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Ms. Dynamite: A Little Deeper

Album: A Little Deeper
Label: Interscope

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From bangers and mash to soccer to Happy Mondays, a lot of British sensations have failed to connect with American audiences. Lately, British pop stars in particular have struggled trying to break into America, but London's Ms. Dynamite seems like a good crossover bet, and not just because she's the first black woman to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Americans tend to care less about awards than catchy singles, and Dynamite has a pair of explosive ones in "Dy-Na-Mi-Tee" and "It Takes More," both of which underscore the similarities between Dynamite and her closest American counterpart, Lauryn Hill. "Dy-Na-Mi-Tee" consciously evokes the singalong infectiousness of "Fu Gee La," which was not coincidentally co-written by Fugees affiliate Salaam Remi, who produced "Dy-Na-Mi-Tee" and many other tracks on Ms. Dynamite's debut, A Little Deeper. On "It Takes More," Dynamite delivers an irresistible tongue-lashing to materialistic gangsta rappers and their outlaw values. Like Hill, she preaches responsibility, self-respect, and dignity to a hip-hop world where sex, drugs, and violence are hawked on a constant basis. If hip-hop were the high school it sometimes resembles, Hill and Dynamite would be the overachieving, fashionably but tastefully dressed honor students telling the loose girls to dump their no-good, cheating boyfriends and start thinking about college. Part of hip-hop's small but vocal moral minority, Dynamite shares Hill's wise-beyond-her-years profundity, but vocally, she suggests a more reggae-inflected Nelly Furtado. A Little Deeper begins with high-proof blasts of indignant social commentary, then edges gradually into more relationship-oriented soul. Though Dynamite sometimes comes across as a moralistic scold, her slinky delivery and understated sexuality undercut the self-righteousness that sometimes infects Deeper. It remains to be seen whether she'll re-create her British success here, but even if it fails to live up to commercial expectations, the album marks the fully realized debut of a brash, exciting new voice.