Release Date: Aug 18, 2009
Record label: Big Dada
A couple of months before the UK release of her first album, Speech Therapy, before she received a surprise Mercury Prize nomination, Speech Debelle mused on Twitter, "There are some white people in the music business who think im not black enough... lol". No shit: Even in a "post-race" world, street sells. Certain British journalists predictably pounced on lyrics about a period in Debelle's late teens idled among London's demimonde of crack mums and minor crooks, spinning a tiny bit of flash into blinding bling.
Speech Debelle more than has her work cut out for her. First and foremost, she’s a woman trying to make it in the rap game, which we all know is not the easiest battle. Most female rappers propelled into the mainstream find themselves there either because of their connections or for how little clothing they wear—or, in the case of Lil’ Kim, a combination of both.
There's something intriguing about Speech Debelle, with a voice both husky and sweet, and a back story that's emotive if unclear (she spent time living in south London hostels as a teen after a split with her family, perhaps over her refusal to get a job). What's more, the music on her debut, craftily produced in the main by Wayne Lotek, is acoustic, jazz-inspired and, on songs like Spinning, quite beautiful; not something that can be said too often about debut UK hip-hop albums. Consider Debelle's couplets for too long, however, and they can start to seem platitudinous: "Things must get better/Because after every storm comes good weather" on Live and Learn is a typical example.
Born to a middle-class South London Jamaican family, Speech Debelle’s genesis has been one defined entirely by herself, purposefully eschewing 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. ‘Searching’ - the opening track on debut album Speech Therapy - is a delicately brushed entrance, all sighing acoustica, dripping with yearning and hunger.
I’ll go ahead and spoil the whole thing for you: in the 51.7 minute entirety of Speech Therapy, nobody gets shot. There are no signature dance moves, no area code shoutouts, and you probably can’t purchase any of these songs as a ringtone. The MC only has one tattoo and it’s of a music note curled up around some dumb colloquialism. She routinely says the word “mum,” in what sounds like an endearing sort of way.