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Raised in a public housing project in London, Lady Sovereign (born Louise Harman) became one of the world’s best-known British rappers when 2006’s “Love Me Or Hate Me” broke the American Top 40 on the strength of her pugnacious charm. What seemed like a beautiful partnership with Def Jam—Lady Sov was signed by Jay-Z—ended after just one album, though, and she released this year’s Jigsaw on her own Midget Records. At 23, she has passed through hype and backlash to become, arguably, what she always was: an underground artist with mass appeal. On the eve of her North American tour, which includes a stop at the El Rey Theatre on May 26, she answered Decider’s phone greeting with forked tongue in cheek: “You called me Louise,” she said. “That’s really bad.”
Decider: You wrote lyrics online when you were young, and now sing about Facebook. Have you ever had the urge to just unplug and ignore the Internet?
Lady Sovereign: I don’t know, I use the Internet a lot. I don’t necessarily constantly communicate with my fans or whatever, but it would be hard to distance myself. I just couldn’t do it. It’s like not having a phone.
D: How much time do you spend online?
LS: Quite a lot. Like on the iPhone as well. I’m always checking Facebook or Twitter.
D: What’s your creative process with your producer, Medasyn?
LS: I’ll have ideas in my head of what I want to say, but I need a beat to inspire me. So I would just say something as simple as, “Can you try something at 103 BPM with a reversed hi-hat and use an electric piano?” And then it just grows from that. If I’m feeling it, then I’ll put some melodies down, and he’ll build over that. Both of us know when it works.
D: Did Jigsaw use the same process?
LS: Literally the same, but the difference was I hadn’t been in a studio for some time. When I took eight months off, I wasn’t thinking about making music that much. I was just away from it.
D: Do you remember the moment when you knew you were parting ways with Def Jam?
LS: I’d gotten back from the Gwen Stefani tour, and I remember just being at home. I was tired, stressed. I’d stopped doing stuff. I wasn’t cooperating with them, so to speak. I kind of knew it was going to happen, ’cause I wasn’t exactly making a million fucking dollars. I found out, and I was kind of upset. I remember I had a big bottle of champagne in my house, so I drunk that all by myself. I was drowning my sorrows. I had to call my friends over to come make sure I was all right before it got to a different level of upset.
D: Was there a good side to that experience?
LS: Yeah, tons, like going on tour with Gwen Stefani and traveling the world, opportunities like that.
D: The new disc is pretty short, ten songs in 40 minutes. What was behind that decision?
LS: I just didn’t want to do any more songs. I was happy with those ten. I had others floating around. I look at it now and I’m like, “Eek, ten songs.” If I was still on a major, I’m sure they would have had something to say about that. They wouldn’t have let me put out a ten-track album, no fucking way. But I have no problem with it, so whatever.
D: What’s good about having your own label?
LS: Obviously I’ve got to work hard, but it all benefits me in a different kind of way. I can say “No,” and nobody’s going to be pissed off or breathe down my neck. I can draw the line and take breaks when I want to. I try not to. And getting to develop other artists is something I’ve always wanted to do.
D: You talk about overly obsessive fans on the album. Are you also talking to them with “Let’s Be Mates”?
LS: In some sense, yeah, I’ll be friends with anyone as long as they’re not an asshole. But with my fans, they all try and add me on Facebook. And I won’t have it, because that’s personal. When I’m doing shows, I’m not shy to hang out with my fans. I’ll finish and be out there within ten minutes talking to people. But when people start invading my space, it freaks me out a little bit.
D: Have you met girls you’ve inspired because you’re such a prominent female MC?
LS: I was doing an in-store signing the other day, and there was this girl who tried so hard to meet me on the Gwen tour. I met her back then, and recently I met her again, and her dad was like, “Thank you so much, you’ve changed my daughter’s life.” She’s the president of something in her class, and she’s lost weight, and it’s all because of me. And I was like, “Eh, really?” [Laughs.] It was a really nice thing to hear, but I gave her some advice, I didn’t say, “Okay, lose some weight and shit.”
D: Where is home for you now?
LS: I’m in London. I moved in with my dad and my brother several months ago. It’s a good place to be for me, but I’m over it, I really want to move out. I’m planning on buying a house this year. But it’s been nice to be around the family. Just ’til I figure out what I want to do. I’m not sure if I want to stay in London. I don’t know what I want to do. Living at my dad’s house, I don’t really have to pay rent or anything, but I still do.
D: So what are your plans?
LS: I’m always going to want to be part of music. But who’s to say? This whole thing for me in the first place just kind of happened without trying. I think about things like acting and all that, but I’m not going to force it on myself. I’m kind of shy, believe it or not.
D: Do you miss America?
LS: I do sometimes. I just hate the journey over there. If it took 10 minutes to get there, that would be so fucking cool. It’s like my second home.