Take a minute to Google the phrase "U.K. grime" and you'll find reams of pseudo-intellectual critical analysis -- a lot of it written by Americans -- about how the genre was formed, why it's important, and why you're too stupid to know anything of significance about it in the first place. But I'd rather skip the cultural anthropology lesson. Suffice it to say that grime is a rough amalgamation of U.K. garage and rap, and with the emcee significantly more prominent in the mix than the deejay. But even if the previous sentence makes little or no sense to you (it barely makes sense to me), your inevitable enjoyment of MC Lady Sovereign's recent stateside EP release probably won't be the tiniest bit diminished. This is assuming, of course, first, that you're a fan of hip hop in general and, second, that you're somewhat bored with what's currently on offer, and hungry for something fresh. Vertically Challenged is all of those things and then some, and when the disc's first track -- a Sovereign classic called "Random" -- kicks into high gear, you'll be smacking yourself in the forehead for not having discovered her earlier.
The S.O.V., as she calls herself (she's also known as "the white midget") clocks in at a diminutive 5'1", although on record she continuously manages to imply the confidence and lyrical presence of a pit bull. That's to say nothing of her jaw-dropping ability to parlay incredibly complicated and tongue-twisting rhymes into a goosebump-evoking run-on sentence or three, all the while dropping her vocal inflection -- and then lifting it to an irresistible high pitch -- within the space of the same chorus.
It's quite possible too that Sovereign's East London accent will twist Vertically Challenged into something particularly novel for American hip-hop fans, who are of course already used to deciphering nearly unintelligible lyrics by using contextual clues. Or, there could be a slow stateside decline into underground obscurity for the reigning grime queen, which is exactly what happened to The Streets (Mike Skinner) and Dizzee Rascal, two U.K. grime kings who were expected to blow up on these shores but never fully did.
In true rock-star style, though, Lady Sovereign doesn't seem to be terribly bothered by the media machine, which has been (rightfully) clamoring for personal details since her recently inked deal with Jay-Z's Def-Jam/Rock-A-Fella enterprise. During an interview with I-D, she clarified thusly: "I don't do grime, I don't do reggae, I don't do hip hop, I don't do pop, I don't do indie: what I do is just me on a record. We're all a bit bigger than that now."
Well, maybe not now, but very soon: Sovereign's Def Jam debut is tentatively scheduled for a spring 2006 release.