March 7, 2009 / 12:40 AM / in 10 years

Rapper Lady Sovereign pieces together "Jigsaw"

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In the fall of 2006, the U.K. rapper Lady Sovereign was riding high. She’d signed with Def Jam, secured an opening slot on Gwen Stefani’s tour and had a hit with “Love Me or Hate Me.”

As quickly as all that happened, it collapsed. She returned to the United Kingdom from touring, moved back in with her father and spent a long time decompressing.

“All I was mainly doing was promo, press and shows,” she says. “The shows were fun some of the times, but they didn’t give me a chance to make any new music; they were just working me. They were just working me, and I got tired of it.”

Now 23, Lady Sovereign is re-emerging with a whole new outlook, both musically and as a budding label owner. Her label, Midget Records, has secured a distribution deal with EMI for the United States and the United Kingdom. Her next album, “Jigsaw,” is due April 7 and is a much more diverse, poppy collection of songs.

While she still considers herself a rapper, her delivery has slowed down, and at times she even sings. There’s a playfulness that recalls Lily Allen, but the album’s material digs deep into her tumultuous career path. Where her previous release, “Public Warning,” had moments of arrogance, the new lead single, “So Human,” demonstrates a newfound humility.

For an American hip-hop audience, “Public Warning” wasn’t a “normal”-sounding record by any means. “I know people were having trouble understanding me,” she says. “It was fast and quite heavy.”

The “Jigsaw” track “Let’s Be Mates” revels in club-oriented dance grooves, and “Student Union” riffs on a more ‘80s synth-driven sound. The title track is a string-enhanced rock song, with a hint of balladry in the chorus.

As Lady Sovereign describes her relationship with Def Jam, and the unrealized potential to expand beyond a one-album deal, she doesn’t sound bitter or jaded. She emerged from the U.K. grime scene, a hip-hop style that is characterized by lightning-quick rhymes and beats borrowed from electronica acts and island influences. “Jigsaw” seems to be the ideal next step in that evolution.

“I’m really compulsive in music — I listen to everything. With my music, I can’t make anything sound similar,” she says. “It makes me sick. I can’t do it.”

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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