Last year, the skinny white English dude Mike Skinner convinced lots of skinny white American dudes that Eminem wasn't the only skinny white rapper dude worth lending an ear; on his potent debut as the Streets, Original Pirate Material, Skinner countered the widespread American idea that Brits can't rap with plainspoken but vivid portraits of everyday life set to winningly ragged homemade beats. On her own bewitching debut, A Little Deeper, 21-year-old North Londoner Niomi McLean-Daley -- Ms. Dynamite if you're nasty -- shows she's as able as Skinner at legitimizing the notion of U.K. hip-hop.
Like Skinner and his background in two-step garage, Daley comes to hip-hop from another angle: the passion for reggae and dance-hall her Jamaican father left her before taking off when she was 2. Most of Deeper's tracks are suffused with the rhythmic throb and sweet melodic lilt of the island, a twist that makes production from Nas collaborator Salaam Remi and P. Diddy associate Punch sparkle with fresh feeling. Lead single "It Takes More" even throws an accordion lick straight out of Amélie into the mix, and a fuzzy xylophone riff floats through "Dy-Na-Mi-Tee" like smoke from a spliff.
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As an adept singer and MC, Daley demonstrates why she's dogged with comparisons to Lauryn Hill at home, powering opener "Natural High" with a bitter anti-drug screed before quietly bigging-up a special sibling in "Brother," and singing the frank Johnny-come-lately number "Now U Want My Love" with just the right amount of curdled tolerance. And "It Takes More" is her lyrical masterstroke: "If it's not too complex," she sings, "tell me how many Africans died for the baguettes on your Rolex." Time will tell if prolonged exposure to fame and fortune dulls her unique street smarts (as has arguably happened to Hill), but right now Dynamite is exploding with possibility.