wears the trousers magazine

speech debelle: speech therapy (2009)
July 1, 2009, 9:49 am
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Speech Debelle
Speech Therapy ••••
Big Dada / Ninja Tune

Name ten female hip hop artists. Now name ten UK female hip hop artists. Not easy is it? Lady Sovereign is more grime than hip hop, Estelle has been lured away by the States, MC Dynamite has faded into the ether, and golden-era stars like Cookie Crew and Monie Love have become shining legacies rather then active players. You may find a gem or two after some very diligent searching – Wildflower, Bellatrix, Tor – but really, should we have to search at all? While her intentions seem to be more concerned with personal development rather then with raising a collective flag, south London’s Speech Debelle is nevertheless resurrecting the female voice in UK hip hop with her sharp and concise debut, Speech Therapy. Her flow is almost whispered, and her tone is best described as baby-faced. But while these initial descriptions seem to imply a lack of confidence and maturity, it quickly becomes apparent that Debelle’s hushed approach belies deep reflection, while the fresh, adolescent voice only serves to contrast, almost painfully, with her astoundingly honest and informed narratives.

Speech Therapy homes in on sociopolitical issues with a disarming clarity, linking the effects of external influences such as advertising, politics and social pressures on personal situations with an impressive maturity for an artist so young. While personal angst and tortured confessionals have become an established (and at times clichéd) aspect of modern hip hop, Debelle clearly works to untangle and heal her issues rather then glorify them. From poverty, hunger and ennui on first single ‘Searching’ to parental abandonment on ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, the album explores some very dark ground but balances the shadows with songs like ‘The Key’, a sweet, funky pop number that contends with “frenemies”, the folly of designer labels and the envy of her peers with a celebratory cry for assertive self-awareness, and ‘Spinning’, a feelgood sunshine track that glows with optimism. The album title itself is revealing; this is therapy music – emotive, frequently painful, but ultimately hopeful and resolute.

Eschewing the more established musical overtures employed in hip hop – big beats, samples, electro/grime baselines – Debelle has opted for a more offbeat, folk sound. Sophisticated arrangements have been distilled down to essential melodies, all the better to foreground her lyrical narratives, which undoubtedly earn the spotlight. Soft, jazz-inspired trumpets echo the soulful, conscious hip hop of the States, while fellow UK talents such as labelmate Roots Manuva and experimental star Micachu lend their respective voices to a track or two. There are no typical club bangers here, which is really no bad thing, and only confirms Debelle as a serious artist. Speech Therapy is music to inspire introspective reflection rather then dance floor frenzies. A steady slew of festivals spots this summer should project her music to a larger audience and, with any luck, inspire more UK female talents to take up the mic and spit with equal style.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 15/06/09; www.myspace.com/speechdebellemusic


‘Go Then, Bye’

‘The Key’



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