THE BOOK OF TRAPS AND LESSONS: ALBUM REVIEW
I’ve heard Kae Tempest’s music described as many different things, but when someone told me last year that Tempest was their favorite rapper, I was completely caught off guard. My immediate reaction was to laugh. I had never even considered their music rap, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Tempest effortlessly flows in a way that can only be described as rapping, and everything about their style oozes respect for the genre. Tempest’s 2019 album, The Book of Traps and Lessons is a masterclass. It’s an incredibly detailed and poetic record that delves deep into despair but is ultimately driven by a feeling of profound hope and love.
The sound of Tempest’s voice is enough to elicit a profound reaction. When they speak you feel compelled to listen because each word they say carries power. When they proclaim “I came to / under a red moon / thirsty for water” on the opening track “Thirsty,” your mind is teleported. You can see every detail Tempest describes as if you were there with them, feeling the pain in their voice as they talk about the emptiness of friendship before finding purpose.
The Book of Traps and Lessons takes you through an incredible range of emotions. Some tracks, like “Firesmoke” are carried by a gentle rhythm and lyrics about love, while others, like “Keep Moving Don’t Move", feel darker and angrier. But the entire album is carried by the central theme of perseverance and love which comes through on every single track. For example, on “Keep Moving Don’t Move” Tempest angrily proclaims, “Let’s link arms / be prepared to go down with your ship,” while on “Firesmoke” Tempest says with equal conviction “this love comes to cleanse us and restore us and push us forward.” All over the project, Tempest reinforces the importance of self-belief.
On The Book of Traps and Lessons, Kae Tempest employs a variety of different flows to get their point across. Occasionally they spit rapid-fire over a drum loop and other times they choose to go completely acapella. Tempest has an incredible amount of control over their cadence, as their voice constantly rises and falls to fill any empty space. Tempest’s flow on The Book of Traps and Lessons is similar to billy woods', in the way they both accent and vocally highlight particular phrases and bars. They both often feel like they are coming in a bit early, always right on top of the instrumental.
“Hold Your Own,” one of the most powerful tracks on the project, is an ode to the human need for affirmation. On the track Tempest focuses on the battle between humans and the pressures society puts on us. They say,
This whole thing thrives on us feeling always incomplete And it is why we will search for happiness in whatever thing it is we crave in the moment And it is why we can never really find it there It is why you will sit there with the lover that you fought for In the car, you sweated years to buy Wearing the ring you dreamed of all your life And some part of you will still be unsure that this is what you really want
Tempest never feels preachy, it genuinely feels like they care about each individuals’ plight. The entire album is a collection of personal experiences and anecdotes, and throughout all of them, it is abundantly clear that Tempest empathizes with the universal feeling of incompleteness in life. Tempest isn’t telling you how to live your life, but they are telling you what helped them get through theirs.
The Book of Traps and Lessons is a breathtaking listen, a true palate cleanser. It's hard to describe Kae Tempest's music, but if you're looking for an album to help you through a time of turmoil, The Book of Traps and Lessons will work wonders.