According to the Guardian, Speech Debelle is the “the box-fresh hip-hop sound of south London”; and trust me she’s a Guardian reader’s wet dream. Urban lyrics about a tough South London life set to radio friendly jazz, with little swearing rapped by an innocent sounding young girl. Instantly I can see a thousand Islington dinner parties where her debut album ‘Speech Therapy’ punctuates the consumption of sushi and strong cheeses. However this isn’t Speech Debelle’s fault. She said she wants to be the “hip-hop Tracy Chapman” but she’s in danger of becoming the hip-hop Lily Allen: Tossing Facebook references into her songs and writing LDN on her myspace.
But forget all that because unlike Allen, Speech Debelle is actually good. In fact, it’s impossible not to warm to her voice. On her single ‘Searching’, she raps about a former life consisting of sleeping in hostels, living in hunger and being generally miserable. All the while she’s accompanied by soft piano, acoustic guitar and drums played with brushes. It’s almost twee, it‘s almost a too radio friendly, it’s almost throw away, but it works. You sympathise with her struggles and you can’t help but listen what she’s got to say. She reminds me of Plan B or the lesser-known Gideon Conn, two more rappers who‘ve skilfully turned a genre on it’s head.
Similarly, to classify Speech Debelle as hip-hop isn’t exactly fair. She’s more than that; rapping alone does not a hip-hop record make. However, I worry that the more she branches out into “coffee table” music, the more she’s in danger of diluting her fan base. What at the moment is her uniqueness could easily become her burden when fans resent her for attempting to change. Nonetheless, Coffee table or not, there’s no debate that she’s talented or much more importantly, likeable. Worth a listen.