In the industry’s ongoing quest to find a “Feminem,” Lady Sovereign’s stats are promising: Def Jam MC (signed by Jay-Z himself), self-proclaimed “white midget” (20 years old and five-foot-one), product of London’s Chalkhill Estates (Brit for “projects”), and a success story launched by Internet fandom. But pull up, now. “People wanna classify me as an Eminem/Why? Heh? Wha? I’m a different kind of specimen,” she rhymes on “Blah Blah,” off her big full-length debut. After all, why not liken her strident silliness to Missy Elliott’s? Her rapid-fire flow to Twista’s? Her faux-maican accent to Sean Paul’s? Or Public Warning‘s standout moment, the ska-meets-rap track “9 to 5,” to Madness? And how about hipster darling M.I.A., whose musical influences—London grime, Jamaican dancehall, American hip-hop—cover the same postmodern pastiche?
But alas, Feminem she is. Because over and above her music, it’s Sov’s persona that defines her, and that persona is, simply put, Eminem sans any of the sturm und drang or soul-searching angst that made him interesting—his complex character distilled to pure adolescent fuckery. The tunes on Public Warning are catchy and fun, chock-full of sing-song choruses and jerky electro beats. And yes, Sov can flow, but mostly what’s flowing is juvenile gibberish and impish one-liners about being an outsider because she’s English or short or sports hairy armpits and baggy Adidas: “It ain’t about tea and biscuits/I’m one of those English misfits/ I don’t drink tea, I drink spirits/And I talk a lot of slag in my lyrics.” It’s all very funny and cheeky, but after a full album’s worth it grows cloying, like a good Saturday Night Live skit that’s two minutes too long.