"Minger," an insult defined in one online dictionary as "a physically undesirable, smelly or ugly person," is only one of many English slang terms on Public Warning, Lady Sovereign's Def Jam debut, that will be unfamiliar to most U.S. hip-hop heads. The native Londoner (birth name: Louise Harman) insists she wasn't pressured to remove colloquialisms like these from her rhymes -- but she concedes that her handlers suggested she rethink one example of American street jargon she'd inadvertently misused.
"In one of my songs, I said, 'Where's my chicken at?'" she recalls, her accent thicker than Benny Hill's midsection. "And they said, 'You do know "chicken" means "whore," don't you?' And I'm like, 'As far as I'm concerned, a chicken is a little bird that pecks around, and you cook it and eat it.'"
These nuances were apparently lost in translation -- a problem that Lady Sovereign hopes won't afflict her stateside career. In recent years, Brit-rap artists such as Dizzee Rascal and the Streets have ridden hype waves onto these shores, but while they've usually received generous notices, they haven't achieved big commercial breakthroughs. It's too soon to know if Lady Sov will suffer a similar fate, but at least she's getting boosts from some major players. Def Jam chieftain Jay-Z has thrown his considerable weight behind the new project, which helps explain why MTV bit on "Love Me or Hate Me," a single whose accompanying clip briefly topped the Total Request Live roster in mid-October. In addition, Missy Elliott, one of Lady Sovereign's heroes, appears on a "Love Me" remix -- not that the two rhymers have gotten a chance to meet yet. "I was somewhere and I couldn't get to the studio, which bummed me out," the Lady explains. "But I'm happy with the way it turned out."
In the interim, Lady Sovereign is spreading her words to Yanks via live appearances, including a Boulder gig with the Streets this past June that went comically awry. "It was probably the most awful show I've ever done in my life, but I enjoyed it," she notes. "I had a couple of drinks before I went on, and because of the altitude, they really fucked me up. I was forgetting the lyrics on stage and going, 'Fuck this song, I don't want to do it' -- and I stopped it. And then my nose started bleeding when I was on stage, and when I came off, that's when it really started pouring. I was like, 'Oh, my God! I've never had a nosebleed in my life!' I looked like this mad, crazy person." She wouldn't mind skipping the hemorrhaging part during her next Colorado visit, but she's fine with repeating at least one aspect of the previous trip: "The party on the bus afterward was brilliant. That Jäger went quick."
As for the chicken, it's gone, too. After learning about the bird's double meaning, she says, "I took out that whole bit. It wasn't really my favorite lyric anyway -- and I didn't want people thinking I was into prostitutes."
Otherwise, they might take her for a bleedin' minger.
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