Diminutive English rapper Lady Sovereign’s first album showcased a mélange of sounds, repping everything from UK garage to punked-up drum n’ bass. In the subsequent whirlwind of attention, the cheeky singer signed to Def Jam (Jay-Z inked the deal himself), scored Missy Elliott for a remix of the TRL-topping track “Love Me Or Hate Me,” and hit the road with Gwen Stefani. Music media built on the buzz, championing the pint-sized powerhouse as grime’s ambassador in America.
So what happened to her? After a bit of soul searching, Sov realized she didn’t want to be on a major label or be considered grime’s great white hope, and she went into incubation. Finally ready to poke her head back in the stage door, Sov is rather humbly releasing her second album, Jigsaw, April 7th on her own label, Midget Records. Three recent stateside gigs revealed a more mature, subdued side of Sov, who has traded in Adidas tracksuits and a side ponytail for streetwear and a down ‘do. Earplug rang her in London to chat about tossing her cookies at McDonald’s, ditching her trademark tracksuit, dropping diss tracks for Lady Gaga, and getting down with Playboy’s wee ol’ wabbit.
Earplug: We were at your first U.S. show in 2005 at the Knitting Factory, at which you left the stage to throw up after eating McDonald’s. How do you think you’ve changed as a performer since then?
Lady Sovereign: That performance was…yeah, I tried my best in my state. Every time I perform I better myself in different ways; I get more confidence. Because I haven’t performed in a long time, it’s felt a bit weird recently. I want my band back. I need that shit. It’s all good playing with just a DJ, but I like to have something to bounce off of, a bit more energy going on.
EP: In the new video for “I Got You Dancing,” you’re wearing a Stussy New Era and a Mishka sweater. Have you ditched the Adidas tracksuit in favor of streetwear?
LS: Do you know what? I haven’t worn a tracksuit for ages. I’ve moved on a lot. I’m more willing to try things out, whereas before I was just really stubborn and got stuck to one thing. I even wear my hair down now. The ponytail is gone. As I get older, people in general, you try things out. You’re always gonna evolve as a person.
EP: When I first saw the video, I was reminded of this show we’ve got in the US, America’s Best Dance Crew. Have you seen it? Is there a UK version?
LS: I have seen it, and it is a bit dramatic, isn’t it? I don’t think there is an established one yet but I’m sure there will be. I had a really good idea for myself today, actually. I was thinking right, seeing as how I can’t dance anyway, I should just bloody do a reality show of me learning how to breakdance. I think that would be fucking hilarious. It’s a shame I couldn’t tie it in with “I Got You Dancing” because it’s a bit late now.
EP: On your track “So Human,” you sample The Cure’s “Close To Me”. Have you always been a Cure fan? Was it your idea to sample them?
LS: I love The Cure. All of their songs are catchy and individual, and it’s never repetitive. It’s quite meaningful stuff. To use that sample was my idea. People were like “‘Aw, you’re a bit brave to do that, because it’s that song, and it’s The Cure.” and I was just like, “you lot are going on like I’m really gonna ruin the song.” But I didn’t! I think I’ve done a bloody good job to be honest. Better than that other guy who’s used it. Some other guy! I’m not even going to mention his name, because that’s the whole point of why he’s probably doing it. In fact I’ll just shut up now, but he’s trying to claim that his version is better than mine. But it’s not.
EP: What is your favorite remix of one of your tracks?
LS: It’s not come out yet, but the Sinden remix of “So Human.” It’s pretty bangin’. I love everything he does.
EP: You’ve recently started Midget Records. Did you always know you wanted to run a label?
LS: It was never in my initial thoughts growing up. When the opportunity is there and you can do things like that, I just came to realize it’s something I’d like to do. I want to sign artists, I think I’ll be pretty good at that. I love having my own label. I get to say yes and no to everything; it’s fucking brilliant.
EP: You’re doing this Rock The Rabbit thing for Playboy — how did that get hooked up?
LS: When they first told me about it, I didn’t know what it was. I was scared: what, are you gonna send me some dodgy sex toy? And then they explained and I was like “ohhh. Okay.”
EP: It’s designing a shirt, right?
LS: Yeah, it’s doing something with the ol’ wabbit. See, that sounded wrong as well! I don’t even know what I’m gonna do. I’m not that great at drawing anymore. I used to be quite good. Hold on one second, who the hell is that? It’s a goose, I thought it was someone outside.
EP: Like, an actual goose? You are in London, right?
LS: Yeah, but geese fly by, and seagulls. I don’t know where they’re going but it just makes it sound a bit more exotic round here.
EP: Where are some of your favorite places to go in London?
LS: I’m not that fussy. I like to go to a pub and have some drinks with loads of friends and get wasted and do stupid things. I’ve actually been banned from quite a few pubs recently. For silly things as well, I don’t understand. A few weeks ago, I got really drunk and I climbed onto the pub roof and did my own version of “Romeo and Juliet.” I don’t know what I was doing. Then I started throwing glasses from the top of the roof… so I’m banned from that one. I didn’t know how I was planning to get down from the roof, but then I realized there were some stairs, so I didn’t have to climb up there in the first place.
EP: What is the strangest American city you’ve visited?
LS: Probably Albuquerque, because it was just like, where the fuck am I? There was another place, I think it was in Canada actually, Saskatoon? Me and my friend were on the road on tour and got lost in Saskatoon for four hours. We ended up on some old railway track with all this roadkill. We didn’t know where we were, it was horrible! I was really worried — our phones died, there were no shops because it was all industrial.
EP: Lost in Saskatoon…
LS: Yeah, I should write a song about it. Not many people would get it, it would just be some old parody country song, because Saskatoon just sounds like some spit in a barrel sort of place.
EP: Whatever happened to that Jentina chick you made a diss track about a few years ago?
LS: Do you know what, I have no idea. The other day I came across this really funny thing on YouTube, someone’s done a parody of me and Jentina. They’ve dressed up as me and have got my mannerisms down to a tee. The girls are obviously American or something, and are just like ‘Yo, it’s Lady Sovereign!’ and it sounded just like me, I was shocked. All these things, me meowing — it was really funny. But I don’t know what happened to that girl to be honest. She literally disappeared after that whole saga.
EP: Would you make a diss track for anyone now?
LS: Oh yeah. I’m tempted to do it. A certain Lady… if you know who I’m talking about… Lady bloody Gaga! I don’t get it, I just don’t get the hype. And how dare she come along with the name Lady and rock it above my status with that? That takes the piss. I could say so many things. I would demolish! She would have to go and live in a cave if I was to do it. It’s all fun and games really. You can’t give that away. But you will really.
EP: Your new record comes out April 7th?
LS: Yeah, and I start my North American tour in May, Thunderheist is supporting me.
EP: No way, we just interviewed them! They are awesome.
LS: I don’t even think they know they’re supporting me yet, but I chose them. Have you seen them live? Are they good live?
EP: Yeah. They’re a lot of fun. Isis comes into the audience and booty dances with everyone, and drinks peoples’ drinks.
LS: I think me and her will get along then!