Review: Speech Debelle | Speech Therapy

Big Dada (2009)
By GUSTAVO TURNER  |  August 3, 2009


It's unfortunate that there's a glass ceiling in the US market for British hip-hop — but for the lovely, clipped London accent that gives truth to Speech Debelle's delivery, this release would be huge stateside. Speech Therapy has a lot going for it: it's a solid confessional debut about the singer's experiences as a black South Londoner, the backing tracks are inventive jazzy jams played by sympathetic musicians, and the upshot is an uncompromising suite of female-empowerment snapshots.

The title track's mantra, "This is my speech therapy, this ain't rap," notwithstanding, this is truth-telling rap (as powerful as Eminem's "Lose Yourself"), and Speech comes off as a far saner Lauryn Hill, or someone who could break bread with Macy Gray, Erykah Badu, or Missy Elliot. Thanks to the acoustic alchemy she creates with help from Roots Manuva producer Wayne Lotek, however, this is also an album that would delight fans of Tracy Chapman or Joan Armatrading.

On opener "Searching," the post–José González guitars and other strings flow like those sublime instrumentals in Aphex Twin's Drukqs. The uplifting, radio-ready "Spinnin' " could make listeners think of a more achieved, streetwiser Lily Allen. But it's the quieter moments, like "Finish This Album," that mark Speech as an original talent to watch.

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