Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy
Perhaps even more so than in most genres, the female voice is under-represented in hip-hop. Twenty-five year old Londoner, Speech Debelle, I think we're correct in saying, is Big Dada's first female signing. In some ways, she most resembles a female Roots Manuva. Think the honest tone of his Awfully Deep album; Speech Debelle is concerned with confronting life’s obstacles, exorcising her own demons through music, rather than frivolity and bling. In fact, there can't be many hip-hop records as bling free as this. It's not clear whether everything here is autobiographical, but, if it isn't, she does a good job of making it sound so. Finish This Album certainly suggests a desperate need to put her thoughts down, a woman writing as if her existence depends on it.
There are songs here dealing with an absent father, relationship break-ups, the neighbourhood drug dealer, crap jobs and the struggle to think positively and live a good life. Daddy's Little Girl is one of the most emotionally brutal tracks you'll hear this year. Speech may have a fragile voice, but words like ‘daddy I think I love you coz I hate you so much I must love you’ are uncommonly to the point in their accusatory, eloquent anger and hurt.
Speech Debelle is undoubtedly a talented lady, so why hasn't Speech Therapy blown my socks off? This is a hip-hop record that very much relies on its lyrics (and the listener's undivided attention in catching them all) rather than phat beats - and that's despite contributions from the likes of Roots Manuva, sadly restricted to singing the chorus of Wheels in Motion, and Tunng. The backing track to Buddy Love, for example, sounds like a sped up version of Careless Whisper of all things and others tend towards the acoustic or light jazz. Still, anything heavier would clash with Speech's voice. Treat this understated album as urban poetry, Speech as a burgeoning storyteller, and you have one of the more intriguing debuts of the year.