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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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