Estelle Swaray may be a born-and-raised West London girl, but we'd venture that the 27-year-old is right at home in the energy of New York, her newly adopted city. She's got the self-determination with a bit of swagger. The get-up-and-go hustle. And this is one singer / songwriter / producer / rapper who is not afraid to take risks.
Since moving to NYC from London in 2007 Estelle has been an absolute whirlwind, bringing in other producers and artists into the creative process with her, and she's excited by the scope of the music that has come out of these collaborations. Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Wyclef Jean, Will.i.am, Mark Ronson and Cee-lo & Jack Splash - all lent their talents to her last album, produced by John Legend.
"Her sound is a unique blend of hip hop, pop, reggae and soul," explains Legend. "She has a special voice, unlike any other voice out there in mainstream music, and she can really write. She writes hip lyrics with unforgettable melodies. I recognized that in her when I first worked with her in 2004." It was Legend who convinced Estelle that it was time to expand her identity as a rapper by opening up and singing. "I stopped being scared," she says, and the resulting sound is more mature, soulful, and unlike anyone else on the scene.
Born into a strictly religious Senagalese/Granadan family where she was the second of eight children, Estelle learned early about responsibility for self and family, as well as how to escape life's daily pressures through music. Though her mother had banned secular music in the house, young Estelle was exposed to African music and gospel (as well as her West Indian stepfather's roots reggae and dub) via an impressive homemade sound system. At school, '80s pop was the dominant sound. It wasn't long before a teenage Estelle was sneaking out of the house to hear hip hop.
She moved to New York on her own initiative. Her trademark drive was also in full effect when she happened upon Kanye West outside Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles during a fated trip to Los Angeles. She summoned up the courage to approach the star, and request an introduction with Legend. When the two hit it off, she also pushed her label to let her to open for Legend during his European Get Lifted tour, a pairing that would continue for two years, and eventually blossom into the Homeschool deal.
Estelle adds, "My mom is African, but I still have my West Indian roots. She would make African food and listen to African music, but we still had rice and peas and reggae. So I'm able to adapt. I've spent the last five years of my life traveling, so my viewpoint is wider than the average rapper or singer. Before any deals were signed I got to go to Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil - which shaped me for what was to come."