The New Face of Rap – MIA, Princess Superstar and Lady Sovereign

I’m formally confessing my musical guilty pleasure. If you were a regular reader you’d know that every night I listen to Jason Bentley on KCRW in LA online. Where I get my dose of electronica in it’s many variations. Sometimes I listen to Northwestern University’s Streatbeat on WNUR here in Chicago for similar offerings. But some of the music almost defies genre. Which brings us to 3 young ladies who’ve made quite a big splash in the last couple of years. Their names might not be familiar to you; but I can almost guarantee you’ve heard their music. M.I.A., Princess Superstar, and Lady Sovereign.

Probably the most popular right now is M.I.A. When I first saw her it was clear she was Indian, and when I heard her speak it was clear she was from the UK. Basically a British Indian or a “Brindian” as I’m prone to say.

(By the way, now that I’ve got a public forum I’d like to officially declare myself the inventor of contracting regular words aka portmanteau. I lived for over 20 years in NY and LA, both major media outlets, from the late 80’s through the mid 2000’s. And during that time I talked to a lot of people who went into many media fields-and my cool contribution to the English language has never been acknowledged. I know it’s hard to prove, and therefore hard for you to believe. But I know what I did. And I invented that!)

But back to M.I.A., she was actually born in Sri Lanka and if you read her life story at Wiki, it’s kinda crazy. Her new album Kala is all over the place because of the song and video for Boyz. And if you watch Heroes, they did a double dutch scene a few weeks ago to this song. She’s got another tune called Paper Plans, where she liberally samples from the Clash. She also performed it on Letterman, and had a Milli Vanilla moment, but the clip is just music set to pix.

Her music is fun. It’s fun to listen to because of the beat. She clearly is a person fascinated with the Roland MC-505. And when I first heard her music I had a quick Adam Ant flashback. Most of his music uses the Burundi beat. Then I had a feeling her sound was reminiscent of the Kecak rhythm of Bali. That Kecak ceremony was filmed in the movie Baraka (and the Wild Boys featuring Steve-O also filmed it). If you decide to watch a YouTube Kecak clip, let me just say it might be a little disturbing. That might not be the right word, but it’s unusual, so just prepare yourself.

(Did that tangent into culture surprise you? I think it’s because of my degree from Columbia University’s Anthropology department? And yes, I have a 10 foot travel whip. But I assure you I’m the only person who carries one! But my feeling is; one chase through a South American jungle was enough for me to not go empty handed anymore).

But is it still rap music if done by cute young women from England, NY’s Jewish community and Sri Lanka? Princess Superstar is from New York, and she’s Jewish, but after 10 years who could question her credentials? Certainly not me. She calls her more “flip flop,” because like M.I.A. she pulls her influences from various sources, including electronica these days. She’s also taken to DJing and has recently done a VERY popular collaboration with Mason.

Next up is Lady Sovereign. She’s from England and very young. But trust me, you know her tune Love Me Or Hate Me. It ended up in a phone commercial I think. Again, very catchy, and I enjoy it.

I also want to throw something else at you; Justice. They shouldn’t really be in a piece about women rappers. As an electonica duo they’re far more comparable to Daft Punk, Air, the Chemical Brothers, the Crystal Method and Basement Jaxx. But they’ve got a couple popular songs out right now and there’s a very good chance you’ve heard this one, and it features a female vocalist so it fits with this topic.

So there they are; putting a new face on rap. It’s reminiscent of when Punk rock split into about half a dozen strands in the late 90’s, I think rap is about to enter a more diverse stage.