Saucy and butch, Lady Sovereign profits by exporting Brit-hop to U.S.
Since springing from New York’s ghettos 30 years ago, hip-hop is the official soundtrack for the world’s youth rebellion. Cultures far away have infused new flavors. And there’s a new British invasion crashing on our shores: from Dizzee Rascal to Sri Lankan-bred Londoner M.I.A.
Recording in styles sometimes called garage, two-step or the newly coined “grime,” these U.K. artists enhance traditional hip-hop sounds with techno, punk guitars and Jamaican beats, producing British amalgam hip-hop.
The latest rising Brit-hopper is pint-sized MC Louise Harman, a.k.a. Lady Sovereign. After nearly a year of massive hype surrounding her first EP “Vertically Challenged,” the sassy-butch 19-year-old recently released full-length debut, “Public Warning,” on perennial hip-hop power label Def Jam. An eye-opening intro, this album should easily find itself on the short list of the best rap records of 2006.
Though Lady Sovereign is considered a practitioner of grime, a hard-edged double-time style of rapping, “Public Warning” is broader in style. From groovy garage beats to old-school party rap, there are few styles that S.O.V. isn’t willing to tackle.
Despite rumors that super-producers The Neptunes and Timbaland were enlisted for her U.S. debut, production from fellow Londoner Medacin is thankfully unobtrusive.
Solid production and a broad palette of styles make “Public Warning” instantly charming, but it’s Lady Sovereign’s talent that pushes this album to the heights. As an MC character, she’s perfectly cast a foul-mouthed, smart-assed twerp, who loves nothing more than to boost her own ego.
Expressing her love of baggy tracksuits over sexy outfits and Heineken over champagne, the self-professed “biggest midget in the game” likewise ditches bling in favor of more low-brow loves. Like PlayStation and homegrown weed.
At its best moments, like on the album opener “9 to 5″ or the amped techno “Random,” S.O.V.’s slippery flow has shades of Eminem, despite Harman’s claims to the contrary.
Other standouts include the first single “Love Me or Hate Me,” and the half-tempo techno-fueled “Fiddle with the Volume.” A remix of “Love Me or Hate Me” featuring fellow androgynous MC Missy Elliott closes up “Public Warning.” But by the time you’ve reached the end of “Public Warning,” no star endorsement is necessary.
Lady Sovereign plays Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm Street. Nov. 22. Doors at 8 p.m. $15. 888-512-7469.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 17, 2006.