Lady Sovereign was born Louise Amanda Harman in 1985 in the northwest London neighborhood of Wembley. She grew up in the run-down Chalkhill Estate — a housing project that has since been demolished — with her parents and two siblings, older sister Chloe and younger brother Richie. Louise’s parents were punk-rock fans, so she was exposed to a wide array of urban music, including punk, ska, garage rock, jungle, big beat, and R&B. When Louise’s parents separated in 1997, she went to live with her father and siblings in nearby Neasden.
Louise was a tomboy who played soccer and hated wearing dresses. She had difficulty fitting in at school and was kicked out at age 15 on account of her abysmal attendance record. A number of menial jobs followed, until Louise decided to pursue rap after hearing Ms. Dynamite on the radio.
Going by the name of Lady Sovereign, or simply SOV — a nickname she picked up after stealing a sovereign ring from a friend’s boyfriend — she began writing songs. After she persuaded her father to buy her an old PC and she dished out for a microphone, she started cruising internet chat rooms. Lady Sov met DJ Frampster online, and they began posting 20-minute sets as the garage-grime act Heavy Like Dat.
During these tentative steps, Lady Sovereign signed up for a month-long drama class, which led to a role in an educational film on truancy. The film, which featured one of her songs, was like her own 8 Mile, and it introduced her to east London producer Medasyn, the grandson of famed composer Sergei Prokofiev. Lady Sovereign decided to sign with Universal and strike out on her own in 2004. With Medasyn’s help, she released a number of solo tracks on vinyl and opened for acts like Basement Jaxx, The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, D12, and Obie Trice.
Songs like “Ch Ching,” “Little Bit of Shhhh!,” and “Blah Blah” failed to find a broad audience, but in 2005, Lady Sovereign shifted into a pop-rap style and her fame began to grow. Her singles “Random” and “9 to 5” had moderate success on the UK charts, but Lady Sov was soon to become a surprise hit in America. In the fall of 2005, she met rap legends Jay-Z and Usher, and after a bumpy start, Jay-Z warmed to Lady Sovereign and signed her to his Def Jam label.
Although a mainstream hit eluded Lady Sovereign, her profile in Britain still grew tremendously. She received greater and greater press coverage, and performed in aid of London’s successful Olympic bid. She even met with Prime Minister Blair’s heir apparent, Gordon Brown, after her single “Hoodie” spoke out in defense of that street thug fashion essential.
Meanwhile, Lady Sovereign released two EPs, Vertically Challenged (2005) and Blah Blah (2006). Her full-length debut, Public Warning, has seen its release date pushed back to later in 2006, as Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and The Beastie Boys’ Adrock have now been slated to contribute. Lady Sovereign continues to tour Europe and America, while calling London home — albeit in Earls Court, a swankier address than where she originally came from.