It’s official: The rap scene has completely lost its mind. First, Jay-Z retires and Eminem becomes a responsible parent. Then there’s 50 Cent and The Game’s “Will & Grace”-esque bickering. Irv Gotti once again shows how suburban the Murder Inc. crew is by getting acquitted of his charges. All the while, Lil’ Kim is the most hood of them all by being imprisoned for perjury – white-collar crime anyone? To make things stranger, the aforementioned Jigga signed a white, female, pixie-sized rapper from the U.K. to his Def Jam Records.
Lady Sovereign is the latest artist to cross the Atlantic from the thriving grime scene – a blend of electronic, dancehall beats and toothy flows. Led by Dizzee Rascal, grime is slowly but surely forcing its way into the mainstream – Sri Lankan MC M.I.A. had a guest appearance on Missy Elliot’s latest, The Cookbook. But while the musical styles of American rappers and our British friends may be different, the grime artists fit perfectly into hip-hop history.
Imagine Dizzee is the late Notorious B.I.G. with his aggressive street style and breakthrough talent. Kano is prophesized to bring grime to the mainstream like Jay-Z. M.I.A. is the enigmatic, spastic Missy Elliot and Wiley is Snoop Dogg – showing promising talent but ultimately watered-down and hanging on to the coattails of his peers. If all of this is true then Lady Sovereign is almost certainly Lil’ Kim, and she lets her moxie show on her first U.S. release, Vertically Challenged.
Lady Sov may not be content being compared to her American counterparts. She mocks top-40 rap on the fiery “Random” – making fun of everyone from Ludacris to J-Kwon. Her adolescent voice tears through the rumbling bass and her verbal attacks drive the song: “Well I’m right thurr / Naw tell it right / I’m right there / Right hurr / Naw right here / Now get off of your churr / I mean chair.”
Lady Sov isn’t always concerned with the United States on Vertically Challenged. Her schizophrenic but complex rhyming style is displayed on “Fiddle With the Volume.” While the processed guitar pluckings give way to a disturbingly dark bassline, Lady Sov spits flowing lines: “Country and western / I’ve got a suggestion / The music can question / Caving you chest in.”
Similarly, the string section on “The Battle” creates a gloomy atmosphere despite the syncopated hi-hat taps. At just less than eight minutes, the opus gives not only Lady Sov but also several other less-known grime MCs (Frost P, Zuz Rock and Shystie) a chance to stretch their legs.
Ironically, the worst material on Vertically Challenged is done by American and Canadian artists. Poor judgment led to a remix of Lady Sov’s “A Little Bit of Shhh” by Adrock of the Beastie Boys. Her flows interact and weave throughout the beat in the original, making the remix sound disjointed and her lines clumsy. The Montreal native Ghislain Poirier delivers an equally disappointing remix of “Fiddle With the Volume.” Although the glitchy electronic beat adds new depth to the track, it fails to do the original justice.
So what happens now? Does Lady Sov open for Juelz Santana to a crowd of hipsters and suburbanites? Just how many times is Jay-Z going to appear on her next U.S. release? Can 50 Cent legitimately start beef with a white girl from the U.K.? Lady Sov is threatening to throw a glass of nitro into the rap scene and give it the kick-start it needs. But really, with Eminem more concerned about his daughter and choosing the right sheets from Bed Bath & Beyond than killing ICP, what could be better?
Rating: 4 stars out of 5