There was an awkward moment in my phone conversation with Lady Sovereign: when I asked her what the worst part of being a musical celebrity was. “Doing tons of interviews,” she sighed. I wasn’t sure quite what to say to that, but after a pause she elaborated. “I don’t mind it sometimes,” she continued, “but it does annoy me a bit to have to talk all the time about the same things.”
We did discuss some subjects she’s likely to have touched on with other reporters—her new album, the U.K. grime music scene—but we also discussed the pleasures of boating on Lake Minnetonka, a subject Rolling Stone is unlikely to broach. It turns out that Sovereign has friends in the Twin Cities and has visited Minnesota several times. “Crazy things always happen,” she said about performing in the Gopher State. “People come up on stage and do crazy things. The people there are quite down for it.”
The British rapper will be in town next weekend for a performance at the Fine Line Music Café, promoting her sophomore disc Jigsaw. Lady Sovereign, whose stage moniker was inspired by a piece of jewelry she favored, is one of the few white women to gain respect in hip-hop generally and is certainly the only white female of note on the British grime scene—grime being a buzzing sub-genre of hip-hop influenced by garage rock and generally associated with black male performers like Dizzee Rascal. In 2005, Sovereign’s debut LP Public Warning became the first release by a non-American female on Jay-Z’s Def Jam label.
The 5’1″ performer has described herself as “the biggest midget in the game,” and her musical persona is petulant and impish. She’s resisted dressing and acting in a traditional feminine mold; “J-Lo’s got a body,” she rapped on Public Warning, “well, you can’t see mine ’cause I wear my trousers baggy.” Though romance figures as a theme on Jigsaw—the opener “Let’s Be Mates” is a come-on and the title track presents a puzzle as a metaphor for the performer’s heart—the new album largely continues the parade of disses, boasts, and anecdotes that filled Public Warning. “People were expecting me to get a little bit deeper,” said Sov, acknowledging that “stress, anxiety, and frustration” were on her mind while she was cutting the new disc, “but I said what I had to say.” Nor is she particularly interested in getting political: “I don’t want to start talking on behalf of other people. I can only talk about my own experiences.”
Lady Sovereign recorded Jigsaw quickly; she acknowledges that it doesn’t much reflect her personal turmoil. “Before making the album, I took months off from making music. I was stressed out for a long time.” Musically, Jigsaw moves beyond the grime-flavored pop hip-hop of Public Warning, with multiple tracks featuring club beats and with substantially more singing in addition to Sovereign’s trademark quick-footed rapping. “I surprise myself,” she said. “It all happens in the studio. I just love music, creating things that haven’t been done before.” Sovereign resists being pigeonholed in the grime sub-genre, or even in the hip-hop genre generally. “I love to experiment. I’m more than just a rapper.”
Another common misconception about her, said Sovereign, is that she’s mean. “I’m really not,” she said. She’s had her share of public kerfluffles, but she’s generous in reaching out to her fans. Recently, she’s been using the social networking service Twitter, where she posts frequent—and frank—updates for her nearly 9,000 followers. “I used to hate Twitter,” she said, “but now I use it a lot.” (Sample Joe Mauer tweet: “Wow, Joe Crede is joining our team. I think he’ll be a great addition!” Sample Lady Sov tweets: “LOL drunk,” “Woke up for a pee,” “Damn fuck shiiizzzz I just lost my voice, arghhh, I hope it’s not swine!!”)
In addition to asking what about Sovereign’s least favorite part of being a musical celebrity, I asked about her favorite parts of her job. “Performing in different places,” she said. “Meeting different people. Traveling around the world. The money’s good. It’s fun.”
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
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