Speech Debelle wins Mercury Music Prize

Speech Debelle, the UK rapper who released her debut Speech Therapy earlier this year, has won the Mercury Music Prize. There’s no U.S. equivalent to this award, which generally rewards artistic excellence over commercial sales, something that money-grubbing Americans usually can’t comprehend. (Both the Plug Awards and Shortlist Prize tried to establish an American version, and failed miserably.) So think of it as akin to winning the Village Voice Pazz + Jop poll (at least when Robert Christgau was running it). In other words, it’s an incredibly big deal.

Although R&B singer-rapper Ms. Dynamite and “grime” pioneer Dizzee Rascal have earned top honors before, Speech Debelle may be the first conventional, straight-up MC to win the award. Her competition included indie hits such as Bat for Lashes’ Two Suns, the Horrors’ Primary Colours and Friendly Fires’ self-titled debut.

Here’s a statement from Will Ashon, whose Big Dada label issued Speech Therapy:

Big Dada are enormously proud, pleased and cat-that-got-the-cream-faced to announce that last night Speech Debelle won the 2009 Barclaycard Mercury Prize for Album of the Year for her record ‘Speech Therapy’.

With stiff competition from the likes of Florence + The Machine, Friendly Fires and Bat For Lashes, Speech’s confidence never wavered and she came through with the kind of aplomb which made it seem like she’d been walking red carpets for years.

So today we raise a glass of alkaseltzer to the Mercury Prize organisers, the panel of judges, all our supporters out there and most of all to Speech herself! Salut!

Speech Therapy was released in the States last August. So far, it has earned respectable reviews (it currently has a 76 score on Metacritic.com), but hasn’t really caught on here. This might be due to its throwback sound, which hearkens towards mid-90s acid jazz, or the fact that U.S. rap fans usually dismiss UK MCs as too foreign and exotic (though they have slowly warmed to Dizzee Rascal and Roots Manuva). However, that may change with the attendant hype sure to follow Speech Debelle’s Mercury Prize win.

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