Something seemed amiss with Lady Sovereign at a certain point during her U.S. promotional tour in 2007.

Riding on a wave of hype after her Jay-Z-endorsed signing to Def Jam Recordings, the British rapper buckled under the pressure in the most public of ways. She ranted about being broke and depressed onstage in Brooklyn, N.Y., abandoning her set after two songs to a sea of jeers.

That moment — immortalized on YouTube —marked the start of a downward spiral for the self-proclaimed “biggest midget in the game,” who’d spent a couple of years prior rising from the U.K.’s underground grime hip-hop scene.

While her debut album Public Warning’s first single Love Me Or Hate Me topped charts, she failed to catch on in the States and was eventually dropped from her label.

The massive touring and publicity blitz Lady Sovereign underwent during that phase of her career was frustrating, but not without its lessons.

“I learned that there’s a line that I had to draw for myself to keep myself sane and not tire myself out,” she told Metro over the phone from her place in London. “Because it’s not good for me or anyone else around me. Trust me.”

When she returned to England, Sovereign was unable to focus on music, so she took six months off and did “not much, to be honest.”

“I just hung out with friends, had a social life again, just went back to normality,” she says. “And that’s what inspired me, really.”

The fruits of that inspiration can be heard on her new album, Jigsaw, released on her own Midget Records. The album has a much more electronic feel than her last, and finds the rapper chanting M.I.A.-style and doing a whole lot of singing — a surprise, given that “I can’t dance and I really can’t sing” was one of the hooks on Love Me Or Hate Me.

“Well I couldn’t sing then,” she says. “I kind of can now, just a little bit.”

It’s definitely a new direction for the 23-year-old Lady Sovereign, who uses her newfound vocal stylings to wax flirtatious on Let’s Be Mates, keep the party jumping on the sultry Bang Bang and express the more, ahem, sensual aspects of cuisine on Food Play.

“I had this friend who was majorly into food and I’d always make fun of him, very tongue-in-cheek,” she says, explaining the song’s origins. “But I know people love that song for whatever reason.”

Her new sound isn’t the only dramatic change she’s made, though. Gone is the trademark “side ponytail” that had been a mainstay of her image throughout her career.

“It was just one of those things,” she says. “I was sitting in front of the mirror, brushing my hair, and was like ‘screw this.’ Half an hour later I’d left the house with my hair down.
“It looks better now, I think.”

Lady Sovereign plays

• Toronto: Lee’s Palace in Toronto, May 1, 2009