At 5-foot-1, Lady Sovereign is hardly a towering presence on
stage. But what the 20-year-old English rapper lacks in height, she
makes up for in frantic energy -- "I can't stand still on stage; I'm
just always fidgeting!" she says -- as well as rapid-fire rhyming
and an infectious and often self-deprecating sense of humor.
"Yeah, it's officially the biggest midget in the game,"
she raps on "Love Me or Hate Me" from her recently released but
long-awaited debut album, "Public Warning." "Make way for the
Raised in London's rough and tumble Chalkhill Estate housing
project, the former Louise Harman fell in love with hip-hop via her
mother's Salt N Pepa albums, and she made her mark on the British
music scene via independent recordings such as the hit single "Ch
Ching" and appearances with the Streets. These won the attention of
American icon Jay-Z, who signed her to Def Jam. Now, she's ready to
launch a full-scale U.S. invasion. We spoke by phone from London
shortly before the start of her tour.
Q. Chicago fans had the opportunity to see you twice
last summer, at the Intonation Music Festival and Lollapalooza.
You've built quite a following here even before the release of your
A. Lollapalooza was thick; I enjoyed that! I had never
played to that many people before, and they did seem to like it. But
it feels great to finally have this record out. I actually got the
finished thing in my hand today for the first time, and I was like,
"Finally!" I was thinking the damn thing would never come out!
Q. Considering how long the buzz has been building,
were you feeling the pressure to deliver?
A. I kind of finished my album before all of that kicked
in; there's actually more pressure now, because it has taken so long
for the thing to come out. But when I was making it, it was weird,
because I didn't even know I was making an album until I realized
that I'd done it. I was just ... you know, making songs! I was never
really thinking, "Album, album, album." But yeah, I made it, and
it's bloody good!
Q. How do you work in the studio?
A. I always need the music first, and then I kind of get
an idea for the lyrics from there. The beat speaks to me; it tells
me a concept. The beat just inspires me. I play a big role in
crafting the backing tracks. Sometimes I'll bring in a sample, and
sometimes I'll play a track and I'll be like, "I want something
along those lines."
Q. How do you know when you've recorded a keeper?
A. When I listen to it over and over and over again, and
I'm like, "Yeah, I like this! This is neat!" I know when something
is good and I know when something is s---. I'm my own toughest
critic; I really do over analyze things. I don't just like to record
loads of tracks. I know what I'm doing, and I try to get it the
Q. How many of your lyrics come from your own life? How
much is Lady Sov a character you've created, and how much of her is
A. All of it! I'm honest, that's the thing about me, and
that's what makes me different. All of it is true; all of it is me.
Right now, I don't really have a personal life, to be honest. It is
kind of hard to separate the personal from the public.
Q. You've given props in interviews to artists like
Salt N Pepa, and I think many rap fans today forget how influential
they were. How did you discover them?
A. Through my mom, actually. I remember having the
cassette, and I nicked it for my mom when I was young. The first
song that I heard was "Tramp," and I was like, "Yeah!" I wasn't
allowed to listen to it for some reason, and I don't know why. I
listen to it now, and it's all fun and games, but back then, that
was some controversial s---.<
I remember the first time I wrote lyrics. I used to actually
write a little poetry when I was in middle school, but I couldn't
read it out loud! I was shy, big-time. But I started rapping when I
was 12 or something, and it came easily right from the beginning.
It's just one of those things that I started doing instead of using
my books at school; I was using them to write lyrics instead.
Q. What did you think when you first heard that Jay-Z
is a fan?
A. I thought it was bull--- at first! I thought someone
was pulling my leg. When I realized it was serious, I was like, "Oh
my God!" I think I jumped in the air twice, and I've never done
anything like that in my life. But I've met him since, and he's a
cool guy. He's a Sagittarian like me, so we kind of bond. I still
don't know what it is he liked in my music, and I could never answer
on behalf of someone else. You'll have to ask him, and then I'll
have the answer!