Singer, rap musician, songwriter
Britain's Lady Sovereign is an example of how the Internet has become a powerful part of the music business. At 14 years old, when the budding MC uploaded her songs to the Web, her life was forever changed. The Web's chat rooms, blogs and fan sites became an integral part of her future popularity. At 19 Lady Sovereign signed to Def Jam Records, and the following year she released her full-length debut album, Public Warning. "Sov might just be the antidote to the astonishing lack of truly gifted female MCs in hip-hop today," wrote Remix's Bill Murphy. Topping off at a height of five-foot, one inch tall, Lady Sovereign dubbed herself the "biggest midget in the game." The press has called her a Feminem (a male Eminem), or the Queen of Grime, grime being a distinct new British MC style. "Unlike most women in today's pop scene, who embellish their musical skills with flashy choreography and an acting gig on the side, Sov takes the route of a hard-core male rapper, demanding that her skills alone determine any judgment," wrote Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times.
Born Louise Harman, Lady Sovereign grew up in Wembley, one of the toughest areas of northwest London. She spent most of her childhood in a public housing project known as Chalkhill Estates, where her lenient parents' love of punk rock and ska attuned their daughter to those musical genres early on. At 14 years old, already a fan of female hip-hop MCs and punk and rock music, Lady Sovereign began using her computer to make simple beats, rapping and singing over them. She uploaded a few of her songs onto the Internet, which soon connected her to DJ Frampster, and the two became collaborators. School was never a priority for the aspiring musician, and after she had caused enough trouble, at 15 Lady Sovereign became a high school dropout. After leaving school, she took on low-paying jobs, including a stint at a bakery and as a window cleaner.
At 15, Lady Sovereign wasn't entirely focused on music. "It started out of boredom and then became a passion," Lady Sovereign told London's Guardian. "So I started MC-ing with a little computer mic. No one was at home most of the time so I could make a lot of noise." A chance role in a low budget film inspired the MC to take her music more seriously. She was asked to record a song for the film, and a local producer heard it and was so impressed that he invited her to his studio. With producer Medasyn (aka Gabriel Olegavich) to back her, Lady Sovereign's inventive MC style began to take shape. Going by the name Louise, however, was a little too sweet for her often raucous lyrics, but it was somewhat spur-of-the-moment when she chose her new moniker. She told Murphy that she dubbed herself Lady Sovereign after nabbing someone's ring. "The ring was in the corner of some guy's room," she said, "and I just took it and put it on my finger and I was like, ‘I'm Lady Sovereign now.’"
Lady Sovereign's first release sold in stores was a 2003 U.K. indie collaboration with other MCs on the Medasyn-produced single "The Battle." Her style was evolving into a combination of female MC snarls and back-handed jabs, all lending to the underground grime scene developing in England. The rhythm-heavy garage and rock 'n' roll-inspired music overlaid with MC lyricism was gaining momentum in England and spreading to alternative music connoisseurs in the United States. "Grime is grime. It's definitely an evolution from garage," Lady Sovereign told the Guardian. "There's some kronk in there. Sometimes it's almost hip hop. But it's always about big bass and big drums." After an appearance on a remix of The Streets' "Fit But You Know It" in 2004, and a handful of her own singles, including "A Little Bit of Shhh!" and "Ch Ching," the name Lady Sovereign started spreading to music fans worldwide via the Internet.
Partly because of her diminutive frame and young-looking appearance, naysayers often pronounced Lady Sovereign down for the count before they heard her perform. But once she took command of the mic, things were different. "I'd get up there and everyone's jaws would be like (drops tiny jaw) … that came out of her mouth? People have been shocked from day one," she told Plan B Magazine's George Taylor. Much like the brash style of Eminem, Lady Sovereign took no prisoners with her lyrical jabs. "Her performance is ten feet tall, a loud-mouthed, confident swagger of a display, threatening to slap cheeks across the whole audience," wrote Taylor. An Internet buzz soon turned Lady Sovereign into the Next Big Thing before she had a solid record deal.
Her track suits and a tomboy attitude converged with her diminutive size to make Lady Sovereign stand out. And while she came from an underground scene, her originality had the potential to crossover to the mainstream, and record labels began to take notice. In December of 2005 Chicago independent label Chocolate Industries released a handful of Lady Sovereign's tracks on the Vertically Challenged EP. Her perseverance paid off when Jay-Z and LA Reid invited Lady Sovereign to meet with Def Jam/Island Records in New York. MC Jay-Z asked Lady Sovereign to freestyle on the spot, and the label quickly signed the British teenager to a record deal.
In 2006, with little pressure from the major label machine, Lady Sovereign began work on her Def Jam debut. In the fall she was introduced to mainstream America by way of her new music video on MTV's star-making TRL show. In her video for "Love Me or Hate Me," the MC even took a jab at some of her fellow artists when she dropped the lines "I can't dance and I really can't sing. I can only do one thing, and that's be Lady Sovereign." It must have struck a chord with the teen crowd, because before she knew it, Lady Sovereign's video for "Love Me or Hate Me" was TRL's number-one-most-requested video.
On October 31, 2006, Def Jam released Lady Sovereign's debut, Public Warning. "Public Warning is stunning, better than the hype machine could ever paint it, with jaw-dropping, busy production and sharp, spunky lyrics that whiz by and back up this pint-sized rebel's serious b-girl stance," wrote David Jeffries of All Music Guide. A few tracks from the Vertically Challenged EP were included, as well as a remix of "Love Me or Hate Me," featuring Missy Elliott. "It's uproariously funny… with a cutting anger lurking just behind the jokes," wrote Powers of the record. "It expresses a working-class sensibility that, to American ears especially, transforms into authenticity."
Vertically Challenged, Chocolate Industries, 2005.
Public Warning, Def Jam, 2006.
For the Record …
Born Louise Harman, in Wembly, London, England.
Released Vertically Challenged, 2005; signed to Def Jam/Island Records, 2005, released Public Warning, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—Def Jam/Universal, 8920 Sunset Blvd, 2nd Flr., Los Angeles, CA 90069; 825 8th Ave., 29th Flr., New York, NY 10019. Website—Lady Sovereign Official Website: http://www.ladysovereign.com.
Guardian, August 4, 2005.
Plan B Magazine, February 13, 2005.
Remix, November 1, 2006.
"Exclusive Interview with Lady Sovereign," Remix (Online Edition),http://remixmag.com/transmissions/lady-sovereign-012606/index.html (February 10, 2007).
"Lady Sovereign," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusicguide.com (February 10, 2007).
"Lady Sovereign," Los Angeles Times,http://www.calendarlive.com/music/reviews/cl-etalbums31oct31,0,998050.story?coll=cl-albumreviews (February 10, 2007).
Lady Sovereign Official Website, http://www.ladysovereign.com (February 10, 2007).