Made winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize literally just now, 26-year-old Corynne Elliot’s mix of live instrumentation and acoustic-led hip-hop would make her the first rap-orientated winner of the prize since Dizzee Rascal in 2003. Compared regularly to colloquial pop forces such as Lily Allen and Jamie T, Speech Debelle’s blend of jazz-incorporating warmth means her work is far more organic and intimate than the above references would suggest. Released through Big Dada, with arrangements by Lotek Hi-Fi’s Wayne Bennett and featuring guest appearance from Roots Manuva (alongside the more experimental Micachu), the album stands as a refreshing illustration of the often-maligned UK hip-hop scene.
The album’s soft acoustic pluckings are juxtaposited with Elliot’s frank and candid lyrical subject matter, dealing with her feelings towards her absent father (‘Daddy’s Little Girl’) and her relatively recent homelessness. ’The Key’ shows a more weightier, dancefloor-ready element to her sphere, despite the gentle, ornate clarinets. Like several of the album’s tracks, ‘Better Days’, performed with Micachu, would stand up as an instrumental, such is the rich, engaging blend of instrumentation on show, recalling The Herbaliser, whilst new single ‘Spinnin’ is the closest to a crossover hit in her repertoire, instantly accessible yet displaying all her best elements.
The diary-esque tone of the lyricism on offer coupled with Elliot’s still incredibly youthful tones means parts of the album come across as being slightly adolescent, despite her 26 years. This is forgiven by the way of the nostalgic form the album takes, but often amongst the solemn, autumnal arrangements atmospheric keys, and subtle yet dramatic strings, the vocals come close to being the weakest link. Additionally, one-time Mercury nominee Roots Manuva’s brief contribution to the otherwise charming ‘Wheels In Motion’ is massively inconsequential and disappointing considering both the sonic ambition and bruised lyrical honesty they both share – and he’s never been known as a singer – though the possibility of superior future collaborations is a consolation.
Now for the Prize to see this album hit a crosshair…