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Speech Debelle wins Mercury Music Prize (2009)

Speech Debelle, Speech Therapy

Story by Jack Foley

RAPPER Speech Debelle has won the 2009 Mercury Music Prize for best British album of the past year.

The 25-year-old, from south London, was a surprise winner, beating contenders such as Florence & The Machine, Kasabian and La Roux to land the coveted £20,000 prize.

Ironically, her winning album, Speech Therapy, which was released last month, has yet to appear in the UK album chart. But sales are expected to give it a massive boost, as past winners have gone on to enjoy phenomenal album sales.

Last year’s winners, Elbow, for instance saw sales of their winning album, The Seldom Seen Kid, soar.

Commenting afterwards, the stunned and emotional rapper said that her triumph was a testament to her self-belief, stating that “if you believe in something and you think you can do it, you can”.

She added: “I feel so good, it feels better than I imagined… I don’t get emotional – I’m emotional.”

Echoing her sentiments and surprise, Martin Talbot, of chart compilers the Official Charts Company, told the BBC that the win marked a success for “one of the least established albums in the history of the Mercurys”. But he added that her album “still has great potential”.

“The Mercury recognition will play a big part in helping achieve the broader public recognition which it deserves,” he said.

Speech Therapy was released via the Big Dada record label last month, which is also home to rapper Roots Manuva. It features contributions from artists including Roots Manuva and Micachu, as well as production values from the likes of Tunng, Lotek Hi-Fi and Plutonic Lab.

For the first time in the history of the awards, all 12 acts were due to perform at the Grosvenor House hotel ceremony in London – although Glasvegas did not attend due to their lead singer falling ill.

Kasabian – the biggest sellers on the list – kicked off proceedings, while pre-awards favourite Florence & The Machine – who had been 5/2 with bookmakers – played a track from her debut album Lungs.

The Mercury Prize panel – comprised of musicians, producers, presenters and music journalists – then retired for final deliberations after all the acts had performed – although they were not allowed to let the evening performances influence their vote.

A total of 12 albums had been nominated for the coveted prize. LPs released between July 2008 and July 2009, which were made by British or Irish artists, are eligible each year.

Read our review of Speech Therapy or see the list of nominees