Speech Debelle

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Speech Debelle
Speech Debelle.jpg
Background information
Birth nameCorynne Elliot
Born1983 (age 36–37)
OriginLondon, England
GenresHip hop
Years active2008 (2008)–present
LabelsBig Dada
Associated actsKwes
Wayne Lotek
Roots Manuva

Corynne Elliot (born 1983 in London, England), better known as Speech Debelle,[1] is a British rapper signed to the Big Dada record label.[2][3] She was the winner of the 2009 Mercury Prize for her debut album Speech Therapy.[4] She released her second album, Freedom of Speech in 2012 and her third album, tantil before i breathe in 2017.

Debelle's single from Speech Therapy, "Spinnin" has been re-worked by Tinchy Stryder and Dionne Bromfield and was used as one of the official anthems of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.[5]

She has also been politically and socially active with a number of charities and movements,[6] and hosted the BBC documentary Hidden Homeless in 2012.[7]

Early life[edit]

Corynne Elliot was born in 1983 in London, England,[3] and was raised by her mother in a middle-class Jamaican household in London, south of the River Thames.[8] She attended Harris City Academy, and at age 9 began writing poetry.[9] While she wanted to be a singer, she disliked her singing voice when younger, so decided to try rapping at age 13. Within a week other students in her class had learned all her lyrics. At age 16, writing became an emotional outlet for her.[2] Debelle drew inspiration from Michael Jackson and in particular the song "Human Nature", as well as Blackstreet, Mary J. Blige, TLC and reggae music.[3] She left home after arguing with her mother at the age of 19, and for three years Debelle lived in London in either homeless hostels or with friends. While estranged from her mother at the time, she has said she did keep in regular contact. Now reconciled with her mother, Speech cites these years as formative in developing her ambition and material.[9]

Speech Therapy (2009)[edit]

Debelle returned to her mother's house at age 23 and began calling record labels.[9] In November 2007 she was signed by Big Dada records, a small imprint of Ninja Tune.[10] She has said the label helped her develop artistically, and gave her complete creative control of her music.[11]

Debelle's debut album, Speech Therapy, was released in the United Kingdom on 31 May 2009. The album was led by a white label limited release of "Searching". Thereafter the album had three singles released, "The Key", "Better Days" featuring Micachu, "Go Then, Bye" and finally "Spinning". Recorded mostly in Australia, the album was created by Debelle, Wayne Lotek and Plutonic Lab (who produced "The Key and "Better Days"), and Big Dada founder Will Ashon, the album documented her formative years in London. She has cited her biggest influences on the album as he biggest inspiration for the first album was Tracy Chapman and Meshell Ndegeocello. Unlike many other hip hop albums, the tracks eschew the use of samples and rely instead on live instrumentals.[2]

"The Key" won Best Budget Video for Pop, Dance, Urban at the UK Music Video Awards in 2009.[12]

In 2009, she performed at Glastonbury Festival.[13] Her 2009 Glastonbury appearance was also accompanied with her first live TV performance of "Searching".[14] As the broadcast was made the after Michael Jackson died, after the song she gave her sentiments to a formative figure to her artistry. Later in the year during an interview with The Guardian, when asked what/who she could bring back to life, she answered Michael Jackson.[11]

Debelle's single from the Speech Therapy, "Spinnin" has been re-worked by Tinchy Stryder and Dionne Bromfield and will be used as one of the official anthems of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.[5] In March 2011 she performed three songs from the album for Canal Street TV in France.[15]

Mercury Prize[edit]

On 21 July 2009 Speech Therapy was announced as one of the twelve shortlisted albums for the year's Mercury Music Award. She became the first woman to win the award in seven years.[16] Speech Therapy was considered an upset to more well-known competitors including The Horrors, Florence and the Machine, Kasabian and Friendly Fires.[16]

After the win, sales of Speech Therapy were comparatively low to other Mercury winners. As of 2012, the album has sold 15,000 copies. The album peaked on the UK Albums Chart at 65.[10][17]

Despite the Mercury Prize win, 10,000 units of Speech Therapy were sold by November 2009 in comparison to the 300,000-album sales of the 2008 winner, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid and 2010's winners The xx whose winning album xx went platinum (300,000+) shortly after winning the award.[10][17][18] Debelle reportedly quit the Big Dada record label in November 2009, blaming them for failing to adequately market and distribute the album.[19]

A few months later, she said "as an artist, you get upset with your label, you get upset with your team. I'm entitled to do that. In the same way, they are entitled to get upset with me... If we're all on the same page, it's all good."[20]

Debelle reunited with Big Dada Recordings in 2011 to work on her second album entitled Freedom of Speech.[21]


Speech Debelle playing at the Bestival Festival 2009

OHM Monthly cited Speech's work as "biggest thing in UK hip-hop for many a long year".[22] The Times praised the production of the album and named it the 76th best album of the 2000s.

