Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy
Craig Broad 02/08/2009
The Mercury prize is a strange entity indeed. Whilst it often showcases obscure talent, the last few years have merely been a who's who of the current music scene and many closed-minded music fans have been arguing that the Mercury prize is now mainstream and less relevant than it has ever been. It comes as a surprise then, that Speech Debelle and her debut album Speech Therapy have been nominated for such an award, thrusting her into the limelight and giving me at least, the chance to either follow the newly formed hype or smother it and slow Speech's media frenzy.
Lets start this off with an advisory statement. This is an urban release, you will find no links to your modern successful indie bands here and all the same, if Eminem is your version of groundbreaking rap, then this album may also throw you.
Sure Speech Therapy is in the realm of rap or hip-hop but relies more on the direction of previous genius' Fugees/Lauryn Hill rather than anything recent and more throwaway (50cent, Akon, yadda yadda). What is different about Debelle is the concentration to detail on this record, where most rap records focus on lyrics and vocal attitude, Speech Therapy is happy to let the backing track help do the talking, The Key stands out in particular with its hotel-esque jazz creating an original sound much in the vein of Nas' brilliant album God Son, while other songs work with picked acoustic guitar and poppy bass lines rather than thumping distorted bass drum sounds. The majority of this longplayer is happy to let orchestral sequences creep in and out of sections to great emotional epic effect offering something not only new to fans of urban music but bridging the gap for music lovers who may not have been interested in this album otherwise. Unlike most of her American counterparts invading our charts currently, Debelle has a knack for involving melody throughout a song, rather than just saving the catchiest parts for the chorus aka Akon.
However, all rap albums contain at least one song that is skippable and Speech Therapy is no different with songs Better Days and Spinnin' offering very little in the form of memorablity and could have very easily been left off the album.
I am being fussy and looking for reasons to dislike and rip apart this album, after all, it is Mercury nominated. Surely it doesn't need any more good reviews, surely it is overrated, surely it needs taking down a peg or two?
Lets ignore the Mercury prize, lets ignore the Glastonbury performance and lets take this album at face value; It is a good album, infact, it is a great album. Full of mature beautiful songs that may be rap but bang forcefully on pop's door offering you more than a one dimensional look into the ghetto. Speech Therapy is a complete album that some artists could only dream of making in their career let alone on a first attempt and it is an album that despite its genre, I think everyone could find something to enjoy here.
So everyone, take your hats off to Speech Debelle because whether she wins the Mercury prize or not, we have a great artist in our lives showcasing Britain who will only grow and get better, if that is indeed possible.