“I’mbackingmymum’scarintothedriveway. Hangononesecond. Youcoolyeah?” Speech Debelle delivers even the most humdrum information with singsong musicality and bounce. She’s a natural. “I rap how I speak,” says the 26-year-old hip-hopper, whose debut album, Speech Therapy, won Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize this year, beating out odds-on favorites La Roux and Bat For Lashes. “In my 10 years of rapping, it took me about nine of those to even consider the way I sound. It was never something I thought about. I just rapped.”
Debelle’s natural flow, like poet Louise Glück gone light-speed, jibes with her confessional lyrics, which, for the most part, skip the bling and the boys. (“You don’t have to worry about me, I’m doing music now/ It’s the truth/ It’s from my heart/ I hope it makes you proud.”) “I’ve always written confessional raps,” Debelle says. “When I write songs, I’m talking to myself. YouknowwhatImean?” It’s these self-reflective, internal struggles, which involve integrity and dignity, that make Debelle’s rhymes more relatable than most.
American audiences will get the chance to hear Debelle in action this January, when the London native finally tours stateside after a series of visa problems forced her to postpone the trip. She’ll release her sophomore follow-up, The Art of Speech, next year. “I spent my first album talking about myself,” she says. “Now I’m looking at what’s out there, and trying to find myself in it all, like anyone else.”
Debelle wears jumpsuit by Bernard Chandran. Photo by Ren Rox. Styling by Ella Eror. Hair Hiroshi Matsushita using Bumble & Bumble. Makeup Ken Nakano using M.A.C. Cosmetics.