself in.
I was desperately trying to make it as a rapper, a writer, and nobody was listening and, you know, Blake had this visionary, prophetic, unarguable genius but he was dismissed as a madman and a drunk, nobody gave a fuck about him. And it gave me this kind of righteousness about the idea that you have to really struggle and no one’s listening and it’s OK. It just felt so exhilarating and comforting and I just – I just saw him all the time, in everything.
Blake is a man with a clear moral purpose and a moral vision. Is that something that you –?
Yeah. And [it’s] also so… concrete. The whole underpinning of his philosophy is unshakeable. When you consider what he must have been going through – like, coming home and being assaulted by these visions, seeing them 10-foot-high on his stairs, you know – [and yet] the bedrock of his work is this solid set of, yeah, morals or principles or ideas about the world that were so at odds with what was happening outside.
Do you feel driven by the same kind of moral purpose?
Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s in my work.
The idea of, like, a moral framework and a moral urge exists really strongly in hip-hop and that had a massive effect on me, I think – even before I was rapping [myself]. There was this distinction between rappers who had something to say – that’s how we would describe them: ‘That guy’s saying something’ – and [those who were] kind of boasting about their sexual exploits or, like, how much money they were making – or just talking shit, basically. The rappers who were ‘saying something’ – ‘knowledge rappers’ is another way that we described them – just absolutely kind of flooded my brain. There was a rapper called Klashnekoff, a guy called Roots Manuva and lots of others. Every time I’d listen to an MC [like that], it rang so true with me, it was very inspiring. I never really understood the drive to be any other kind of rapper.
So, somewhere between my childhood and teenage years, falling in love with the idea of music that expressed wisdom and then falling in love with William Blake much later and realising [that] the same thing was present in his work, you know…
This is an extract of an in-depth interview with Kate by Simon Jones currently free to view on the High Profiles website here. We thoroughly recommend subscribing to High Profiles for great content year-round for just £5.
Picture credit: Neil Gavin