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Congratulations Speech Debelle

Now, we may not have been right in our prediction, but boy are we pleased that Speech Debelle was selected to win this year’s Mercury Music Prize for her superb debut album, Speech Therapy. PM was at the launch of the album in Madame Jojo’s earlier in the year (thanks for the beer tokens, Big Dada records) and even as early as that it was clear that the record was unique at its inception.

Congratulations etc.

You can read PM’s review of the album here and here, and our initial (brief) predictions here. There will now, no doubt, be countless observations of how, in actual fact, this isn’t so challenging as an album and therefore not worthy of such a win. It’s not supposed to be challenging, it’s supposed to be good – and it is. You’d do well to find someone who tells their stories so sensitively and, more to the point, who quietly opposes the conventional notions of females in hip-hop. Her vulnerabilities, masked by bald cheek, are at the fore and make for a deeply satisfying album that, musically, is tremendous fun as well.  So, anyone with reactionary opinions that decry the record as merely being accessible hip-hop must consider exactly why that might be a good or a bad thing, and re-apply said opinion.

Juice Aleem for next year’s prize.

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Juice Aleem – Jerusalaam Come

Juice Aleem – Jerusalaam Come (Big Dada)

juice aleem

If there’s one furious expression that works every time in hip-hop, particularly in British hip-hop, it’s the continual decrying of futile, facile popular culture. In some ways, the obviousness of these targets – the overpaid, the artistically insincere – can detract from the impact of the lyrics, but nothing quite hits home like raw, incensed talent verbally shitting on inferiors. A childish, impish and self-defeating exercise it may be, but boy, that’s entertainment. So when Juice Aleem rips mercilessly into the likes of Jamie Oliver and premier league footballers on the deadly funny Higher Higher, it’s hard not to be moved, such is his vehemence and righteous disgruntlement.

Juice Aleem, with his gusto and fuego, is a shocker, a true verbal wit and one whose grasp of balance and weight in his sentences is expert. A fixation with the unjust and with righting wrongs provides the majority of inspiration here, but it is never tempered by ill-informed ranting. When, on the opening First Lesson, he attacks those less nimble of tongue than he, it is not so much as a protestation as a telling-off. Something about this man screams authority, dexterity and clarity. Even the roundabout beats and chugging bass motifs are rendered moot by the precise ramblings of this masterful learning curve of a track.

Amongst all the righteousness and upstanding biblical reference, Aleem still finds time for that old staple of the hip-hop canon, the sex anthem. U4Mi unsurprisingly takes a distinctly more refined look at the bedroom conundrum – this is no Wildflower – and is therefore something of a curio. It does not have the satisfying grunt of male dominance so often prevalent in this typical song form, but it does push the value of sexual respect and attempts to find beauty in the whole concept. Above all else, Aleem seeks to sideline expectation, battering existing memes and surprising as much as possible. Even if it means softening a traditionally beefy issue.

Most impressive of all, though, is the rich description given to the protagonist in The Killer’s Tears. A solemn and wholeheartedly depressing re-telling of a story that would fit on an early Wu Tang release, the violence is illuminated by the beautiful evocations, rather than having blind violence providing cheap shocks. With deeper analysis comes deeper appreciation, and lines like “silently he moved, though his sword was heard to roar,” are weighty enough to ensnare even the most casual of listeners. Crucially, the lyrics work off the record as well as on – this is a story worth hearing even if one can’t stomach the beats. Time and time again, Aleem proves that his hard work and his controlled (but relentless) anger make for the most enjoyable of musical treats.

Throughout Jerusalaam Come, Juice Aleem proves that Big Dada’s current stable of hip-hop artists is among the strongest in the world, British or otherwise. Alongside stalwarts like Anti-Pop and newbies like Speech Debelle, the future of intelligent hip-hop seems in safe hands for now. For the restless, bashing rhinoceros in that stable, look no further than Juice Aleem.

This is out on Big Dada on August 3rd. More here.

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Anti-Pop Consortium – Apparently

Anti-Pop Consortium – Apparently (Big Dada)

antipop

This free download from Anti-Pop Consortium’s forthcoming album (PM has a copy, watermarked and personalised…) assembles their tenets perfectly. Apparently is wormy and by no means immediate, even though it’s got a monstrous hook. Only brains as warped as those in APC could make such a feature of their relaxed intelligence, and they collectively trip over themselves in their rush to recline, all in an agreeably brief timescale of two and a half minutes.

