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Ms. Dynamite, ‘A Little Deeper’ (Interscope)

Old enough to know better but young enough not to care, England’s Ms. Dynamite sells a throwback idea on her sprightly debut album: message-driven soul music. Although hip-hop still breaks out the soapbox on occasion, mainstream R&B singers haven’t paid much attention to affairs outside the bedroom since the funk era. Dynamite started out in the U.K. garage scene, guesting with the controversial So Solid Crew. Then an appearance on the sticky single “Booo!”–a track decrying club violence and an anomalous hit in a genre that prizes ruffneck posturing–made her an instant star.

Accordingly, on her thoughtful, earnest debut album, A Little Deeper, Dynamite comes across as a soul singer with a conscious rapper’s concerns. Deeper doesn’t present listeners with a tutorial on garage–a fusion of British breakbeat science and the glammier side of American R&B. Instead, Dynamite’s voice brings to mind vocalist/MCs like the early, playful Lauryn Hill. The optimistic, Caribbean-tinged beats she flows over–produced by Bad Boy associate Punch and Fugees collaborator Salaam Remi–keep the vibe familiar.

It’s Dynamite’s choice of subject matter that distinguishes her from other R&B divas-in-waiting. On “Seed Will Grow,” a family is torn apart by drugs. “Put Him Out” counsels a woman to trash her abusive man. And on “It Takes More,” the album’s best track–and one of the most compelling sounds to come out of Britain in years–she takes down a diamond-dipped braggart with the sharpest of darts: “You talking like you a G / But you a killer / Killing your own…. Tell me, how many Africans died for the baguettes on your Rolex?” Listen up, player–it’s nation time.