Whether addressing the Hyde Park hordes at the anti-war demonstration, accepting yet another award (three Mobos, two Brits, last year's Panasonic Mercury Prize), or performing songs from her 450,000-selling debut LP, A Little Deeper, Niomi McLean-Daley - better known as Ms Dynamite - understands the power of the microphone, the potency of being centre stage. "I'm not here to be a stereotypical feisty young girl who just wants to get up on-stage and chat," she says. "I'm trying to provoke thought . . . I just want people to think more."
What about? Well, her latest single, "Put Him Out", addresses women in abusive relationships; sympathising with their predicament, but insisting that they should get rid of men who mistreat them, if only for their daughters' sakes: "Look what you showing her by letting him disrespect you/You just growin' her to think it's something that all men do." The third release from A Little Deeper, it follows her ridiculously catchy signature tune, "Dy-na-mi-tee", and "It Takes More", which attacks the familiar "gangstas, pimps and whores" attitudes of young black men. "You're talkin' like you a G, but you're a killer killing your own, you're just a racist man's fossey," spits Ms D, adding, "Now who gives a damn about the ice on your hand?/If it's not too complex, tell me how many Africans died for the baguettes [diamonds] on your Rolex".
With just one LP, in just one breath, this 22-year-old mixed-race girl from Camden blows away all the ghetto stereotypes that dog today's urban music. Describing herself as "an extremely positive and ambitious young woman who thrives on the need for a change to society, to discrimination and injustice", Ms Dynamite follows in the conscious footsteps of artists like Soul II Soul and The Fugees. "Life is hard for black people," she points out. "For me, this is so much more than just music. It's about putting myself into a position to help my people." She walks it like she talks it, too: she split her £15,000 Mercury Prize winnings between the NSPCC and a charity that supports sufferers of sickle cell anaemia.
Born to Heather McLean, a primary school teacher, and Eyon Daley, a DJ, Niomi is the eldest of ten siblings and half-siblings. Her parents split up when Niomi was very young, but she remained close to both, living with her mum while looking after the younger kids who lived with her dad. She left home at 15 to live in a hostel and, for a while, she was thoroughly miserable. She went to school, but otherwise stayed in, with curtains drawn, drinking and smoking by herself.
It was MC-ing that saved her. Born from the Jamaican sound systems of the Seventies, the British equivalent of American rappers, MCs chat their own lyrics over the DJ's music choices. They're a vital force in the UK's thriving garage scene, spitting lyrical venom and wit against today's favourite tracks. One night, drunk at a West End club, Niomi grabbed the mike and had a go: the crowd went wild. From there, it took just a few short months for Niomi to morph into Ms Dynamite. Her fierce lyrical talents were showcased on "Booo!", DJ Sticky's garage tune, which went in at number 11 in 2001, provoking a record company bidding war. Polydor won out, and Ms Dynamite was ready to hit the mainstream.
It's important to remember her journey, though, when listening to A Little Deeper. Niomi's life experience goes into her lyrics; her MC-ing experience into the way she delivers them. And, though the LP sets aside its tricksy, alienating rhythms for the smoother, dinner-party sound of R&B and hip-hop, Ms Dynamite is born of UK garage. This can't be underestimated. You may class Ms Dynamite as the new Lauryn Hill, but your kids know that Ms Dynamite has roots. And her roots were nurtured in places you may not wish to acknowledge.
For decades, the UK has taken its black music from the States; our own efforts at hip-hop and soul, with few exceptions, derided as laughable and tacky. But, over the past few years, UK garage - which marries R&B operatics and MC chat to its own uniquely fast, skippy beat - has provided Britain with its own black sound. Despite initial ghettoising (champagne, cars, guns, the usual), garage has forced its way into the mainstream, spawning its own stars: Craig David, So Solid Crew, Mis-Teeq. And Ms Dynamite, the most press-friendly of the lot.
To the lily-white mainstream media, Craig David, with his "making love on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday" shtick, seems too soft and embarrassing; Mis-Teeq too pop; So Solid far, far too scary. But Ms Dynamite is just what the broadsheets ordered. At last, a young black British woman who says what we'd hope she'd say. No need for long-winded argument about whether her words promote black-on-black violence: they expressly don't. No worries that she's encouraging young women to dress too sexily; she refuses to pose naked, is happy in tracksuits and trainers. She's representing, responsibly. Put her on the cover.
Compare the press reaction to So Solid Crew, old friends of Dynamite (she's appeared on one of their tracks). When they exploded, in 2001, with their straight-to-number-one "21 Seconds", they were even more popular with young people. But there are too many of So Solid - specifically, too many young black men - for the mainstream press to feel comfortable around them; their music is harder, their lyrics more threatening (though, actually, they mostly concern money). Plus Asher D has been imprisoned for waving a fake firearm at a traffic warden; Skat D was fined for GBH; Kaish and G Man are currently facing possible gun charges; after shots were fired at a London show, an 11-date tour was pulled on police advice. Speaking after the deaths of Charlene Ellis and Latisha Shakespeare at a Birmingham party earlier this year, Kim Howells directly blamed So Solid Crew for the increase in UK gun violence. The media, more quietly, tend to agree.
In contrast to her So Solid compadres, Ms Dynamite is the darling of the press. That's not to detract from her talent or her achievements: just to note how quickly she has been adopted - co-opted - by everyone from Newsnight to the News of the World. And she's noticed. As she herself points out: "I feel, in some cases, that I'm being patronised by the British media. They come out with condescending stuff like 'wow, you're so intelligent', or 'you speak so well' . . . They've said stupid stuff about me wanting to go to university [she turned down a place to study social anthropology at Sussex to continue with her music]. The worst thing is that they're putting me on a pedestal when there are so many young black women out there who are just as talented, intelligent and expressive as I believe I am."
It will be interesting to see how the media deal with the news that Niomi is about to have her first child, with Dwayne Seaforth, her boyfriend and minder. Ms Dynamite as unmarried mother: too close to uncomfortable stereotype? Plus, Dwayne has a daughter from a previous relationship, which coughs up even scarier black male "babyfather" cliches. Already both the News of the World and the Sunday Mirror have printed exposes about Ms Dynamite's attitude towards Dwayne's former girlfriend. Apparently, Niomi sent her what the Sunday Mirror called a "threatening text"; though, having read it, it seems remarkable for its restraint.
In a world where pop stars let their bottoms talk for them (that's you, Kylie), Ms Dynamite's intelligence and outspokenness is welcome. She is talented, cool, purposeful, honest, and the media are right to promote her. But if she goes back to making straight-up garage records (she's talked of recording one called "A Little Darker"), what then? Or if she has a child and doesn't get married? What if she really loses her temper with Dwayne's previous lover? As she says herself: "The UK media don't understand black culture, and people in general don't either. All they get to see is that stupid black family on EastEnders." Ms Dynamite happens to click with our current liberal media mindset. The real breakthrough will occur when other, less press-friendly British black talent follows her on to the front page.