Speech Debelle Speech Therapy

Winning an award as coveted as England's Mercury Prize, while no doubt a sales bonanza for the chosen artist, inevitably raises questions about whether or not the winner was a worthy recipient. This is the future that faces London MC Speech Debelle, whose introductory set, Speech Therapy, an exceptionally intimate reading of the life, times and dramatic influences of the philosophical, fresh-voiced lyricist, surprised many to claim this year's award. Guided by the restrained and melodic hand of normally raucous, bass-heavy producer Wayne Lotek (of Lotek Hi-Fi), Debelle turns in a captivatingly biographical verbal performance, craftily straight-arming issues of parental abandonment ("Daddy's Little Girl"), crooked youth ("Better Days") and failed love ("Go Them Bye"). For his part, Lotek brings a musicality that arguably leaves the record's hip-hop underpinnings behind altogether, with touches of folk guitar licks, playful clarinets, pop melodies and a liberal use of strings all coming together to form an emotional base for Debelle's reflective wordplay. Though surely not the greatest artistic achievement of the year, the head-turning emotion gathered here cannot be denied. (Big Dada)