Make no mistake about it, Melesha O'Garro is the complete package. It's very possible that you've heard her feature on Tinie Tempahs’s mixtape, ‘Sexy Beast Vol. 1’, or on the ‘female takeover’ remix of Tinchy Stryder’s ‘Game Over’. If you've seen her perform on stage or YouTube, you could remember her for being a consummate rap mimic, especially on her show-stopping take on Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes's “Look at me Now”, which notched up over 80,000 views in one day on worldstarhiphop.com, and now has in excess of 500,000 youtube views across the 3 different video versions. Or perhaps you’re aware of her unanimous reputation as ‘The Best Spitter in the UK’, and the industry buzz that’s building round her, with everyone from Mike Skinner to Nicky Minaj and Trey Songs heralding her as the ‘next big thing’, and the MD of Atlantic US flying her over to New York to discuss plans for her forthcoming album.
You might think of Lady Leshurr as the quirky artist who rhymed over a reworked Dr Who theme on “Exterminate” from her 0121 AM mixtape, reduced other rappers to bemused laughter on a bonus track on her recent “Friggin' L” collection, and who demonstrates a classic dry Brummie humour on Twitter and elsewhere. Or perhaps you've just been startled that such a cute, petite young woman can be such a dextrous and furiously powerful vocalist or listened closer and heard how hard-hitting her lyrics are beneath the wit and wordplay.
This isn't about artificially trying to cover all bases or be all things to all men. Lady Leshurr's rich and complex lyrics, her elegant shifting from one persona to another onstage, her ability to adapt her flow to pretty much any style of musical backing, her easy blending of the lighthearted and deadly serious: this isn't about what she wants to be, it's about who she is.
Musically, her refusal to be pigenoholed simply reflects her background and life experiences. She grew up in the sprawling West Midlands district of Kingshurst, Solihull, where she still lives now – in contrast to most rappers who feel the need to emphasise ghetto credentials, she refers to this as “really lovely, a good area!” Her parents both came from the Caribbean isle of St Kitts, and from birth she was surrounded by music, but while her mother's tastes included reggae, her dad tended to pop music, and her older brother to hip hop, so the mix was there from the start.
Melesha began rapping and writing poetry at the age of six (SIX!), finding inspiration in the power of reggae legend Sister Nancy and later in her brother's US rap records over which she would compulsively rhyme in her bedroom, imitating, adapting and improvising on the MCs' styles. By secondary school she was seriously honing her skills at parties where she DJed and rapped over drum'n'bass, garage and grime – each step of the way absorbing the sounds and attitudes of her environment. But just as much, her style has come poetry, from obsession with dancing, acting and drama at school (which has continued in appearances in two short films and the acclaimed Brit flick “1 Day”), from a rich understanding of the natural, multilayered music of language and the physical and mental discipline needed for real performance.
All of this is held together by a drive to succeed as an artist that stands out from the crowd by showing no sign of being about greed or ego. In person and in performance, Lady Leshurr is relentlessly positive, but not in that dreary, wholemeal, lecturing way that some “conscious” rappers can be. She always avoids the “guns and drugs talk” and constant arguments of grime, “because I know how much kids want to be like the artists they listen to,” but she will always defend the scene with its “hype and excitement” and the opportunities it's created for young British talent. Seen in this light, the humour with which she injects everything she does reveals itself to be anything but flippant. She may say “anyone who knows me knows that's just how I am, I like to joke around” – but in fact this very joking around is a powerful weapon in getting her voice heard among the machismo and aggressive aspirationalism of the rap scene.
That's not to say she doesn't have aspirations herself, of course. Although she's built her abilities over the course of untold shows, raves, mixtapes and appearances on others' tracks, this is really just the beginning for Lady Leshurr. Inspired by the likes of Tinie Tempah, Wretch32 and Tinchy Stryder, she's well aware of the possibilities the mainstream now holds for British urban artists. In addition to working hard on her debut album (due for release Spring 2012), she's already developing her first lines of clothing and accessories, and getting her Gutter Strut Recordings label moving.
More than anything, though, Lady Leshurr wants to make her mum proud. “She worked 12 hour shifts to make sure we were ok,” she remembers proudly, “and I want to be able to look after her in return... and show her that I've got that focus and dedication too.” Good daughter, entrepreneur, fashion designer, role model, joker... and one of the finest voices of her generation: we told you she was the complete package.
Lady Leshurr’s debut single ‘Lego’, (which is already receiving full support from 1Xtra and Radio 1), will be released by Gutter Strut Recordings on 14th November 2011.