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Cat scratch fever

U.K. grime rapper Lady Sovereign's feline qualities


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Some MCs spit bullets and go ballistic on the mic. Others spit hot fire. The U.K.'s Lady Sovereign -- the Ess-Ooh-Vee, the 5-foot-1-inch self-proclaimed "biggest midget in the game" -- may be best described as going feral. At least that feels like the appropriate depiction following a sudden sound she makes: an uncannily realistic alley-cat yowl.

"I think it's Tourette's," says Sovereign, who also tells herself to shut up twice while speaking by phone from the road. "I started doing it about two years ago and I can't stop," she says before freeing another caterwaul.

One way to interpret this personality quirk is to discuss any catty aspects of Sovereign's clawing through the scene they call "grime" -- a more guttural, scuffed offshoot of breakbeat-driven U.K. garage. But even more interesting is how this nervous tick threatens to draw back the thin veil between Sovereign and her secret identity, little Louise Amanda Harman from the Chalkhill estate in Wembley, northwest London.

"I've got about 10 personalities ... I get a bit weird sometimes," says Sovereign when called on the untamed utterance. "But on stage that's Sov, that's my full potential -- comfortable, witty."

Indeed, on stage and on Public Warning!, her American debut signed personally by Jay-Z to Def Jam, Sovereign is characteristically hyperactive. Named after a sovereign ring (that's a golden coin of the realm) that she nicked from a friend's boyfriend, Sov wields frenetic cockney patois and an undeniably British credible candor with equal brashness. Inspired by artists such as Missy Elliot and fellow Brit Ms. Dynamite, Sov made a name with such beat-rending and rhythm-riding singles as "Ch-Ching" and "Random."

Then, with the push of Def Jam, Sov set a record by being the first British artist to top MTV's "TRL" with the Public Warning! single "Love Me or Hate Me." It's an assured, cocksure corker. But by phone, Sovereign is especially humble and open to reflection when discussing both personal style and its pitfalls. Perhaps she's still spooked by a Nov. 15 show in Los Angeles when she collapsed onstage due to exhaustion and illness.

"I don't care how much of myself I put in to my songs," Sovereign says. "I don't care if I embarrass myself or offend.

"I'm only drawn to what I like, which is usually an up-tempo, quirky, weird fusion of things ... forks and spoons," she continues. "I'm into quite dark humor sometimes, but it can be confusing whether it should be funny. I don't mean for things to come across to offend people -- it's just me having a laugh. Some don't get it. I've always been 'Ha, ha, ha,' annoying people, winding people up. I don't take life too seriously."

The phrase "defense mechanisms" immediately springs to mind reflecting on both Sovereign's humor and feline tendencies. This impression is additionally ingrained following a brief glimpse at loner Louise.

"I just wish I would have finished school a bit more, because that's where you meet people," Sovereign says when discussing if she's ever been the type to run with a posse, other than her substantial MySpace/blog following. "I left without any friends. I hated it, I hated high school. While everyone else would go out, nobody bothered asking me, I had to walk home on my own. I had so much social energy that wasn't allowed to come out.

"I was more in to sports, natural ability things, which is why I think this happened," continues Sovereign, a decidedly desexualized tomboy in a lopsided ponytail and Adidas. "I didn't have to study to do this."

Celebrating her 21st birthday on Dec. 19, Sovereign admits that as a winter baby, she loves all things crisp, perhaps an influence on her biting form of expression. If someone's heckling, she's willing and able to "jump off the stage and do something mischievous." And you can almost hear the gleam in her eye when Sovereign admits she can't wait to see how many people she can offend with the next album. But underneath it all is Louise, much more warm and worn from a long-desired international whirlwind of attention. Now that the rebellious, at-times-petulant boasts of Public Warning! are introduced, it will be much more interesting to see how the two learn to cheekily coexist.


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