10 October 2006

Chavs and Chav-Nots

Say what you will about Wikipedia--that it's a great democratizer, that it's a dubious hodgepodge of inaccuracies--you can't deny it's an easy way to learn interesting factoids. For example, did you know there are people who have a sexual fetish for dental braces? Or sneezing? I sure didn't!

Also, did you know that in England, the word "chav" refers to a subculture that's obsessed with flashy jewelry and certain designer labels? And that there's an anti-chav sentiment in portions of the British hip-hop community? It's mind boggling that hip-hop artists who are associated with bling and brand names would be rejected, considering how many American rappers are venerated for the very same thing.

Of course, based on my (very light) reading, I also get the impression that chavs are the U.K. equivalent of white trash or Jersey girls, so perhaps their brand-labelry is sneered at in the way some Americans sneer at "low-class" folks who dress the part of opulence so gaudily that they clearly don't belong to the moneyed ranks. You know, like the people who wear so many gold chains that it becomes a sign of their insecurity instead of their wealth.

But people who judge someone else for being low class are just being classist assholes, so nobody really wins in this scenario, either in the U.S. or the U.K.

Are there any British readers of "I Totally Hear That" who can enlighten me on this? Kalle? Others? I'd be fascinated to know more.

Because speaking of hip-hop artists, Americans have given rappers like Bubba Sparxxx a career precisely because they are low class, and that might explain why we've been quicker to embrace Lady Sovereign. She's a white, female, British hip-hop artist whose first single "Love Me Or Hate Me" is doing pretty well on iTunes right now. (Plus, she's got a record deal from Jay-Z.)

According to Wikipedia, Lady Sovereign hasn't quite exploded in the UK, though she has had decent success. Her entry suggests she would be more popular had she not figured in a British TV documentary about chavs. Though the film sought to explore the inherent classism in the term, there were apparently viewers who used it as a guidebook for people to boycott.

But chav or not, Lady Sovereign is an artist worth noticing. Check out her MySpace page here and her official website here. (The sound quality on the official site is lower, but you can hear more samples.) She's got a good flow, solid beats, and an obvious sense of humor about herself.

Lady Sovereign fits into the genre known as "grime" or "grimy." That's a particularly British brand of hip-hop that trades in stripped down beats and hella thick accents. Dizzee Rascal is a leading artist in the field. Would you put The Streets and Ms. Dynamite in there, too? Maybe a little. Anyway, Lady Sovereign's grimy.

And she's a white woman. Rapping. Whoa! I can now officially name three white female rappers or rap groups. (The other two are Northern State, and God-Des.)

For being a trailblazer in her genre, Lady Sovereign deserves respect. I always root for artists who make good music while seriously bucking a trend. Maybe I'm glorifying or sentimentalizing them, but I feel like they're making statements by even producing their work. It can be so easy to believe that artistic boundaries are real instead of just created by random cultural norms, but then we have people like Lady Sovereign, Cowboy Troy, and Tori Fixx reminding us that conventions are not the same as absolutes.

So call me a chav-lover if you must, but I'm in Lady Sovereign's corner.

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