This Speech Debelle article was written by Fraisia Dunn, a GIGsoup contributor
In 2009 we were one year off of a general election, right in the middle of the credit crunch and music was just about getting interesting again. The news that the Mercury Music Award 2009 was won by a young female rapper from south London came as a surprise, especially given that she shared her nomination with acts such as Florence and the Machine, Kasabian and Bat for Lashes. Her award sadly did not translate into album sales, unlike Elbow, who won in 2008 and saw their album sales skyrocket for ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, or The xx who achieved an increase in sales of 450% after winning in 2010.
Aside from the better known albums of the 2009 nominations there are some gems that are worth revisiting. The Invisible’s eponymous work is refreshing, experimental and detailed, Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s fractured sample-folk is still new sounding and the folk and jazz contributions from Lisa Hannigan and Led Bib respectively are worth a listen.
However, Speech Debelle’s lyrical hip hop, featuring special guests such as Roots Manuva and Micachu and the Shapes was pleasingly personal and political, strong and tender and intricate. The record opens with melting tones of a lone acoustic guitar in ‘Searching’- the drum kicks in and Speech rapidly, emotionally tells us about her life- being homeless in a hostel. The guitar becomes lullaby-like adding a human dimension to her situation.
All of the instrumentation on the record is precise, beautiful, jazz filled and inventive. This is shown off in the next track ‘The Key’ with a clarinet line that fits in impeccably with the laid back drums. In ‘The Key’, Debelle moves into a more political realm- but it is still personal- the poetry is easy and flowing- the chorus of “Overstanding is the key” is playful, accessible and clever, as is the line” …till you’re blue in the teeth”; this mixture of two maxims describes in a line what would take most a sentence.
‘Speech Therapy’ captures the moment in Speech Debelle’s life when she decided to go for it, to tell us all about her fears, strengths, worries and hopes of being a young person trying to make it in the 21st century. ‘Spinning’, which was used in the 2012 Olympic Games, captures this perfectly, the upbeat pizzicato violins, the youthful voices in the chorus and the sunny trumpet line along with the salty, optimistic lyrics point it towards being a hit.
As she explains in the final track, ‘Speech Therapy’, “This is speech therapy, man, this isn’t rap”. This album is truly fresh, the positive attitude and sheer strength of Speech Debelle makes it an inspiring and exciting album. When the precise instrumentation is added to this mix with a dose of experimentation and with hard-hitting guests, the album that emerges is well worthy of a Mercury Award. This record was definitely heads and shoulders above the other nominations in 2009 and demands to be listened to again.