Speech Debelle: 'The police need to assert their power, but we're just chilling'


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The Independent Culture

I wasn't surprised by the backlash after winning the Mercury Prize in 2009 [her debut album Speech Therapy had the worst chart performance by a Mercury winner, selling only 10,000 copies by the end of 2009]. I've seen it happen before and I was prepared for it. But what people fail to realise is that if I'd never won that award, I would have had to go back to my day job and I wouldn't have made my second album [Freedom of Speech, out next week].

My new album was inspired by seeing similarities in the fights people have been having around the world When I recorded it in 2011, the middle-class youth were rioting over the student cuts, the working class were rioting about the murder of Mark Duggan – the looting was something different – and the Egyptians were rioting about living conditions. When things conspire to put out that small flame we have inside us, it makes people come together and help one another out.

Tupac Shakur's lyrics have taught me you can achieve great things even when you come from a place where the odds are stacked against you. I love his poem "The Rose that Grew from Concrete"; how despite growing up from between these big grey slabs, something beautiful can come from it. He's my favourite artist.

There's a weird videogame being played out between the police and young black men And it's one where black men can end up dead. It's part of their experience to be talked down to and provoked. It's why we call the police vehicles "bully vans": you're in a group then along comes a van and nine of them pile out, saying, "What are you doing here?" They need to assert their power if someone does something criminal, but we're just chilling, and it's not fair to feel oppressed.

I talk about food even more than music My grandmother has a massive garden where she grows corn, cabbage, tomatoes and marrows. And I've been farming and eating it all my life. It tastes exceptionally good, unlike vegetables at the supermarket which taste so bland they could be anything.

Processed food is one of the biggest WMDs When the Government went to Iraq and said there were no WMDs, they forget to tell us about the food destruction in this country; all those e-numbers and sugar in our fast food. It tastes amazing but it imbalances the body and the mind.

Touring has changed the way I see the world I've done shows in Germany where a 40-year-old, middle-class white German man was dancing to lyrics he probably didn't even understand and I realised, regardless of creed and colour, that as humans we share the same experiences and have the same pains, loves and desires.

Speech Debelle, 29, is a British rapper. Her second album, 'Freedom of Speech', is out on Big Dada on 13 February. She plays at the Jazz Café, London NW1, on 23 February (speechdebelle.com)