Winter Music Conference

She's a Lady, Yo

It's practically becoming an annual tradition. A British rapper with dope skills is ushered across the pond. His albums are well reviewed by critics at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Spin. His songs gain popularity with college radio DJs and podcasters. His is touted to be the new face of hip-hop. Said artist makes heavily hyped appearances at all the right music festivals and is featured on the covers of indie music magazines. But his music gets no mainstream radio airplay, and his videos are never screened for the hordes of screaming teens on BET's 106th and Park or MTV's Total Request Live. Then before you know it, the year is over and it's time for a new great English hope. Miss Dynamite, the Streets, Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A. — American hip-hop heads simply weren't ready to give them the acclaim they deserved. Let's hope things go better for Louise Amanda Harman, the pintsize import who has dubbed herself Lady Sovereign. So far, this diminutive MC is hitting all the hip-hop crossover benchmarks and earning her title as the reigning queen of grime.

The skills displayed on her debut EP, Vertically Challenged, coupled with her white-kid-from-da-hood upbringing, have earned her comparisons to another popular white rapper. She bluntly rebuts those comments in rapid-fire verse. "I'm the best thing since sliced bread; no Eminem/Femininem? Naw, Ms. Sovereign," she quips on "Ch-Ching" over garage beats as dark and sticky as one of Three 6 Mafia's joints. But like the erstwhile Marshall Mathers, Lady Sovereign doesn't waste her words on hip-hop clichés about bling and beauty. She orders her listeners to respect her authority. Sov's worst nightmare is to be labeled a "pink lipstick chick called dipstick." It isn't just her race that sets her apart; it's her style. "J.Lo's got a batty/Well you can't see mine 'cause I wear my clothes baggy," she crows. That makes her sexier than any of the hypersexualized rap divas who gain popularity with cleavage and contrived lyrics penned by misogynistic men.

The buzz about the "multitalented munchkin" caught the right ears. For her American debut, she is scheduled to spit over beats by urban über-producers the Neptunes, Timbaland, and Missy Elliott, who shares the fun-size feminist's predilections for playful rhymes, self-aggrandizement, and Adidas hoodies. And in the most promising sign of all, Lady Sovereign has won the approval of Jay-Z, who recently signed the self-described "biggest midget in the game" to a contract with Island Def Jam.

So far so good for the S-O-V. With the producers she's working with, she could either blow up like Gwen Stefani or get slept on like Miss Jade. Either way, fans of hip-hop with spunk and spirit can look out for the upcoming video for her song "Blah Blah" and her performance at this year's M3 Summit, which promises to be among WMC's best.

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Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik