By Ana Gonzalez
If Erykah Badu and M.I.A. had a lovechild with an affinity for poetry that spent her formative years living in homeless hostels in the UK, contemplating the fate of the choices of the Western world, and developing a severe case of swag, that child would grow up to use the stage name Speech Debelle. On her sophomore album Freedom Of Speech, Corynne “Speech Debelle” Elliott presents her life and beliefs to the world with introspective, anecdotal verses and energizing calls to action against environmental destruction and political greed.
This kind of message-driven album requires experience and a real sense of musical finesse on the part of both the rapper and the producer to avoid becoming overly-heavy and boring, and Speech Debelle almost makes it through unscathed. Her opening track is a killer; the use of multi-layered, a cappella to begin the album emphasizes Ms. Debelle’s lyrics as the focal point of the entire work. The production is tight and varied, thanks to London-based producer Kwes, ranging from pop/techno beats (“Studio Backpack Rap”) to reggae (“Shawshank Redemption”) to instrumental epics (“Sun Dog”), which keeps the listener entertained.
Lyrically, Debelle can spit. She talks about her love life, references Biggie and Jay-Z, and criticizes the tactics of the government when it comes to drilling for oil. Not to mention, all of this is done with a Jamaican-tinged English accent that just oozes cool. It’s when Debelle ruminates on her past and raps at-length about her family woes that things start to slow down, and I start to lose interest. On “Angel Wings” in particular, the lyrics tend to get a bit trite in Speech Debelle’s cathartic attempt to be open with her audience.
Overall, though, the high points on this album outweigh the low ones. Speech Debelle lives up to her recently established reputation on Freedom Of Speech and allows her listeners to read her diary, in a way. That takes courage, talent, and, above all, massive amounts of swag.