Sovereign rule

Lady SovereignLove Me or Hate MeDef Jam RecordsFour out of five stars

The popularity of Lady Sovereign–the 19-year-old emcee from across the pond who burst onto the blogosphere two years ago with an infectiously juvenile blip-hop aesthetic a la M.I.A. and Dizzy Rascal–is a prime example of the ways in which “hype” has mutated from a manufactured industry commodity to a tool used and generated by the masses, for the masses.

Sovereign’s popularity is also a testament to the truth of the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

What that means is this: While the underground Internet sensation that WAS Lady Sovereign a few years back served as evidence of the influence of non-industry listener support, the conglomerated mass-appeal cash-cow that IS Lady Sovereign now proves that no matter how hard the disenfranchised might try to hold on to their heroes, the underground will always be appropriated by the popular market, so long as there is money to be made.

Simply put, the record industry has too much ($$) to lose to stand idly by while the not-for-profit Internet community generates its own superstars. As the record industry has learned, it’s just easier and more cost-effective to purchase the stars the people already love than to try to sell them on something new (thank you, MySpace).

That being said, the industry could have purchased a far, far, far more inferior commodity than Lady Sovereign.

Sovereign started life as a rough-and-tumble Internet darling, making the kind of DIY Casio-rich Brit-hop, blip-hop that found life in the flamboyant London grimy scene. Sov made bubbly, inebriated, gritty bangers that capitalized on her natural talent to spit rhymes like mad, wild hornets: This was a five-foot-tall teenager from the wrong side of the Chunnel with enough strut to proclaim herself the “biggest little midget in the game,” then belch loudly in defiance of your approval.

Sov’s sound remains largely unchanged on her full-length Def Jam debut (Jay-Z, in his wisdom, knew to leave well enough alone). This continuity has much to do with the fact that?well?her sound IS unchanged on the album.

Essentially, 80 percent of the music on Love Me or Hate Me comes from Sovereign’s catalogue of Web gems. Surefire hits “Random” and “9 to 5” are perfect showcases for Sovereign’s razor wit and cocky flare-the emcee is prone to pun on any word in any verse, repeatedly, which might seem troubling if not for her impeccable timing and dead-on aim. New tracks, such as “Those Were the Days,” reveal a new depth to the playful emcee’s shiny veneer.

This is an overall solid album, no doubt. All the hype surrounding Lady Sovereign is legitimate. Her tracks are energetic and inventive. Her rhymes are futuristic. Her sneer is authentic.

And now she’s on TRL.

Which, I suppose, is both good and bad. As has been said elsewhere, there is something exciting and terrifying about eighth-grader mall rats buying Love Me or Hate Me on iTunes before being carted off to soccer practice.

There is also, however, something sincerely depressing about this appropriation. On some level, no artist is ever quite the same after being co-opted.

This is not to say that no artist is ever as GOOD as he or she was after going major–there are plenty of examples of musicians who needed the support of experienced producers and engineers to “find their sound.”

And, if Sovereign is the self-assured emcee she seems to be, she ought to be just fine under the Def Jam umbrella with the likes of Jay-Z, Nas and Kanye West.

But there is also a chance Sovereign will fall victim to her overnight mass-market success. While there are plenty of artists who persevered the barrage of bad ideas proposed by avaricious record execs, there are inarguably more who were exploited so thoroughly that they just fell off the face of the earth.

What’ll happen to the severely talented Lady Sovereign? Only time, chart sales and the emcee’s own internal fortitude will tell.