Known for her cold-as-ice flow and visceral world play Corynne Elliot, better known to the masses as Speech Debelle, portrays herself as a rapper with ‘Knowledge-Of-Self’.
Her latest album ‘Freedom of Speech’ is proof of that and is brimming with lyrics of female empowerment, youthful rebellion and activism against the backdrop of our broken system.
Talking to Clash about her literacy influences it’s vividly clear why the London rapper’s potent bars seep from her pen to the microphone and are so poignant.
From the inspiring words of Maya Angelou to the obscure theories of David Icke we take a trip into Speech Debelle’s Library.
- - -
What's your favourite book and why?
It has to be Andrea Levy's 'Small Islands’ because of the way she's writing as six different characters, she's able to convey the emotion in each of them and how they interact. It’s a labyrinth of characters and emotions but all coming from one person and it's a book that - if I see someone reading it - I get jealous because I can't get that first hit again.
How did you feel about the TV adaptation on the BBC? Did you feel the book is better than the TV Show?
The book is always going to be better just because it has room for subtleties that a TV programme or film doesn't have time for unless it's going to be a nine hour to two week film.
Who's your favourite author?
My favourite author is Maya Angelou, she's just an absolutely brilliant and elegant writer who is just a cut above the rest.
What draws you to certain books? Do reviews help?
I'm drawn to books that have a darkness to them. Something which appeals to my darkside - I don't if you want to call it that - my fears and insecurities. A book like 'We Need To Talk About Kevin’ that talks about things that were not supposed to talk about.
Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?
I've picked up two old books actually, one of them I haven't got into yet and it's 'The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner’ by Alan Stillitoe. Somebody was moving house and this book came up. The titled me made think: "I don't know what this is but I want to read this". It's really old, the paper is brown and it looks like it's been soaked in tea. The other one was 'Disappearing Acts' by Terry McMillan, I saw the film with the beautiful Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan and I didn't even know it was a book. I only discovered it when I was at my mum's and I pretty much finished it. Again it's so much better than film, even though that was really good as well. It's one of the few times where I've seen a film then read the book.
What are you reading at the moment or what have you just finished reading?
At the moment I'm reading David Icke's 'The Biggest Secret’, which is just strange because it's a book where this guy, who I think is a brilliant philosopher - I think some of the things he says when it comes to culture, human nature and spirituality are absolutely amazing. But in this book he talks about lizards and the Queen being one of them. I'm reading it and I'm kind of like "Okay, I have to know not to take it too seriously" I think and I'm enjoying it as a really weird story.
Have you ever found a book that you simply couldn’t finish?
Absolutely, I've had Ralph Ellison's ‘The Invincible Man' for about 15 years and I'm yet to finish it, it's so brilliant. I think the first chapter/prologue is probably the best form of written words I've ever read. The first paragraph he where talks about 'what is an invisible man' is just too vivid. He's one of those writers that wants to describe absolutely everything and because of that if I leave it for a while and then read from the last page I just have no idea what he's talking about.
What is the first book you remember reading as a child?
I think I got into it pretty late, the first book that I can remember reading was Maya Angelou's 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’. The title is what I would remember most and it made me think about a caged bird among so many other things and that was the first book I feel in love with. I'm really big on titles and being a writer myself I feel that if I can get a song title that's just so dope it's just my favourite thing about it and it's what I try to do the most. I especially tried to do it on my last album having songs like 'Elephant In The Living Room' and 'Shawshank Redemption'.
Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
I'm not sure because a book is a book and a song is a song. The title of anything is something that appeals to me: a film, a book or a song.
Did you make good use of your library card when you were as a teenager in school?
I used to go and I never brought the books back and that's one thing I remember. I must have about ten books out that I've never ever returned. My library fine is insane but I moved around a lot when I was in my late teens/early 20's so they don't even know where to find me now, well other than Twitter and Facebook I guess.
They might have your picture up in every library across the UK.
Exactly. "If you see this girl... Report her to the library police".
Words by Jerry Gadiano
- - -
'Freedom Of Speech' is out now.