Soundtrack Of My Life: Kae Tempest

London hip-hop poet, former Smurfs superfan

The first song I remember hearing

Tracy Chapman – ‘Crossroads’

“My mum was a big Tracy Chapman fan and she had the ‘Crossroads’ album when it came out. I think I’d have been about four. This is the first song on the album and it just makes me feel really warm when I think about it. Something about her voice and the musicality of the acoustic guitar and drums, it’s just so lush and rich-sounding.”

The first song I fell in love with


Michael Jackson – ‘Smooth Criminal’

“It must have been a Michael Jackson song, because I was crazy about Michael Jackson. It’s just a hard thing to talk about now. It probably would have been ‘Smooth Criminal’ or ‘Man In The Mirror’ because I loved the ‘Bad’ album, but I really loved [follow-up album] ‘Dangerous’ too. I remember watching his ‘Moonwalker’ video every single day when I got home from school and fully believing he could turn into a car. At that age I just thought he was this really advanced being.”

The first album I bought

The Smurfs – ‘The Smurfs Go Pop!’

“This is pretty shocking I know, but I remember having this album on tape. It was kind of The Smurfs singing and rapping and… yeah, I was really into it. I wish I could say my first album was ‘Jagged Little Pill’ by Alanis Morissette, which I got into soon after, but sadly I think I had ‘The Smurfs Go Pop!’ first.”

​​The first gig I went to


Jah Shaka Sound System – Brixton Recreation Centre, 1998

“I think I must have been to a gig before this, but this is the one where I can remember going and thinking ‘this is incredible’. I’d never seen anything like it and I’d never heard music so loud before. It was just a really beautiful and amazing experience.”

The song I wish I’d written

Grace Jones – ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’

“It’s just the best song. Would I ever try to cover it? No, I’ll just bow my head in reverence from afar because I don’t think I’ve got much to offer this song. I do have an aspiration to cover Grace Jones‘ ‘Private Life’ though, because I love that song too. Lyrically it’s brilliant.”

The song I can no longer listen to

Whitney Houston – ‘Step By Step’

“This is a tough one to say because I love this song. But my ex-partner loved this song so much and I’ve got really clear memories of them singing their heart out to it. So unfortunately I can’t really listen to it now without being taken back there, and that’s not really a memory I want right now.”

The song I want played at my funeral

Björk – ‘All Is Full Of Love’

“I love this song so much. And lyrically, what an incredible thing to put into a room full of people who are maybe feeling sad – well, hopefully feeling sad! It’s so beautiful and comforting and calming and I love the way it kind of opens up, so it feels like the right choice.”

The song that reminds me of home

Bob Dylan – ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’

“My dad loved Bob Dylan when I was growing up and this song really takes me back to a particular time. It’s a song about old friends that you don’t see any more. Often after listening to this song, my dad would tell me a story about his life: people he used to know, things he used to get up to. My dad’s the kind of person who’s lived many times and he’s a great storyteller, so I associate this song with him getting into that nostalgic spirit and telling me something about himself that I really enjoyed hearing.”

The song that makes me want to dance

The Bug feat. Flowdan, Killa P – ‘Skeng’

“I love this song and I’ve got loads of memories of dancing to it at different points in my life. I used to be in this DJ crew called Welfare Unit. Well, I say DJ crew, I just stood around – I was the hype machine. Anyway, they would play this song so it really reminds me of fun times: friends, dancing and big loud sound systems.”

Kae Tempest’s new album ‘The Line Is A Curve’ is out now via Fiction

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