A fun little case of musical parody and lyrical shit talking: in 2004, a young Brit named Jentina tried to launch a career as a pop singer and rapper. Her debut single, “Bad Ass Strippa” attempted to make the song's first-person subject -- a jet-set femme fatale "dancer" -- synonymous with Jentina's own would-be celebrity image. But beyond a one-dimensional character sketch, the big problem here was the complete and utter failure of Jentina and her marketing team to convince anyone that this persona was at all realistic -- it was bullshit, and it wasn't even well done bullshit of the kind that makes you feel okay about going along with the charade.
The publicity surrounding Jentina at the time of “Bad Ass Strippa's” release tried to boost her portrayal as street-wise and exotic largely through emphasising her traveller/gypsy background. Much was made of the fact that Jentina was born in a caravan and came from a large family, but no traces of her cultural heritage appear evident in her work, so it seems a misguided selling point on top of a myriad of other issues.
First, Jentina's weak attempt at rapping: there's nothing of skill or cleverness here, and, much like her dancing in the video, she comes across as half-committed and bored. If a positive stereotype about travellers and gypsies is their virtuosic musical and dancing abilities, we don't have to worry about Jentina reinforcing it. It's possible she's aiming for an air of lofty and sophisticated indifference, but that persona isn't convincing either because there's no reason for us to believe that she's sophisticated; in such a bare-bones video as "Bad Ass Strippa," it's up to the main subject to pull off whatever act she's going for and it's not happening here.
Think I'm being too harsh? See/hear for yourself:
So far, then, the only discernible asset Jentina has is her looks, which Virgin Records must have been counting on heavily to lead the single to chart success. Certainly, a strong club/dance song such as this can be a quick way into the Top 40 and "Bad Ass Strippa" touches on many of those generic bases – heavy beats, “ethnic” drums, and breathy sexy vocals. For that ear-worm hook, song-writers didn't risk originality and instead relied on a hit from a previous era: the O'Jays' “For the Love of Money" (1973), whose own hook is sampled frequently here. Obviously no one cared that this a song with a critical message on capitalism and monetary greed that is very contrary to the spirit to "Bad Ass Stippa," because, hey, who pays real attention to source material anyway, right?
Now, what limited popularity “Bad Ass Strippa” had after its release was overshadowed when it was parodied with extreme contempt by Lady Sovereign, aka “Sov.” While she's msotly referred to as a rapper MC, she's also closely associated with grime which, like Sov herself, hasn't yet caught on much outside the U.K. The genre combines rap with house and dance music – basically, it's fast rapping/MCing with super-fast break-beats and drum'n'bass. It's also said to have originated in council estates, the same environment where Lady Sovereign grew up (a point which figures prominently in her own publicity) and the place where she cut her teeth MCing – not an easy feat given the noted male dominance of the genre. Back in 2004, Sov was still in the early stages of her career, which makes the timing of her parody interesting in a few ways. Before we go any further, though, let's hear her parody, “Sad Arse Stripper.”
No pretence there, this is full of anger, vitriol, and even a touch self-righteous indignation. But it's more than that too – it's a vicious critique of Jentina and her debut single where Sov not only goes through the contents of Jentina's lyrics, but she also attacks Jentina's rough and tough image by comparing the PR about her to what Sov actually sees (Sov's full lyrics here). The opening lines of Sov's version run: “What the fuck you was born in a caravan?/That don't make you ghetto/I seen more ghetto in Posh Spice's stiletto.” And just so it's clear, later in the song Sov menaces: “I am here to fuck up your career/and you will take this lyrical diss.”
You can only wonder what Jentina, who had probably never heard of Lady Sovereign before, thought of this. Unfortunately for her, Sov's threat seemed to work because Jentina's career essentially tanked after this, although perhaps it's better to say her non-existent career was doomed to never materialise. Because of “Bad Ass Strippa's” lukewarm reception and Sov's parody, Virgin tried to retool Jentina's image, which largely involved jettisoning any attempt at street cred and presenting her as a typical ultra-feminine pop star. It didn't work; her debut album (which was probably already recorded and paid for) and a couple more singles were eventually and quietly released in Italy only, where they got a modicum of attention.
The outcome of all this has been that Jentina's song, even Jentina herself, can't be mentioned without also bringing up Lady Sov's version (youtube comments easily confirm this) to the extent that the two have effectively became fused and Lady Sov's parody almost kind of has become the new, primary version of that song – after all, we probably wouldn't know either if Sov's hadn't gone on to have a two successful album releases (for a niche genre) and started to make slight inroads into the US market and musical mainstream.
Now, it's entirely possible that even if Lady Sovereign hadn't recorded her parody that Jentina's musical career would have been a non-starter anyway. The latter's questionable talent certainly makes it an easy conclusion to draw. But one might think that someone would have come to Jentina's defence in all of this and that's not what happened. In fact, if anything, the British press found the whole affair downright funny. To be clear, this wasn't big media sensation where Sov's career suddenly took off, but it didn't pass entirely unnoticed either and it did garner Sov some notoriety. Here and there in the British press commentators appeared to giggle and even revel in Lady Sov's public brow-beating of Jentina. At most, one or two did hint that, well, maybe it was a “little mean.”
Given Sov's perception of being a bit of a chav, yob, or otherwise slightly unsavoury character, you might think the press would come down harder on her for attacking another female artist who's trying to start a music career just like she is. Since they didn't, perhaps they felt insulted by Jentina's whole schtick and thought she got what she deserved. Many pop music fans are aware that there's some heavy manufacturing around their favourite artists, but this must be done in a seamless, sophisticated manner to make the illusion both believable and enjoyable – and that didn't happen with Jentina.
So, when someone like Lady Sovereign, who has ability and even “authenticity,” comes along and tears Jentina down, she was seen as someone who had the appropriate authority to scold and criticise. It also likely helped that both were young, relatively unknown artists – although Jentina was clearly aiming for the mainstream whereas Lady Sovereign was somewhat (self-?)marginalised by being a female MC and grime artist – so that there was no strong power disparity between them. These factors then combined to allow the press as well as Sov's fans to enjoy Jentina's public humiliation whereas they otherwise would have chosen simply to look past her as another failed “artist.”
Anyway, Lady Sovereign still hasn't cracked the musical mainstream, but she continues to have a loyal cult following. Her career stalled around late2009/early2010 due to erratic behaviour, but it seems she may be mounting a comeback this year. Jentina, on the other hand, abandoned professional singing to model for a time and is now a quiet family woman. She still does singing and song-writing at home, was a talent judge on Travellers Got Talent, and appeared on A Gypsy's Life for Me where her musical past was generously edited. Does this mean she's preparing for a comeback of her own? The coincidence would be interesting.