Speech Debelle’s Speech Therapy was released a year ago, and went on to win the Mercury Prize (awarded to the best album from the United Kingdom or Ireland). Well deserved in my opinion.
Speech Debelle, real name Corynne Elliot, was born in London, and had a decent upbringing, until at the age of 19, she was forced out of her home, and found herself moving from hostel to hostel or staying at friends’ houses (“2 am in my hostel bed, my eyes them red, my belly ain’t fed, I got butter but I aint got bread and I’m smoking on my last cigarette” from “Searching”).
She began writing poetry and rapping at the age of 13. Later on, upon returning to her Mum’s home, she began calling record labels, and ended up signing with Big Dada.
What makes Speech Debelle’s music unique is her personal lyrics, and scaled down, minimal instrument backing, and beats. Most instruments were recorded separately. As this is a hip hop album, that being impressive, in that the beats were not made/arranged by computers. Thus giving it an organic feel, be it consciously or unconsciously.
Fairly simple, and with only two guest spots, it makes for a fresh take on hip hop today, be it from the United Kingdom, or globally. The minimalist approach is due to working with producer Wayne Bennett, who said “well, let’s try and do it all acoustic. Let’s do it like a folk record. She says she just wants to tell these stories. Let’s go back to the oldest simplest forms of music where people just told stories, which is like country and folk and that sort of stuff.” And this worked out for Speech, as she wanted to make a “hip-hop Tracy Chapman record”!
Micachu featured on “Better Days” is in a way reminiscent of Dido on Eminem’s track “Stan”. A little chilling, during the chorus, yet catchy enough to feel the need to nod with the beat. Speech explains how “‘Wheels In Motion’ was influenced by a Coldplay song, I think it’s called ‘Speed Of Sound’ — which I love — and the piano mix especially.” The song also features a guest spot from South Londoner Roots Manuva. Towards the end, and to close out the track on “Bad Boy”, the standard drumming goes into a drum and bass section, which reminds me of The Roots great song “You Got Me” featuring Erykah Badu that ends with an awesome instrumental part with ?uestlove on drums and Leonard “Hub” Hubbard on bass.
Speech Debelle had particular sounds in mind for the album, enable to find those sounds, Wayne had session musicians come in and play particular instruments for her. A couple of tracks have strings on them, and apparently Speech would say something to the effect ‘I want that sound they put in movies when someone dies — violins!’ They aid the personal, story telling feel.
If this was the hip hop Tracy Chapman album, Speech said the next one is going to be a hiphop Ray Charles album!
Main source used:
Wayne Bennett & Speech Debelle: Recording Speech Therapy