I need to start this review with a disclaimer. Speech Debelle changed my life. Sometimes people come into your life and you know, just know, that you knew them in some other time and place, and that they have been sent into this current one for a reason. I’ll stop there before I’m accused of having been smoking my vinyl sleeves, but this is 100% the case for me when it comes to UK rap royalty Speech Debelle. This review, however, is unbiased and true.
Historically, the UK recording industry has done BAME artists dirty, maybe they just don’t know how to look after them, but whatever the reason, our homegrown talents are often mis-promoted, not promoted at all, or left to their own devices. This is the case with Speech. Back in 2009 she won the coveted Mercury Music Prize for her debut album ‘Speech Therapy’, a unique and groundbreaking masterpiece that took the art of rap and layed it smoothly over classic instrumentals and arrangements that forced the listener to focus on and take in the lyrics, a visceral experience no matter how many times you have listened to it. This major win should have been the career launch she deserved, however the record label she was with at the time were unprepared. This was in the days before digital music was the primary method of consumption and physical CD was still going strong, yet the label did not have enough stock out in stores and potential audiences who witnessed the win were simply unable to get the record straight after it. She followed up with 2012’s ‘Freedom of Speech’ another great collection, but again was not properly supported by the label, from which she departed soon after the release.
Speech then took a few years out before returning with 2017’s ‘Tantil Before I Breathe’, another master stroke full of INCREDIBLE musicality and lyrics that, once taken in, have the ability to change your whole mindframe, the way you see the world and the way you live your life. You may think I’m being hyperbolic here, but I am not, listen to the records yourself, you will see what I mean.
Following the release of her third album, Speech ‘retired’ from music, working on other projects, but she has now returned to her spiritual home behind the microphone and has released her fourth album ‘Sunday Dinner on a Monday’, which is what I am here to talk about. For context, I haven’t written reviews or done interviews for many years, and I thought I would never write again, but this record is too important, too much of a cultural reset for me not to join Speech in coming out or retirement and pick up my pen once again.
Rap is an artform, rappers are poets. The wordplay and use of language that rappers employ is often at a god-like level of intelligence, and this is not acknowledged enough.
‘Sunday Dinner on a Monday’ is a personal record, personal yet relatable. I don’t want to go through the record track-by-track as I normally would in a review, I want you to listen to it yourself and take what you catch from each track, soak in the meaning, let it marinate and take what YOU feel from it.
As with her last record ‘Tantil Before I Breathe’, Speech has included many soundbites within the instrumentation, often giving the track a clear focus, sometimes flipping a meaning 180, but always expertly overlaid, and without ever feeling unnecessary.
The zenith of the album, for me personally, is the track ‘DNA’ in which Speech laments over the benefit of having elders and the knowledge and wisdom they can bring to our lives, and the sadness that ensues when they are no longer with us.
This isn’t just a record. This is school. Listen and you will learn, I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the lyrics can be life changing, forcing the listener to evaluate their own ethos and vantage point in life. Please seek out this record, and please give it the time it deserves, this is a masterpiece. Speech Debelle is not just a rapper, she is a messenger, listen to the messages.
Key Tracks: 11:11, DNA, Atlantis, Exercise
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