Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lady Sovereign: Selling Herself Short?

Lady Sovereign: obliterated after one drink

Lady Sovereign - Public Warning (Def Jam)

Let's pretend Jay-Z knows what he's doing for a moment. The strategy is this: throw anything at the wall and see what sticks. He knows plenty of people are waiting for the new Young Jeezy. He knows Ghostface still has a fairly large audience (larger than woeful Method Man's anyway) and people who ignored the Wu in the 2000s are beginning to realize he's worth keeping their eye on. He's pretty sure Rihanna can crank out one perfect jam for the next few summers until she tries something artistically ill-advised. And running into the Killers and Fall Out Boy down at the office a few times a week, he recognizes an alternative audience, one that he hopes to expose his personal favorites The Roots to. But what should he do with his strangest commodity: a 20-year-old 5'1 white girl from Britain who raps (big deal) over grimy electrodance that hasn't really broken in the States (hmmm), unless you count the established Missy Elliott. Even the much-hyped M.I.A. got snared up by Interscope for her universally lauded debut album to bomb commercially.

So when Lady Sovereign released her debut/singles-comp, Vertically Challenged, on Def Jam last year, it predictably didn't make much of a splash, even though the blogosphere ate it the fuck up. "Next Big Thing," yada yada. So it comes as a bit of a shock that "Love Me Or Hate Me," the first single from Sov's new full-length, Public Warning, debuted at #1 on TRL, which may or may not be still relevant in its post-Carson denouement. I couldn't even tell you how relevant Sov will be in three years, I mean, is anyone still talking about Dizzee Rascal?

But Sov is more than a walking gimmick with considerable talent, if Public Warning and the Vertically Challenged manifesto "Ch-Ching" ("I got fifty things to say in a cheeky kinda way") are any indication. For one thing, she's a female rapper who not only doesn't sell her body in her songs and videos, but she kind of mocks sex in a giggly, prepubescent way ("I don't have the biggest breasteses/But I write all the bestestses"). The only TRL-topper I can think of to do that (not counting Missy Elliott, who, doesn't have a choice about selling her Rubenesque body, especially since she seems like she really wants to in her recent slimmed-down and sexed-up hits) is Pink, but Pink is more of the Avril Lavigne sort, who sneers at anyone who looks at her tits even though she always shows up to the VMAs half dressed and drunk. Plus, Sov doesn't seem to harbor any insecurities about being a tiny, pale beanpole.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as she already knows. Her whole shtick has a playfulness and an all-inculsiveness that I worry has both won her the inexplicable TRL success and a novelty tag that might wear out too fast. For one thing, I could go without her mentioning her height in every single song. We get it, you're short and yet a badass on the mic (why are those mutually exclusive?). And Public Warning would be much stronger if it didn't repeat so many old songs: "9 to 5" is an inauspicious opener, and if we're gonna repeat every song off the already-intact Vertically Challenged, why not include its best track, "Ch-Ching?" Small complaints, yeah, but sometimes those caveats are what keep a B+ from a A-. The new songs are on Warning are certainly deserving, particularly an awesome stretch from the party-planning "Gatheration" to the punk guitar on the title track to the admittedly irresistible "Love Me or Hate Me" ("If you love me then thank youuuu/If you hate me then fuck youuuu") to the deliciously arch "My England," which mocks clueless Yanks and points out that Sov prefers spirits to high tea and being dirrty to squeaky clean. "Hoodie" and "9 to 5" remain filler though, and "Fiddle With The Volume" and "A Little Bit of Shhh" remain stronger in their previous singles-comp context bum-to-bum with their bonus remixes. "Random" is fun anywhere, but I'd hope that the increasingly vital S-O-V starts from scratch on her next one and she might release the classic she's flirting with, while she's still hungry. She doesn't want to end up like Jean Grae and miss her shot, does she?

Public Warning: B+


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