Make way for the S-O-V indeed. What's pushed 20-year-old Louise Harman to the top of the hype heap isn't just her eminent marketability, nor the comparisons to Eminem (an analogy she personally despises). Ethnicity and gender are irrelevant when you've got wicked skills, yeah? Her breakout smash, "Ch-Ching," was abso-fucking-lutely brilliant, a mishmash of bassbin club beats and crazy-sounding syntax. The EP that followed, Vertically Challenged, added to her lore and confirmed her talent with bangers like "Fiddle With the Volume" and "Random" (which demonstrated her ability to invent catchphrases). Her Def Jam debut, Public Warning, overflows with punky tomboy chic and brims with a lyrical confidence. Party-starting tunes like "Gatheration" and "Blah Blah" ease her transition from underground to mainstream, while the anti-bling attitude she displays on "Hoodie" is a refreshing change from the cliched materialism and oversexed hottie image many teen-appealing female vocalists get sucked into. "I ain't got the biggest breast-eses," she declares on "Love Me or Hate Me," before going on to discuss her hairy armpits and her dislike of manicures ("Urghh, never had my nails done/ bite them down until they're none").
"It's all honest," she says, when asked to describe her lyrical style. "It's weird, cause I don't pre-write stuff. What inspires me is a beat, and I think of what happened last week, then I write about it."
More than marketing plans, timing may have played a crucial role in Sovereign's reign. She's emerged just when hip hop has not only gone global, but the fledgling U.K. scene has begun to attract wider notice, via the Streets, Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A., the grime-heavy Run the Road compilations, and Ms. Dynamite (remember her?). But unlike Ms. D who's been relegated to milk-carton status after being courted, signed, then dropped by a U.S. major after disappointing sales Lady Sov didn't try to remake herself as an R&B singer or become something she wasn't. She says she hung out a bit with super-producers like Pharrell, but in the end decided to stick with longtime collaborator Medasyn. "I didn't want to jump the gun," she explains. Public Warning, she notes, was finished before Jay-Z came a-calling with a record contract. "I didn't have to do that much to it anyway, because I liked it the way it was."
Sov's shine has caused a backlash by some members of the grime community yet to receive their own comeuppance, but for the most part, she's blown up without resorting to contrivance. True, Missy Elliot adds little more than old-school cadences to the "Love Me or Hate Me" remix, and the lyrics to "My England" come off a bit jingo-istic ("big up Oliver Twist" is alright, but "do the Tony Blair" is nonsensical, especially considering the prime minister's post-Iraq drop in popularity). However, Sov redeems herself on "Those Were the Days," a look back at life before fame that aims for Biggie Smalls-poignancy instead of Rappin Duke and Yo!MTV Raps, she reminisces on "Naf Naf jackets and spliffy jeans" and succeeds.
All the exposure might go straight to another budding star's little noggin, but Sov is remarkably nonchalant about becoming the Next Big Thing in a pint-size package. "You know what? I don't get excited," she says. "It takes a lot for me to get excited. I don't know what else it's all about."