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Islandista on the rise: Speech Debelle

Speech Debelle2

Because we love to read stories about islandistas doing well and even better yet, doing well against the odds… today we bring to you… Speech Debelle.

Who’s she?

Well, just the under-underdog winner of one of the most prestigious awards in British music – the Mercury Prize.

Her story is the break-out, fairytale story of this year’s prize, which went down last week.

With just 1500 copies of her album Speech Therapy sold thus far, the underground rapper burst into the mainstream when she won the Mercury, which is given for the best album in the United Kingdom.

Speech Debelle came up as Corynne Elliot (so much more West Indian sounding, isn’t it?) in South London. Her back story is unfortunately, not that unusual among British Caribbean people. She was born to Jamaican parents. Her father left her mother when Corynne/Speech was 6 years old. He went on to be the village (or council?) ram, having eight more children with six women.

They don’t get on, to say the least. In her song Daddy’s Little Girl, she raps:

‘Daddy, I think I love you cause I hate you so much that I must love you.’

She kicked up trouble at school, getting suspended 11 times and getting expelled at 15.

Her mother, a housing benefits officer trying to raise her on her own, was not amused.

On top of that, Speech/Corynne started using weed, which made her moody and depressed. She and her mother got into it all the time and she eventually moved out when she was 19.

She bounced from friends’ places to hostels, was essentially homeless and committed petty crimes to keep clothed and fed. She admits now that she was too blasted hard-ears to return home to her mother, telling the Times:

“I didn’t want to. You don’t, if you feel like nobody really gives a f***. I wasn’t talking to my mum; I never talk to my dad. I’ve got my aunts and uncles doing their nuts. When you’re like that, you really don’t care about anyone. It’s hard to get out of that frame of mind.

Eventually, years and maturity brought her to her senses and when she was 23, she made back up with her mother and moved back in.

 Her outlet of  course, was music, which brings us back to the present day and her big win, which many say is the biggest surprise ever sprung even in the usually unpredictable Mercury Prize.

Speech is looking forward to her musical future. She’s planning to start a record label with the £20, 000 first prize and she told the Daily Mail:


“There’s a lot of music that sounds the same, all day on the radio and my album don’t sound like their album and it’s still won the Mercury Prize. Hopefully this will throw a wrench in the system and people will hear this album and realise they don’t have to make music that sounds the same – they can make music that sounds good.”

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

By Me

island ~ ista
From Latin -ista via Portuguese -ista
one who follows a principle; an adept.

As an islandista I live, embody, exude the spirit of the Caribbean islands.

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