That they’ve elected not to polarise their famed clinical deliveries with emotive subject matters makes the whole song deliciously ‘other’. The undulating free-forms of lyrics preoccupied with Blackberries and HD are simultaneously machined and enveloping, a quiet and malevolent mix that provides tremendous accentuation to the Kraftwerk-esque robotics of the hook… all you need to do is repeat “APPARENTLY” like one of Johnny 5’s compadres from Short Circuit and you’ve got it down. The album, Fluorescent Black, looks to be totally ingenious.

This is, according to the press release, going to be TOTES FREE for download from Amazon and the Ninja Tune site. I’ve just looked on Amazon, and yep. BANG.

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Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy (Big Dada) speech debelle

Speech Debelle’s genesis has been one defined entirely by herself, and one that purposefully eschews any conventional notions of lay-dee hip-hop. There’s little hardship and none of it is glamorised, the music is only harsh when it needs to be and, most importantly, Debelle’s dizzying lyrical constructs provide fulfilment and intrigue. Opener Searching is a delicately brushed entrance, all sighing acoustica, dripping with yearning and hunger. As a description of her time in grotty London hostels, it’s desperate, beautiful and the total opposite of Lisa Maffia. “I’m surrounded by cats, filthy cats, sitting on steps with cat-sized rats”, she quietly wails, never becoming self-pitying. Later, the texture of the song changes only to accommodate talk of arguments and pressures, sudden shuffling snare replacing the lilt of before. When that lilt returns, maturity and knowledge of timbral shifts is totally evident.

Better Days features a grumpy contribution from avant-upstart Micachu, with well-measured strings offset by Speech’s tales of urban tedium, not being able to get to the gym, missing her mum, that kind of thing. It’s a potent contrast to have Micachu guest on the song – where she is gruff, almost mumbled in her diction, Debelle enunciates with cracking clarity, accent intact. Even further, Micachu’s mumblings almost border on the existential while Debelle’s hyper-realism grounds the song with another obvious but essential balancing point. Lead single The Key serves as another whimsical argument against the postures of commercial hip-hop, delightfully buoyant with chorusing clarinets and a frenetic narrative about childish grudges and standing up to slappers. All the time the listener spends in Speech’s company, they are lulled by the sound and slapped by the content.

On Daddy’s Little Girl, we reach something of an emotional centrepoint. This is the closest thing on the whole of Speech Therapy to other, more trodden areas of British hip-hop. Despite the familiarity of the tale, the obvious honesty carries it totally and, because of all the inventiveness showcased beforehand it comes across as a worthy letter to a confusing figure. Best of all, Debelle involves the listener in the album process. We hear her mental struggle to complete her opus on Finish This Album, and in it discover that our Speech has to work hard to be as good as this, and that we might have to wait some time for a return. It’ll be worth it. With lyrics so accomplished, entertaining and labyrinthine as these to be matched with well-measured, anti-bravado beats and textural sensitivity it’s difficult not to see a bright future for Speech Debelle.

Speech Therapy is out on Monday June 1st, and PM is off to the release party tomorrow night. We’re hoping for one of those round table, candle on each table, gently clicking instead of applause affairs. Like those BBC1 Sessions where Paul Simon makes the middle-aged weep. Anyway, have a listen to Speech Debelle here. You can also see this review here.

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Speech Debelle – The Key

Speech Debelle – The Key (Big Dada)

 Speech Debelle

South London’s Speech Debelle is, having been defined by her very name, a shocking, brutal and beautiful lyricist. With The Key, she manages to blend with innocence and ease the bravura that plagues male-dominant hip-hop with jazzy freewheeling and the lightest of musical atmospheres. Gently, she pokes at the showmanship of peers, but never at the expense of her point – “Ovastanding is the key!”

Clarinet lines melt into one another (it’s most satisfying to hear the clack of the keys and pads) while string bass and rock-hard kick make for a surprisingly breezy arrangement, but it’s Debelle’s charming messages and knack for a turn of phrase that will linger longest. The whole thing has the air of Charlie Brown being given a talking-to by a hooded good Samaritan, but obviously much better than that sounds. Constant intrigue and, above all, fun.

Find out more about Speech Debelle hereThe Key is released via Big Dada on March 9th.

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