Speech Debelle rises from streets of London to win Mercury Prize

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Rap artist's gritty take on urban life scoops prestigious award despite selling only 3,000 albums

The rapper Speech Debelle, who brought her wayward teenage experiences of life in London hostels for the homeless to her debut album, last night confounded the verdict of the record-buying public by becoming the lowest-ever selling artist to win the Barclaycard Mercury Prize.

Despite having sold less than 3,000 copies of Speech Therapy since its release in June and never having troubled the mainstream charts, the 26-year-old walked off with the prestigious if famously unpredictable award for the best album of the past 12 months. It is an accolade which in the past has proved as much blessing as curse to the long-term career prospects of the winner, despite the well-established initial sales boost afforded the previous 17 acts to have received the accolade. She beat opponents, including Bats For Lashes, Kasabian, Glasvegas, The Horrors and Florence + the Machine.

At a packed awards ceremony at London's Grosvenor House, Debelle – real name Corynne Eliot – said she took her inspiration from 2002 Mercury winner Ms Dynamite and thanked her mother and grandmother who were there to enjoy her triumph. In contrast to the other 11 acts competing for the award – regarded as the music industry's equivalent of the Booker Prize – the singer showed early intent to win the £20,000 prize, telling the audience that she was planning on taking it home.



The album, a confident blend of smooth rap and accomplished musicianship, has brought comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Lily Allen among others. Lyrics such as "2 am in my hostel bed, my eyes them red, my belly aint fed, I got butter but I aint got bread and I'm smoking on my last cigarette. I aint got creds I can't make calls, got no papers I got no jewels. Got debts up to my eyeballs who made these rules, it's a catch 22," have earned her admirers for her gritty take on modern urban life.

Speaking after the award, she said that she intended to invest the money wisely and set up her own record label.

"There's a lot of music that sounds the same, all day on the radio, and my album doesn't sound like their album and it's still won the Mercury Prize," she said.

"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.

Mercury judge Charles Hazlewood, the broadcaster and conductor, said: "She's just quietly telling her stories in the most beguiling way."

Since the Mercury shortlist was announced all 12 albums have seen their sales improve. A spokesman for the Official Charts Company said Florence + The Machine's Lungs has seen sales rise 141 per cent. La Roux's La Roux has risen 77 per cent, while Kasabian's West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum saw sales increase by 33 per cent. Debelle's sales had doubled in the seven weeks since her nomination. One of the shortlist's lesser known albums, Twice Born Men by Sweet Billy Pilgrim, has seen sales increase by more than six-fold, he said.

Official Charts Company managing director Martin Talbot said: "It is one of the least-established albums in the history of the Mercurys and an album which still has great potential. The Mercury recognition will play a big part in helping achieve the broader public recognition which it deserves."

Speech Debelle was 19 when she was asked to move out of the family home in Crystal Palace, embarking on a four-year odyssey through the druggy underbelly of the capital's dispossessed. But Debelle's troubled back story and glowing comparisons with Lauryn Hill and Tracy Chapman made her an early candidate for the prize, despite the initially lengthy odds.

Speaking after her unexpected nomination she told The Independent: "I think [the album] deserves to have this because it is a good album and all the musicians are excellent and everyone had an understanding of what we were trying to achieve from the outset."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment