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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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The nominations are, apparently:

Friendly FiresFriendly Fires

Sweet Billy PilgrimTwice Born Men

Speech DebelleSpeech Therapy

Florence and The MachineLungs

Kasabian West Rider Lunatic Pauper Asylum

Led Bib Sensible Shoes

The InvisibleThe Invisible

La Roux La Roux


Bat For LashesTwo Suns

Lisa HanniganSee So

The Horrors Primary Colours

Who should win? Speech Debelle, obvs. Who will win? La Roux. We’ll see! We made a list of albums we thought would be on the list in the office, and got 8 out of 12. Pretty good, yep?

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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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