There were plenty of raised eyebrows and furrowed brows when Speech Debelle won Britain's Mercury Music Prize with her little-heard 2009 debut.

With the release of the 29-year-old's second album three years on, that decision seems as questionable as ever.

On Freedom of Speech, the London-based hip-hop and R&B singer seems shy and unsure of herself, struggling to make herself heard over weak, plodding beats. It comes across like a B-grade Lauryn Hill with a wonky accent, especially on the dodgy reggae of Shawshank and the cheesy elevator muzak of I'm With It.

There's a lack of cohesion too, with the environmental message of The Problem ("Imagine if there's no more oil, and I don't mean olive") clashing with stories about dodgy boyfriends and their ex-girlfriends (X Marks the Spot), and boring ballads about lost opportunities (Angel Wings).


She only really gets going with some spitfire rhymes on Studio Backpack Rap, but even that's let down by predictable Notorious B.I.G. references and lines like "She's got the future of the world on her iPod."

When Roots Manuva shows up with another one of his song-stealing verses on Blaze up a Fire, it proves just how forgettable Speech Debelle really sounds. Looks like her Mercury Prize is going to cast a lonely figure on the mantelpiece for a while yet.

Stars: 2/5
Verdict: Award-winning British rapper struggles on slack second album

Buy this album here.

- TimeOut