In the US, Pitchfork gave a favourable review and praising her relaxed, conversational delivery.[8] According to Pitchfork, "Some hip-hop fans will likely write her off because the usual American rap signifiers-- samples, seething synths, bombastic beats, and buckets of braggadocio-- play scant part in her artistic agenda."[8]

In a review of the album, The Guardian said "Debelle's songs are vulnerable, open, unafraid. The overall sound...is full of light and air, acoustic guitars and pianos. There is a gracious, almost stately air to the record, yet the songs still sound entirely joyous."[2] Paul Macinnes of The Guardian wrote "There's something intriguing about Speech Debelle, with a voice both husky and sweet, and a back story that's emotive if unclear."[23] Macinnes also nominated Speech Therapy as his favourite album of 2009.[23]

Musical collaborations[edit]

In March 2010 Speech Debelle teamed up with Bonobo to co-write and sing on the song "Sun Will Rise", taken from Ninja Tune's 'XX' Boxset.[24]

In August 2011, Speech gave away a new track, "Blaze Up A Fire", via her SoundCloud page. The track features Roots Manuva and Realism. The track deals with uprising events in countries including Egypt and Libya, but Debelle has stated the song has even more pertinence to the 2011 England riots.[25]

I feel it could give insight into the hearts and minds of some of the people that have taken part in, not only the peaceful marches for Mark Duggan in Tottenham and the Smiley Culture march for justice, but also I believe it speaks of the frustration of many young people who took part in the rioting and the consequent looting over London and areas of the UK. I am not attempting to condone, I'm attempting to be a voice of understanding.

— Speech Debelle (9 August 2011)[25]

Freedom of Speech (2012)[edit]

In February 2012, Debelle released her follow-up album, Freedom of Speech, via Big Dada Recordings. It featured the aforementioned "Blaze Up a Fire" as well as lead single "Studio Backpack Rap."

Trebuchet Magazine described Debelle as 'a fiery, if naïve, seeker of justice and truth', and said "she has a cracked lusciousness to her voice that strongly recalls Martina Topley-Bird's most meltingly sexy moments on Tricky's Maxinquaye."[26]

MTV gave the album 5/5 stars, and said, "What makes this a truly great hip hop album is that her words, piling up on one another, take on the quality of incantations – and that those incantations take on a life of their own."[27] According to AllMusic in a review (4/5 stars), "Speech Debelle is now the most interesting and possibly the most exciting British MC on the scene."[28]

The album has garnered mixed reactions from the BBC, concluding that "anyone who wasn't convinced by her debut is going to find far more to take issue with", and that Debelle "still has some serious thinking to do",[29] and the Independent rating the album 3/5.[30]

Social and political activism[edit]

In August 2009, Debelle performed at Africa Express in Paris, an event set up by Blur and Gorillaz front-man Damon Albarn.[6]

In 2009, Debelle appeared alongside Gary Barlow, David Arnold and Jimmy Carr for a CARE charity concert in aid of youth education.[31] She was also invited to 10 Downing Street to celebrate "British Talent", in association with the Talent and Enterprise Taskforce.[32]

In 2010, she was a guest speaker at the Progressive London conference alongside Ken Livingstone, Sadiq Khan MP, and other notable academics. The annual conference explores and discusses the application of liberal politics to the benefit of London.[33] She joined with the National Union of Students to Support Ken Livingstone's "save EMA" pledge.[34]

Her liberal stance on ethnic diversity was also lent to the Hope Not Hate campaign.[35] Debelle also teamed up with Saatchi & Saatchi on the User Voice campaign, giving disadvantaged youth a platform in Parliament.[36]

In early 2011 Debelle took part in a photography project set up by Oxfam and photographer Martin Parr, which help spread awareness about climate change.[37]

She began teaming up with Chuka Umunna the MP for Streatham on her community work to speak about the importance of voting.[38] She has also volunteered with Barnardo's to promote youth inclusion through a project to deliver an alternate Christmas Day video message to their elders on YouTube,[39] as well as writing about gender equality for the VSO Godmothers blog.[40] On 4 October 2011 Debelle was part of the Young Voter's Question Time panel during the Conservative Party Conference in Salford.[41]

She hosted a BBC documentary about homeless youth[42] called Hidden Homeless in 2012.[7] She is also a patron of the program HOPE Not Hate.[43]

In 2013 Debelle curated The Strength and Vulnerability Bunker,[44] an exhibition at the Southbank Centre, London, presented by the Koestler Trust who exhibit art works by prisoners, detainees and ex-offenders. In 2015 she co-curated Re:Form, also presented by the same trust. This time her co-curators were Jeremy Deller, Carol Ann Duffy and Hot Chip and the category theme was 'journey'.[45]


Studio albums
Year Album details
2009 Speech Therapy
2012 Freedom of Speech
  • Released: 13 February 2012
  • Label: Big Dada
  • Formats: 2LP, CD, Digital download
2017 tantil before i breathe[46]
  • Released: 17 March 2017
  • Label: Self-released
  • Formats: Digital download


