Speech Debelle

Freedom of Speech

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This is where she starts showing off. Two years after her startlingly original and borderline-brilliant debut album, Speech Debelle is now the most interesting and possibly the most exciting British MC on the scene. This is partly due to the fierce intelligence of her rhymes, and partly to the newly dark and insistent power of her beats, crafted in collaboration with Kwes. But it's mostly down to the jaw-dropping grace and nimbleness of her flow, which is pretty much peerless. Hip-hop that talks about hip-hop is usually tiresome, but on "Studio Backpack Rap" she plays with the beats so expertly and rhymes so slyly (matching "lesbian" with "thespian," for example) that you find yourself hanging on her every syllable. When she teams up with Roots Manuva and Realism on the rabble-rousing "Blaze Up a Fire," she eases up and cools out, offering a nice contrast to her guests' more nervous and rapid-fire delivery. But she really shines on "X Marks the Spot," a complex relationship song that perfectly showcases her greatest strengths: her flow is rock-solid but nimble and complex and apparently effortless despite the weird and shifting beats -- her performance evokes the mental image of someone hopping gracefully across a treacherous river on very small stones, never losing her footing. The album-closing "Sun Dog" finds her returning to the sound of her debut, delivering a hushed and hurried stream of words over languid strings and a minimal beat.

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