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Lady Spice

“I’m not just a grime artist, I just happen to rhyme with my words and have a flow like.” Thus spake Lady Sovereign — the diminutive London MC who’s about to make some noise in this country — on the phone from London. Fellow Brit-hopper M.I.A. has also resisted the “grime” tag, perhaps because that subgenre (East End hip-hop also including Dizzee Rascal and The Streets) has, so far, not broken through stateside. That could change with Sov, who was handpicked for her American debut by new Island/Def Jam prez Jay-Z himself.But, grime aside, Lady Sov has a problem with the current state of hip-hop in general: “It’s repetitive, there’s like three different drum patterns. Do something new, man!” With Vertically Challenged — the new EP that shows off her gravelly voice weaving through bouncy U.K. garage-style beats — she aims to do just that.While rappers over here pledge fealty to the hood, Sov’s nostalgic for her now-razed housing project in northwest London. “It was massive blocks of flats like cardboard boxes — it was rough but I fuckin’ loved it, man — everyone was quite united and everyone knew each other. You could do what the fuck you wanted to and get away with it, because back then there weren’t police anywhere. I think they were too scared to come in.”Sov’s LP, Public Warning (due out on Def Jam in March), does Vertically one better: It’s got hip-hop, punk, ska and all the sounds from Sov’s youth — which, given that she’s only 20, wasn’t so long ago. “Music was everywhere and the walls were like paper in the estates anyway, so you could hear whatever the neighbors were playing.” She nods to those days on “Fiddle With the Volume,” a banger that ends with the landlord leaving an irate message while she and her mates share a laugh.Jay-Z flew Sov out to New York to sign her personally, but don’t get it twisted: Hova ain’t pulling her strings Svengali-like. “Fuck that, man — I don’t care who he is, he ain’t doing nothing to change me,” she says. “You know I’m not one of those people that goes [affecting prissy voice] ‘Yeah, I’ll do this, I’ll do this.’ I do things at my own pace, how I want to do them — no disrespect to anyone.” Sov’s attitude, her outsider status and her skin color could all lead one to wonder: Has Jay-Z discovered the long-awaited “female Eminem”? Possibly. She’s got the sense of humor for it, anyway. While most hustlers in this country take themselves too seriously, Sovereign never loses that British wit — even her EP’s title is a self-deprecating joke. (Sovereign stands at 5-foot-1.) “That’s ’cause I’m comfortable wif myself,” she says. “There’s people shorter than me, but sometimes I just feel like I’m trapped in this midget body.”


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