Louise Harman of Wembley, “Sov” to her mates, “midget” by her own description and Lady Sovereign to you, has come a long way since her freestyle rap The Battle first marked her card. Literally. A Stateside audition for Jay-Z and Def Jam saw the “pint-sized clown” (Sov again) given exposure beyond her dreams.
It’s curious that a record as quintessentially English as Public Warning earned its US bow months ahead of the UK release, littered as it is with the MC’s references to shepherd’s pie, Safeway trolleys, hairy armpits and “knock down ginger”. Yet like Helen Mirren’s Queen and the David Beckham industry, it seems to have captured the Anglo centric imagination over the water. Even Missy Elliott‘s on board for a bonus track remix, and as endorsements go, that’s not a bad place to start.
Public Warning is loaded with singles. The title track, an old school, herbert punk anthem; the (relatively) hardcore rap, Random; 9 to 5, still setting a bad example on its third release; the genius monster-hit-that-should-have-been Hoodie; and the new Love Me Or Hate Me, distinctly radio-unfriendly and very silly, “never had my nails done / I’m the one with the non-existent bum”. It’s also chock-full of wry social comment disguised as anti-social sentiment. How about a burping, snoring, sneering pop star in waiting? Such things are barely heard of nowadays.
In a world that frequently takes itself as seriously as hip hop does, it’s a fine line you tread when you infuse your music and lyrics with humourous references. Millions of sales say Eminem can do it. And most of the time here, Sov gets away with it too, though she occasionally does sail a little close to the wind. Having created, or exaggerated, this persona, once or twice she’ll push a little too close to a Catherine Tate/French and Saunders caricature.
The only time her shtick really doesn’t stick is on the cloying Those Were The Days, coming over all sentimental about council estates and “getting chased by the local pit bull”. Oh, and on My England, clearly penned for the American audience, with its references to Tony Blair, Antiques Roadshow and Bridget Jones. But when she can perfectly nail the real evil that is sweeping our nation – namely, fake tan – on the shout-along Orange, you can forgive her pretty much anything.
It’s throwaway, dense with rubbish rhymes and “pint-size” stuff, and proudly holds its middle finger aloft throughout. Marvellous. Who wants role models anyway? Pop and ska, punk and grime all collide head on, but Sov’s in complete control. She knows exactly what she’s doing. If a classic pop album is something that defines the moment, is rammed with ideas and necessarily crammed with singles, then Lady Sov’s cracked it first time out.