Eliza Carthy weaves the ay, oy and y sounds of The Good Old Way into a mesmerising tapestry of serious hope. The lines are short, most end in a y, but The Good Old Way is from repetitive. Y is one of those sounds that a singer can stretch, smooth, relish or dismiss:
If you sing in English, give y, and every sound it’s part of: ey, oy, ay, ry, ty etc. good attention. Y can fly or it can dampen. Y can be soft and romantic or it can be a clipped end to hope. It’s up to you.
“I started thinking, ‘You know what? Why don’t I just rap?’ Because it’s just poetry with a beat behind it, really.”
Lady Leshurr in The Guardian.
Lady Leshurr chose Greenwich Millennium Village for her single long-shot video, like a driving instructor choosing the best road for a lesson. Enough cars to make it feel real, but never enough to interfere with concentration. We don’t worry about her, we listen to her. It’s nothing like the Champs Elysées at rush hour:
For The Supremes‘ management in 1965, Paris provided an exotic edge for their American public. Dodging traffic at home, in Detroit’s rush hour, would have looked disturbingly dangerous. Paris traffic looked like a film set for The Supremes’ home audience. Quaintly ‘Old Europe’ and unreal. To Paris drivers it must have felt truly unreal. Nobody had warned them, nobody had paid them.
Imagine driving to work and suddenly finding a trio of foreign pedestrians skipping and clapping their way between the cars. You’d think the world had gone mad.
Imagine being Florence, Mary and Diana, pushed out into the Paris rush hour traffic and told to sing, dance and clap to camera. No plan, no permit, no rehearsal. No chance to say no.
I don’t think anyone could push Lady Leshurr into busy traffic and tell her to sing and dance. Without expecting a picturesque mouthful in reply. But don’t think she’s always been that way:
“Before the Queen’s Speech videos I was doing music, but not the type of music that I wanted to do. I wanted to please everyone else, and I knew they wanted me to do the fast-spitting thing all the time so I’d just do it. Really, I wanted to do more grime; I wanted to do more British music and bring my accent more into it. People used to diss my accent and I got insecure and stopped using it. But I just woke up one day and thought, ‘What are you doing Leesh? You’re from Birmingham, you shouldn’t have to hide your accent because of other people.’ I had a little word with myself, said that I should fix up. I don’t really think people understand how happy I am that I’m finally me, inside and out.”
Lady Leshurr speaking to Dazed here.
Lady Leshurr radiates comfortable happiness in her video. To perform more than 3 minutes of such complicated words, from memory, straight through to camera, without edits and with perfect timing, takes a lot of preparation. It’s a real joy to see.
If English isn’t your first language, remember: “Fast spitting” rap needs real precision tongue movements. And warm-up tongue twisters. A lot of tongue exercise. There’s an art to using English precisely without sounding pretentious. It’s not this:
For Lady Leshurr, the words are all her own. She’s been writing poetry since childhood and every single word is a conscious choice. She wants you to hear them all, to ‘get’ the wordplay and the humour.
I’d guess that Lady Leshurr’s text bubbles on her Queen’s Speech 4 Ep. 4 are a helpful guide for international, especially American listeners.
Some of her wordplay jokes are for her home crowd alone. To appreciate the fun in the line “Queen Lesh I’m a reign (rain) Anorak” you need to know anorak’s double life in British English. Not just a thin, unfashionable, pull-on waterproof jacket, but also shorthand for the kind of person seen standing in the cold and rain wearing one: trainspotters, birdwatchers etc. Slightly nerdy, obsessive enthusiasts:
There’s a Christmas Cracker joke feel to the Take it off his rail (Israel) Nazareth line. The audience shares her smile as she slides into the slowdown. It’s masterful comic timing.
Lady Leshurr’s words are a real celebration of the English language, a celebration of her heritage, her home and her own life as a young woman. If you’re writing rap, or grime, she’s a good model. Actually, she’s a good model if you’re writing anything in English.
By the way: if you’re writing a song of any kind in English, notice Lady Leshurr’s use of 3 syllable words: anorak, Nazareth, caravan, Ramadan, paragraph etc. They’re not there by chance. 3 syllable words skip along the beats, linking them together. Single syllable words land, one by one, on the beat, staccato style.
Lady Leshurr uses different syllable value words and groups them together. Like musical notes. In other parts of Queen’s Speech Ep.4, she groups linked double syllable entities: flip flops, kriss kross, wristwatch, ticked off (double syllabled and sharp consonants: p, k, tch, ff) and snapchat, Grandad, banter, double (winding down into wider, rounder sounds, ran, ban,uble). It’s another change of rhythm, faster than the 3 syllabled section, but still open to being speeded up and slowed down.