Sunday, November 13, 2005

Review: Lady Sovereign, Vertically Challenged EP, Chocolate Industries

Comparisons to Sri Lankan-born MIA (Maya Arulpragasam) are unavoidable, but fellow tracksuit-sporting Londoner Lady Sovereign, aka "the cheeky midget," has her own thing going on. After all, the 19-year-old hoody fanatic, born Louise Harman, likes to "get random" and "wear her trousers baggy." (Sartorial soul brothers Madness would surely approve.) Like MIA, her music is often described as "grime" or even "back-pack." (The AMG adds the descriptors "2-step/British garage" and the rather misleading "electronica.") Well, there's nothing I hate more than trendy jargon, so please forgive me if I just call it hip-hop (even if, as Scotland's Sunday Herald notes, her studio is located on a "grimy block").

Granted, Sovereign's style lies somewhere between dancehall (or jungle) and hip-hop. Her flow is fast and feisty, as much a toast as a rap, but there isn't much worldbeat to her sound. You could say she has more in common with the UK's favorite "boy in da corner," Dizzee Rascal, but her voice sounds nothing like his--or the similarly pigment-challenged Mike Skinner (the Streets), i.e. like Skinner, she's white. (Sovereign has played with both; also Basement Jaxx, the Go! Team, LCD Soundsystem, Obie Trice, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC--the girl gets around.) There is, however, one US rapper who comes to mind, and that's MC Lyte. I have no idea whatever happened to her, but for a while there Lyte ("as a rock") was the go-to girl when it came to female-centric hip-hop, especially in the male-dominated late-1980s/early-1990s. Of course, there was also Queen Latifah (and a few short-lived lesser lights), but she was in a class by herself. Lyte was a scrappy young kid bursting with confidence. The poised, imposing, future Oscar-nominated Latifah was self-proclaimed royalty. No comparison.

I received Vertically Challenged, a two-disc EP, as the first eight-track disc only, which features four remixes, including one by the Beastie Boys' Ad Rock ("A little Bit of SHHH"). Other remixers include Cheque 1-2, Menta, and Ghislain Poirier, while guest rappers include Riko (Menta's "Random" remix) and Frost P., Zuz Rock, and Shystie ("The Battle"). According to the Amazon listing, the second disc features two tracks, one remix, and an "exclusive interview with live footage interlaced throughout." For my money, "Random" is the standout track with Sovereign's high-pitched "Make way for the S-O-V" chant sure to lodge its way into your grey matter right quick. The other cuts are good, too, and I look forward to hearing more from this "multi-talented munchkin" (Sovereign clocks in at five foot one).

Postscript: Lady Sovereign's full-length debut, Public Warning (or Straight Up Cheeky, according to Pitchfork), will be released on Island in the UK in February 2006. She is currently shopping for a US deal and recently took a meeting with Def Jam rapper-turned-mogul Jay-Z. Image from UK Flava.

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