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Music Review

Speech Debelle: 'Speech Therapy'

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Speech Debelle: 'Speech Therapy'
Released on Monday, Jun 1 2009

The best debut albums tell you exactly who the emerging artist is, but don't give so much away that you're not left wanting more. A case in point is Speech Therapy, the impressive first offering from South London rapper Speech Debelle. Debelle is remarkably frank about her feelings, fears and insecurities here - "I just wanna be loved and it takes a lot to say that," she admits on the title track - but you don't feel like a spent counsellor at the end of its 51 minutes. Instead, you're itching for Debelle's second album to find out how she's getting along.

Though Speech Therapy is very much a rap record, it features no Timbaland-style beats or booming Europop synths. Producer Wayne Lotek favours a simple, organic approach, surrounding Debelle's rhymes with acoustic guitars, strings and shuffling rhythms. His arrangements are sometimes jazzy, sometimes dubby and often subtly inventive. 'The Key', for example, is that rare hip-hop track built around a clarinet melody line.

The effect, quite rightly, is to place the focus firmly on Debelle's lyrics. Sounding unmistakably South London and younger than her 25 years, Debelle raps about everything from the daily grind ('Working Weak') to boffing a friend ('Buddy Love') to the harsh realities of living in a hostel ('Searching'). She grapples with a break-up on 'Go Then, Bye' - "That's what I get for going for good sex," apparently- while 'Daddy's Little Girl' finds her addressing the father who walked out while she was growing up. It's a quietly shocking and completely riveting listen.

Though the subject matter can be a bit grim, Speech Therapy never becomes depressing - quite the opposite, thanks to Debelle's stirring optimism. She believes in bettering herself, can't resist slipping in the odd self-improvement cliché, and knows that music is her way forward. "Hercules ain't got the strength to make me let go of these beats," she raps at one point. Let's hope she stays true to her word.


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