Two years on from her Mercury-winning debut, “Speech Therapy,” having ridden a rollercoaster through life since, Speech Debelle is back, and she’s delivered a follow up that packs a powerful punch. If we see her first album as a confessional diary of trials and tribulations, then new album “Freedom of Speech” is outward-looking, high energy, powerful, engaged.
If the follow up has taken longer than people might have predicted then it’s been worth the wait. The 28 year old South London resident is in possession of the most exciting album of the coming year. “Freedom of Speech” sees her with a new look and a new direction, turning from introspection to face and engage with the world around her, spitting confident rhymes on the twin themes of revolution and love. Still brutally honest, yet a more mature and exciting record with lyrics to match, the new sound was shaped in collaboration with Kwes, a young producer who already boasts production for DELS, a record contract with Warp and a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of Damon Albarn’s DRC project for Oxfam.
The new album is a sonic declaration of independent control over rhyme and reason. Speech’s lyrics pack a powerful punch, punctuated with moments of arch perception and even hilarity. Her playfulness teamed with bouts of fiery attitude is a celebration of female power and identity, and as a result the album is self-referential without sinking into contrived introspection. Honest, uncompromising and ambitious, the unabashed lyrics come from a woman who sounds like she’s emerged from the emotional cocoon of her first album and come out fighting, more powerful than ever. This time round Speech wanted her music to have more depth and, with her production partner Kwes, delved into new territory, experimenting with sound and instrumentation. The result of this meeting of two personalities is a piece of work that is hard-edged at times, punctuated with synths, programmed drums overlaid onto live beats, crisp vocals – all details that give something different on every listen. If you thought she was good the first time round, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet…