Last year, when Samsung used “Queen’s Speech 4,” a freestyle by U.K. rapper-singer Lady Leshurr, in a TV spot, millions of Americans were unknowingly introduced to an exciting sound: a brash, young MC delivering a freestyle flurry of biting punchlines, chatty sound effects and pop-culture references in a thick British accent, over a thunderous grime beat. “I want to put the fun back into music. That’s what’s missing – everyone’s too serious,” says the Birmingham-born, London-based hip-hop artist.
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Lady Leshurr may be new to American ears, but she’s a familiar face in the fast-moving grime scene, having traded verses with fellow rappers such as Kano and Tinchy Stryder, recorded with EDM pioneers Orbital and U.K. pop star Labrinth, and dropped more than a dozen mixtapes and EPs since 2009. “It’s been a very long journey,” says the 27-year-old MC, who counts Missy Elliott among her inspirations.
Born in Souhill to parents from St. Kitts, she’s a jokey and ebullient personality who grew up absorbing early Eminem, and dabbled in acting (she appeared in the 2009 crime flick 1 Day) before focusing on music. In 2011, she made a freestyle over Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” and “it went viral,” she enthuses. But when Atlantic Records offered her a contract, Lady Leshurr chafed at their idea of marketing her as a stereotypically sexy female rapper, and turned it down. “They thought, ‘Let’s sign her and mold her into an artist, and dress like this and that,'” she says. “It’s always been hard for female rappers to break through in general. I think Nicki Minaj is so influential. I respect her grind. It’s never been a competition for me.”
In January, Lady Leshurr collected her “Queen’s Speech” freestyles on Queen’s Speech, an EP of “pure fun and banter.” “On ‘Queen’s Speech 5,’ I say, ‘All blacked up like Akon,'” she says. “I got to see his reaction when he heard the lyric, and he just started laughing. He saw the banter and the comedy of the lyric.” Thanks to the series’ success, she’s fielding multiple offers from labels while she works on her debut album. “It’s been a massive breakthrough. The ‘Queen’s Speech’ has took me to a level that I never would have imagined. I just want to capitalize on that and not allow people to think that’s just what I do, the ‘Queen’s Speech’ thing,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of people watching me now.”