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Hip-hop as you've never heard it

Published Nov. 30, 2006

Even before her album Public Warning debuted in late October, Lady Sovereign had achieved a milestone: Her video for Love Me or Hate Me was a favorite on MTV's teen music countdown show Total Request Live. In fact, the video went right to No. 1, making Sov the first British artist to achieve that feat.

Take that, Coldplay.

Actually, Lady Sovereign, 20, has more than her share of career milestones - the first being how she landed her record deal. Her audition with Jay-Z so impressed the rapper extraordinaire and industry bigwig, Sov earned a deal with his Def Jam label almost immediately.

Still, all the accolades do not seem to flatter Sov very much. Or if they do, she sure isn't letting on. Witness the title of her first single: Love Me or Hate Me. It's a searing, though playful kiss-off, a declaration of individuality. Then there's her furious, Cockney-accented rapping. It's called "grime music," a British genre generally marked by aggressive vocals, a minimal musical backdrop - and a tendency to be experimental.

Sovereign attacks her live shows with abandon, and she's been playing hard as she crisscrosses the country with a small band in tow. So hard, a recent chest infection forced her to cancel a round of interviews.

So in anticipation of her concert tonight at the State Theatre, here's a newcomer's guide to Lady Sovereign.

SHE'S DEFIANT: With lyrics like "Never had my nails done/Bite them down until they're numb/ I'm the one with the non-existent bum" or "I'm English, try and deport me!" she playfully pokes fun at herself. At 5-foot-1, she calls herself the "biggest midget in the game."

It's refreshing, especially in the hip-hop world where self-promotion and braggadocio rule, to hear somebody so accepting of herself. And, as she told the Associated Press recently: "I says things differently and I'm from somewhere else. I'm talking about what I'm talking about. I'm not going to start acting like some American hip-hop artist."

SHE'S FUNNY: But you have to listen closely to catch every joke. "Your clothes keep ripping like you're the female Incredible Hulk" is a line from Tango, an especially ribald track that finds Sov excoriating some overprocessed, fake-tanned female pal.

SHE'S A DYNAMO LIVE: With a small band and, at certain shows, an artist who splatters a canvas as Sov stalks the stage, there's plenty to take in at a Lady Sov concert without a fancy light show or choreographed dancers. That's not the case with most live rap. It's a genre that is notoriously difficult to replicate in a live setting.

SHE WEARS A SIDE PONYTAIL: Sov's style heralds her unique approach. "I just want people to know that I'm not a gimmick," she told the AP. "I am really real and I'm doing this because I like doing it."


Lady Sovereign

At 7 tonight, State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $13. (727) 895-3045; www.state

Hear for yourself

Listen to Lady Sovereign's Love Me or Hate Me and more at