A Very Belated Speech Debelle Speech Therapy Review
The buzz on twitter and a few music orientated sites is that Speech Debelle is back with her second album. Rearing her head up from the parapet with Blaze Up a Fire a collaboration with Realism and the legendary, Roots Manuva, and no doubt boosted by London 2012 reworking her track Spinnin’, Debelle’s new album Freedom of Speech hits the electronic shelves in February 2012.
Her Mercury Music Prize winning debut album should have been a one way ticket to the Graham Norton Show. Instead it was followed by poorly reviewed live shows, insignificant record sales of 10,000 and a spat with Big Dada.
Notwithstanding any of this, Speech’s success that day was my success too, I had some money on her at 11/1. Owing Speech a debt for that little win, I recently logged onto Amazon and became the 10,001st owner of an album that shows off the more thoughtful and musical side of British rap.
The BBC called this the ‘anti-hip hop’ album and I can see where they are coming from. I detect overwhelmingly live instrumentation, little use of drum machines and sampling and an amazing thread of acoustic guitar melodies that run through the whole record. I can’t recall hearing a clarinet on a rap record before but it’s all over the place here an it sounds calming and fresh. The brass backing of The Key, string arrangements in Go Then Bye and and the quiet hum of the backing singers in Better Days really make a record that’s a homage to Big Dada artists of past and a rejection of style over substance. Debelle raps like she’s talking to the music, not over it like most show off MCs, fighting to be heard over a beat.
Still, with no stand out singles in a world where the download is king, I can also understand why this record didn’t sell. Cheaply filmed videos, lack of cheap gimmicks (think silly hat, or homemade T-shirt) and no real party tunes, young urban audiences interested in ‘me against the world’/ ‘join in when you hear the chorus ‘ songs would not get this album.
It was a stand out album in 2009 because it genuinely stood out, the trend for music that year was Black Eye Peas, Flo Rida, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga…kitsch and glam, big characters and big tunes. The opposite of Speech Therapy’s understated charm.
This record never deserved the backlash from indie/pop/rock ‘real’ music fans who wanted one of ‘their’ artists to win the Mercury. Dizzee, Ms Dynamite and now Speech Debelle? I can imagine that to be galling for some. I’m convinced certain elements of this record buying demographic turned their back on an undoubtedly critically acclaimed piece because they took one look at a Black south London girl with a cornrows in a bomber jacket and leggings and said ‘no thank you’.
Two years ago we missed an opportunity to give an alternative look to the British urban music and open the doors to artists who add jazz and 90s soul to their music not for flavour, but for significant presence. Let’s hope when the new album comes out, we don’t do it again.