Lady of the Dance: On Jigsaw, Sov trades battle raps for club tracks.

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In 2006, San Francisco resident and future creative recruiter Zach “Slow” Canfield raised $10,000 and bought himself a date with Lady Sovereign. What happened next is somewhat fuzzy, but about six months later, Canfield’s buddy Andrew Bancroft—whose talents include an ability to freestyle while wearing a jelly doughnut costume—got himself hoisted onstage at one of Sov’s shows and challenged the British grime MC to a battle. The former Louise Harman eventually disposed of her opponent but was reluctant to simply dismiss Bancroft with a couple of rounds of audience-pleasing back-and-forth. Her hesitance was presumably a combination of the same tour fatigue that, in May 2007, caused Sov to meltdown onstage, as well as the rapper’s weak command of the most important hip-hop traditions, something that caused her embarrassment when she tried out for the Def Jam folks in 2005. In any case, Canfield and Bancroft went a long way toward proving that Lady Sov, despite her then-success, wasn’t quite ready for hip-hop stardom. Whether she’ll ever be ready remains an open question. But there’s some evidence on her latest full-length effort, Jigsaw, that she won’t be crawling back to Def Jam with designs on claiming some sort of hip-hop legacy anytime soon. Take the album’s first single, “So Human.” On it, Sov chooses to employ a very pop-conscious half-cover of the Cure’s “Close to Me” as a preview for Jigsaw, both showing her stellar (if uninventive) production and her seeming comfort with her departure from her boastful, cocky grime roots. It isn’t an entirely honest introduction—nothing else on Jigsaw comes close to being as hook-laden or brilliant— but Sov is stating that she belongs more to the world of popular dance music than that of hip-hop. Indeed, she spends the bulk of the record engaging in that exercise: Album-starter “Let’s Be Mates” is a blatant nod to her more electroclash tendencies, and the incessant “I Got You Dancing” is more Madonna than, say, Eminem. And, in what can only be an effort to further drive home her point, Lady Sov also tries her hand at, to paraphrase one blogger, a Lil’ Kim–style food/sex number called “Food Play.” If anyone needed convincing that the “biggest midget in the game” should play nice, this’d be it. Some might argue that all of this is a natural evolution and say that Lady Sov’s grime days should have been more about making people dance than hyping her own rep. With Jigsaw, she’s finally managed to do both. —Mike Kanin