Lady Leshurr

“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:

It’s this:

Clear pronunciation doesn’t have to mean posh pronunciation. It means precision. Cécile McLorin Salvant pays attention to her words, purely because words are important in jazz song.

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:

Anoraks in anoraks
Anoraks in anoraks

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 wordsanorak, 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.

©SingBetterEnglish2017

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7 thoughts on “Lady Leshurr”

  1. This is another of your classic posts in which you (a) heighten my appreciation of vintage footage, (b) introduce me to a wonderful new artist (“brush your teeth”!) and (c) tie it all up together with a lovely analysis and lesson in diction/lyrics. Outstanding!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s a real joy to it, isn’t there? And something personal. The video has something of the quality of a clip filmed far from home for family. She’s a couple of hours south of her own home and in London her Birmingham/Solihull accent will have been noticed and judged. As the BBC put it: “The accent frequently comes bottom in polls of people’s favourites. It is rarely heard on television or in films unless they are comedies.” http://bbc.in/1r2YNYp There was a ‘survey’ recently that declared “Speaking in a Birmingham accent is now viewed as being less attractive than staying completely silent” http://bit.ly/1e4vYpA Odd isn’t it?

      The Birmingham/Midlands accent would have had a different reputation if it had been used, as it should have been, for Shakespearian performance:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Speaking in a Birmingham accent is now viewed as being less attractive than staying completely silent.” OH DEAR. How truly awful. But that YouTube video … what a treat! Thank you for sharing that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Language play is such fun! So is playful video. Lady Leshurr is a sprite! The gendarme ushering the Supremes off the road and back on the walk is a great bit of film, too. This was a delightful post. Love the emphasis on the “inside” nature of language, language pitched to an “in” crowd, knowing laughs with half a hope that an outsider catches on. Playful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve found the perfect word: “sprite”. Lady Leshurr’s video bounces with puckish exuberance and fun. All backed up by years of hard work – it’s a bit like watching Simone Biles or Buster Keaton in action. I get the impression she’s had to protect and reclaim her joy from some of the more short-term requirements of the ‘industry’ http://bit.ly/2cgKHyT

      I wonder where that Paris gendarme is now. He must be in his late 80s, like Berry Gordy. There’s an interestingly nuanced article about Gordy here: http://bit.ly/1Tj31b0 This struck me as I read it:

      Gordy tells of how as a young boy he would earn money by shining shoes – ‘sing, entertain and pop the rag’ – and selling the Detroit Tribune, an African-American newspaper, on the streets of his neighbourhood. He did so well he set up on a corner downtown. ‘There were hardly any black people down there, but I sold more papers than I’d ever sold before,’ he remembers. But the next week when he took his brother with him, he sold nothing. ‘And then I began to realise that one black kid was cute; two black kids were a threat to the neighbourhood.’ He gives a wry smile. ‘That was interesting to me.’

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      1. He does, doesn’t he? Berry Gordy’s so often dismissed as a one-dimensional Svengali figure. I felt glad to be reminded of what and where he’d come from and the times he lived in. Mick Brown’s article coloured in a bare, unfair outline for me.

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