Lady Sovereign — “So Human”

Released: 4.6.09

Peak: Did not chart

The moral rap against sampling is simple: Why should technological shortcuts  permit just any asshole to cash in on some genuine innovator’s masterful creation? Thing is, though, often enough, the innovator’s more the asshole. On “Super Freak,” brilliant sleazeball Rick James caked a killer riff with the muck of his PG-porn fantasies; about a decade later, derivative nice guy MC Hammer liberated that hook for all ages with “U Can’t Touch This.” Similarly, the Cure’s Robert Smith dangled his band’s shiny melodies to lure impressionable misfits into mistaking his overwrought bedroom hysterics for psychological complexity. (The desired response to a typical Smith fit seemed to be “If I will fuck you will you shut up already?”) Why shouldn’t Lady Sovereign throw open the curtains and let the “Close to Me” hook (already well-cannibalized as a dancehall riddim years before) glitter in the light of the sun?

Louise Harman was among Jay-Z’s early Def Jam signings, and may Hova’s namesake bless him for either failing to realize that no white Brit was going to become a famous female rapper or just plain not caring. The pop grime that Lady Sov crafted with producer Gabriel Olegavich for her full-length was somewhat less delirious than her earliest hit, “Ch Ching (Cheque 1 2).” And on her closest thing to a breakthrough hit, “Love Me or Hate Me,” Dr. Luke stripped her beats of nuance even as her rhymes took her out of context: though brattily attuned to the instant feedback of the internet era, the song seemed to express the presumptions of a far more famous person. Still, Sov’s candid amateurism (“I can’t dance/ And I really can’t sing”) and scurfy tomboy persona were refreshing.

Or could have been, had they’d also been commercially viable. Instead, Sov and Def Jam parted ways; she released her follow-up, Jigsaw, on her own. And as a modest “chin up!” anthem, “So Human” lacked the drama needed to snag a high school kid whose identity is tied in so intimately with the issues of self-esteem and popularity endemic to pop music. Who wouldn’t rather apply the lessons of T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life” or Britney’s “Circus” to her Twitter feed than cheerily acknowledge “Doesn’t it feel much better, uh huh/ When you’ve had a better day than yesterday?” By the time we heard “So Human,” Dr. Luke had found another bratty, slovenly woman eager to rhythmically talk her way to fame. Is Lady Sovereign, in some small way, responsible for Ke$ha?

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