By Chris Pacifico
As a wee lad, I kind of got the idea that England was a land where politeness and manners reigned supreme, mostly through the British etiquette videos that my grade school home economics teacher made our class watch as well as all those regal photos of the royal family and the suaveness exhibited by Sean Connery in the early 007 films (even though he's technically Scottish). When my early teens rolled around, all such inaccurate assumptions I had made of UK culture being so stuffy were put to rest as I discovered the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Monty Python flicks, and plenty of Benny Hill reruns. However, after visiting England and even living there for a summer, it became apparent that most British women, no matter who they are or where they're from, have always contained a ladylike disposition in some way or another, be they getting rowdy at the pub or having a serious conversation. Even film buffs are aware of such a classy female poise portrayed in the wide array of roles played by the older generation of British actresses like Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren or today's starlets like Kate Winslet and Rachel Weisz.
The nineteen-year-old Lady Sovereign (nee Louise Harman) has changed all that for me on her debut Public Warning with such lyrics as, "I ain't got the biggest breast-ises/But I write all the best hits/I got hairy armpits/but I don't walk around like this/I wear a baggy t-shirt that hides all that nasty shit." It's not just Sovereign's chirpy and sometimes snarling accented voice that makes her a charm, but also how she defies and takes jabs at what the formalities of being a female pop star are to be and claims that she isn't pretty and can't even sing while disclosing her love of playing video games, drinking beer, and delving into an array of topics in her songs such as piss-covered toilet seats. She is rude, but her rudeness comes natural; she doesn't feign it merely for shock value (i.e. Eminem).
Having dropped out of school at the age of fifteen and been raised on the rough streets of Northwest London on a council estate (British term for housing project), Lady Sovereign has released the only hip-hop full-length that has been worth the wait in 2006. Having impressed CEO Jay Z himself to become the first non-American female on the Def Jam label, Public Warning is pavement on the road for the Grime genre of hip hop on a trial started by her countrymen Dizzee Rascal and The Streets.
Produced by Basement Jaxx, Public Warning's beats consist of wobbly and wafting helpings of thick bass and elements of techno, two-step, IDM, and jungle. The openers "9 to 5" and "Gatheration" are the highlight of the year for those with top-of-the-line car stereo systems, as a kitschy merger of punk attitude and G-funk are spliced on the title track. A two-step go-go beat makes for igniting the club floor with "Hoodie," and Sov gives civic props with "My England" while chiding the long arm of the law in London for replacing truncheons with guns and being under constant surveillance.
One thing about Lady Sovereign is that she's not just some hip-hop flavor of the month like most American rappers her age, who get their fifteen minutes from a one-hit wonder track with a catchy hook. Remember the hype given to that dude who sang "Errrrrr-body in the club get tipsay!"? Chances are that he's probably washing lettuce at your local Applebee's.
The beats are the foundation of what makes Public Warning a great listen since they can keep afloat with Sovereign's lyrical execution, which is anti-social, mischievous, and naturally crude. With all the shrink-wrapped music out there these days, it's nice to see hip-hop given the good tongue-lashing from across the pond that it's needed for some time now.
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