It’s been a while since we last saw an honest but gutsy female rapper – Lady Sovereign was good but she should’ve kept away Jay-Z. But lo and behold here we have a new rising phenomenon and Mercury Prize nominee Speech Debelle, who has created a startling “anti-hip hop” hip hop debut album.
The Brits have always had a way with innovating American music. In the 60s, bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones exported rock n roll blues back to the Yanks. The Sex Pistols in the 70s ripped off The Ramones and NY Dolls but added sheer anarchy into the chaotic equation. And, from the 80s to the current noughties, rap and hip hop have been infused with crude electronic dance music in underground London basements.
What sets Speech Debelle apart from the Brit rap/hip hop competition is that the young 26-year-old’s lyrics are both extremely personally and harsh but they don’t come out as forced. Even the music that goes with her outspokenness is surprisingly soothing with a mixture of dubstep, reggae, funk, trip hop and other genre-benders. And there’s room for experimentation with current-fave pop weirdo Micachu, featured on one of Speech’s standout tracks ‘Better Days’.
Whether is about her absent dad or the ‘Bad Boy’ (“He’s made a couple G selling weed and selling E’s / He’s got a deadbeat Dad who beats his Mum real bad / His Mum sits home all day drinking and smoking fags / He’ll probably do jail time / If he makes it to 25”), Speech has got it nailed down. Tight. It’s not all soul searching; Speech has also got a talent for pointing out the poignant and funny details of everyday life (“For every Malcom X / There’s a President Bush”).
With an all live production instead of sampled beats, the ethereal instruments breathe fresh air into this non-conventional hip-hop record. It hits hard when it has to and slows down just enough to lure you in. Speech Therapy is right up there with Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation… and Missy Elliot’s Miss E …So Addictive. This is not going to be the most commercially successful rap album of the year, but it will certainly have a cult following for eons to come. Eat that, Kanye!
Get some Speech Therapy at all good record stores. Get the word on Speech Debelle at www.myspace.com/speechdebellemusic.