When it comes to understanding thick U.K. accents, I normally do just fine. I can discuss the meaning of life with Glaswegian art students just as they’re coming up on their E. I can hold my own in political debates with street-dwelling Dubliners. I can even watch Coronation Street and understand every bleedin’ word of it.
But for some reason, when I interviewed London’s rising hip-hop star, Estelle, I couldn’t make out what the hell she was on about half the time. And she’s not even from East London.
Of course, it didn’t help that the other line on her cellphone was going off every five seconds. So not only was I deprived of the letter H, I was denied full sentences more often than not.
What I did gather from our 15-minute phoner is that she is a beautiful, self-assured soul sister with loads of opinions. During our Q & A sesh, she praised George Michael for “just being him” and being so open about his sexuality. As well, she went on some sort of rant, criticizing the British music industry for not supporting black artists enough. But what I picked up on the most was that she is really proud of her latest album, Shine. And so she should be.
Boasting collaborations with the likes of will.i.am, Kardinal Offishall, Mark Ronson, Cee-lo Green, and John Legend, Shine has liner notes that read like a who’s who of nu-R & B and neo soul. But the real standout on the LP is “American Boy”, an insanely catchy disco number featuring Kanye West (who clearly has some leftover Daft Punk beats in him).
“We were joking [around] when we made that,” says Estelle, who’s calling from her part-time home base in NYC. “It’s frivolous and the lyrics are so simple compared to the rest of the album”¦like they’re extra simple. I was two steps short of putting an [Fonzie-like] ”˜ehhhh’ in there, just to make fun of it. But then I ended up loving it so much, I was like, ”˜Lets keep it, then. Cheers.’ ”
Wise decision. The song has become a huge hit, reaching number one in the U.K. As for going into the studio with so many big names, Estelle didn’t feel an ounce of anxiety—not even with the egomaniacal West.
“No, I’ve known him for a while,” says the 28-year-old, who met West through Legend. “Me, him, and Johnny come from the same ilk of ego. We’re quite confident in our skills.”
Another highlight on Shine is “No Substitute Love”, a Wyclef Jean–produced song with a definite Lauryn Hill vibe to it and an unexpected lyrical homage to George Michael’s “Faith”.
“That track was just about getting the last bit of ”˜I hate men’ off my chest,” says Estelle. “It was for one of my ex-boyfriends. I hadn’t quite adjusted him quite like he needed to be adjusted. [It was a] ”˜You leave or I’ll leave’ situation—I was tired of it.”
If that’s the last bit of “I hate men”, can we expect her next album to avoid the subject all together?
“Oh, no,” she says before adding: “There’s no shortage of that when I’m around.”
Estelle plays the Commodore on Monday (September 1).