Lady Sovereign

Public Warning

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As her full-length debut was set to drop, the buzz around the brash U.K. MC named Lady Sovereign was unavoidable. Before most everyone actually heard her, they knew a few things: she was the first non-American to get signed to Def Jam; she had her chance with the ultra-hip producers the Neptunes and came up with nothing; and Jay-Z signed her on a single freestyle. Thankfully Public Warning is stunning, better than the hype machine could ever paint it, with jaw-dropping, busy production and sharp, spunky lyrics that whiz by and back up this pint-sized rebel's serious b-girl stance. What's most brilliant is that despite the hype, and most likely because folks like the Neptunes are not on here, the album captures the talented rapper with only one foot out of her parent's flat, barely touched by the dreadful "music business" and one step above freestyles posted on U.K. garage message boards. Rules are still made to be broken, slang is slung all over the place, and belching into the mic is still fun, especially when your producer -- in this case, the razor-sharp Medasyn -- can shuffle it into an impossible mix that ping-pongs like the Streets in double-time. Sovereign is unmistakably an unposh Brit, and "My England" declares, "London ain't all crumpets and trumpets/It's one big slum pit." While some U.K. street slang requires a search engine to make sense to the non-Brit, her preference for playing her PS2 instead of going to a job and general slacker attitude are identifiable to dropouts everywhere. In fact, either the great "Hoodie" or the simple but effective "Love Me or Hate Me" could be a worldwide crunchy-people anthem, and relating to "Tango" is easy if you've ever known some dreadful beautiful person who fake-tanned until they were horribly, entirely orange. The arc of the album shows some mercy for the U.K. rap novice, easing the listener in with smoother tracks before the Chingy-biting "Random" ("Some English MCs getting' twisted/Saying cookies instead of biscuits") and the hyper title track ("I'm that walking dictionary, I'm that talking thesaurus/I'm that old-school prehistoric Soversaurus") ramp up to the raw and whirlwind middle section. The only time the album feels anything close to forced or touched by posh hands is when a concession is made for the Yanks and when Missy Elliott is needlessly tacked onto the "Love Me or Hate Me" remix. Otherwise, Def Jam stays wisely out of Sov and Medasyn's way, and the thrilling tracks are just enough dog, just enough leash. It's something her hardcore fans are well aware of, since the bulk of the album has been available previously on indie 12"s and EPs. For them, Public Warning is a slight disappointment, a mere compilation with a handful of new tracks. For everyone else, it's an exciting introduction to an extraordinary artist captured at just the right time.

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