  1. ^ "Speech Debelle: homeless to Mercury nomination". The Times. 26 July 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Fitzpatrick, Rob (12 February 2009). "Oboe'n'bass: Dispatches from hostel territory. Rob Fitzpatrick meets Speech Debelle". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Cochrane, Greg (27 May 2009). "Introducing Speech Debelle". BBC News. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  4. ^ Beech, Mark (8 September 2009). "Speech Debelle Is Surprise Winner of U.K.'s Mercury Music Prize". Bloomberg. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  5. ^ a b "First London 2012 anthem unveiled". The Telegraph. 26 July 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  6. ^ a b Soares, Claire (10 August 2009). "Africa Express, Hotel de Ville, Paris". The Independent. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  7. ^ a b "Hidden Homeless documentary". BBC. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Granzin, Amy (6 August 2009). "Pitchfork: Album Reviews: Speech Debelle: Speech Therapy". Pitchfork. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  9. ^ a b c "Exclusive interview: Speech Debelle". The Mirror. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  10. ^ a b c Michaels, Sean (25 November 2009). "Speech Debelle ditches record label over poor sales". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  11. ^ a b Greenstreet, Rosanna (14 November 2009). "Q&A: Speech Debelle". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  12. ^ "UK Music Video Awards". Music Week. 14 October 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  13. ^ Hancock, Roland (27 June 2009). "Glastonbury interview". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  14. ^ "Glastonbury 2009". YouTube. 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  15. ^ "CS Session Live Speech Debelle – I'm with it". 26 March 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  16. ^ a b Swash, Rosie (9 September 2009). "Speech Debelle wins Mercury music prize". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  17. ^ a b Brown, Jonathan (9 September 2009). "Speech Debelle rises from streets of London to win Mercury Prize". The Independent. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  18. ^ Speech Debelle: I knew I would win Mercury BBC News
  19. ^ Davies, Rodrigo (24 November 2009). "BBC News Mercury winner Debelle quits label over poor sales". BBC News. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  20. ^ Elmhirst, Sophie (17 December 2009). "Speech Debelle-extended interview". New Statesman. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  21. ^ "Speech Debelle Returns to Big Dada Records". 10 November 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  22. ^ Murphy, John (1 June 2009). "Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy : album reviews". OHM Monthly. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  23. ^ a b Hann, Michael (31 December 2009). "2009 Guardian First Album award". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  24. ^ "Video: Bonobo & Speech Debelle – Sun Will Rise (official video)". YouTube. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  25. ^ a b "BLAZE UP A FIRE by Speech Debelle (featuring Roots Manuva and Realism)". SoundCloud. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  26. ^ Keenana, Sean (12 February 2012). "Speech Debelle – Freedom of Speech Album Review". Trebuchet Magazine. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  27. ^ "Freedom of Speech by Speech Debelle". MTV. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  28. ^ "Freedom of Speech". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  29. ^ Review o Speech Debelle, Speech Therapy
  30. ^ Price, Simon (12 February 2012). "Album: Speech Debelle, Freedom of Speech (Big Dada)". The Independent. London.
  31. ^ "Speech Debelle, Gary Barlow, Jimmy Carr for CARE London gig". NME. 23 September 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  32. ^ "Speech Debelle To Meet Prime Minister". Glasswerk. Posted by Amy. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  33. ^ "Speech Debelle joins line-up for Progressive London conference". Progressive London. 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  34. ^ "Speech Debelle and save EMA program". KenLivignstone. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  35. ^ "Hope Not Hate 2010L Speech Debelle launches Daily Mirror campaign". Mirror.co.uk. 29 April 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  36. ^ "Saatchi & Saatchi and Speech Debelle collaborate with User Voice". Saatchi.co.uk. 1 June 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  37. ^ "Martin Parr tells climate change story through portraits". Oxfam GB. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  38. ^ "Umunna and Speech Debelle team up at community event". Umunna.org.uk. 12 March 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  39. ^ "Celebrity News – Speech Debelle". Barnardos.co.uk. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  40. ^ Debelle, Speech (4 March 2011). "A Woman's Woman's Woman's world". VSO Blog. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  41. ^ "Speech Debelle Joins Young Voters' Question Time panel in Week of Conservative Party Conference". newsonnews.net. 3 October 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  42. ^ "Speech Debelle". What's Your Story?. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  43. ^ Lowles, Nick (20 March 2012). "HnH welcomes a new patron". Hope Not Hate. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  44. ^ Van Brugen, Sophie. "Art from 'Inside' goes on display". BBC News. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  45. ^ "KOESTLER TRUST'S NATIONAL EXHIBITION RE:FORM OPENS AT SOUTHBANK CENTRE" (PDF). Koestler Trust (press release). Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  46. ^ https://speechdebelle.bandcamp.com/album/tantil-before-i-breathe

External links[edit]