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Speech Debelle nabs U.K.'s coveted Mercury Prize

September 8, 2009 |  4:52 pm

Little-known U.K. rapper Speech Debelle won the 2009 Mercury Prize in London today, defying the odds makers and becoming the first woman to take home the honor since rapper Ms. Dynamite in 2002. The 26-year-old artist, who released her debut album, "Speech Therapy," earlier this year, was awarded a cash prize of  £20,000 ($33,000).

Debelle was not tipped as the favorite to win the Mercury Prize, which has a reputation for honoring non-mainstream artists. One of 12 finalists chosen by a panel of industry executives and observers, bookmakers instead had Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes as the leading contenders.

Debelle's jazzy rap debut was recently released in the U.S. by indie label Ninja Tune. While receiving positive reviews, it hasn't been a big overseas seller. The Times of London reports that "Speech Therapy" has sold fewer than 3,000 copies since its overseas release this spring. The largely acoustic-backed raps of "Speech Therapy" chronicle the experiences and emotion surrounding the rapper's teenage years, when she broke from her home to live in hostels.

Debelle performed the single "The Key" at the awards, a video of which is above. After winning the prize, she told the press she plans to invest the money in a record label, and noted she wasn't surprised she won.

"I expected to win it because I think it’s one of the best albums released this year," the artist reportedly said at a post-show press conference. "I feel like the epitome of niceness. By this time next year I want to have hopefully started my record label .. I’m probably going to be smart and invest it. I’ve had enough nights out in London. Maybe I’ll invest it in my label."

Recent winners have included Elbow, the Klaxons, the Arctic Monkeys and Antony and the Johnsons. Rappers from across the pond have had a tough time finding an audience in the U.S., as past Mercury Prize winners Ms. Dynamite and Dizzee Rascal can attest.

-- Todd Martens