LONDON (AP) – Hip-hop songstress Speech Debelle won the Barclaycard Mercury Prize on Tuesday for her album “Speech Therapy,” a work inspired by a period the young rapper spent homeless.
Debelle’s warm vocals and clever lyrics won out over 11 other acts, including Kasabian and Bat for Lashes, to scoop the prize – a 20,000 pound ($33,000) award which typically goes to outsiders over more established acts.
“I feel so good,” the 26-year-old said after her win. “It feels better than I imagined. My family’s here. My friends are here. I’m from south London. I don’t get emotional – I’m emotional.”
This year’s shortlist was a typically eclectic mix, including fellow south Londoner Florence + the Machine, synth-heavy La Roux, and haunting electro-folk group Sweet Billy Pilgrim. Others in the running were The Horrors, Glasvegas, Led Bib, The Invisible, Lisa Hannigan, and Friendly Fires.
Critics have praised Debelle’s honeyed delivery and moving narratives.
Judge Charles Hazlewood said the singer, who spent time in a hostel when her parents asked her to leave following her troubled teenage years, was “just quietly telling her stories in the most beguiling way.”
Debelle has so far sold less than 3,000 albums – half of them since the album was shortlisted seven weeks ago – although Official Charts Company managing director Martin Talbot predicted a “big surge in interest.”
Winners’ albums typically see a jump in sales, although the award isn’t a guaranteed springboard to success. Some artists have been plucked from obscurity, only to sink back.
The award has honored the best album of the year by a British or Irish band since 1992. Previous winners include the Arctic Monkeys, London rapper Dizzee Rascal, Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand and Antony and the Johnsons, fronted by British-born but U.S.-raised Antony Hegarsty.
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