Hip-hop artist Speech Debelle is the winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2009 with "Speech Therapy" (Big Dada) for the best album of the past year by a U.K. or Irish artist.

The debut set proved a popular winner among the audience at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London tonight (Sept. 8), when it was announced at 10.20pm U.K. time. It is the first victory for a female artist for the £20,000 ($33,000) prize since Ms Dynamite in 2002.

The 26-year-old South Londoner was much fancied for the prize as the result verdict approached this evening. Her performance of the track "The Key" was well received and she appeared ecstatic at the result.

All but one of the 12 nominees (Glasvegas) performed at the ceremony. There was a live broadcast from 10pm on BBC Two and there will be 70-minute broadcast featuring all the performances on Friday (Sept. 12) at 11.40pm on BBC Two.

Accepting the award, Speech Debelle thanked the judges for choosing her album, as well as her collaborators and label bosses at Big Dada and the imprint's parent label, the London indie Ninja Tune.

"Thank you so much, mum I love you so much, my gran is over there," she told the audience.

Speech Debelle's album has yet to make a strong performance in the U.K. charts, but her intelligent hip-hop has been well received by critics and it is likely to get a significant sales boost.

The album was released in the U.S. on Sept. 1 on Ninja Tune, following a new distribution deal with Redeye Distribution.

During her post-victory press conference, Speech Debelle said she thought her album deserved to win and outlined plans to launch her own label. She also credited urban artist Ms Dynamite with inspiring her to succeed.

"Ms Dynamite was an inspiration - seeing her win the award made it a reality for me," she said.

Other nominees for the 2009 award included Kasabian, Bat For Lashes, La Roux, Friendly Fires, Florence and the Machine and Lisa Hannigan.