Estelle isn’t a worrier.
When her label seemed confused about the direction the British rapper/singer wanted to go in for her new album, she calmly went to see the execs and said, “Let me go, please.”
“I believe that if the music is good, the rest will follow,” she explained, calling from a tour stop in Washington, D.C. “I thought, `If this deal doesn’t work, I’ll get another one somewhere else.’ I was writing the album with John Legend and he said, `I’ll sign you.’ He made it happen.”
The result of their collaboration is “Shine” (Home School/Atlantic), a collection of hip-hop, old-school soul with bits of reggae and pop thrown in for good measure. The first single “American Boy,” which teams Estelle with Kanye West, has already topped the British charts and is now making its move in America.
While most artists would be a bit apprehensive working with an outspoken megastar like West, Estelle joked that he should have been worried about working with her. “It was mutual respect,” she explained. “I think he wouldn’t have gotten on the record if he didn’t like it, if he didn’t think it was worth it, so I appreciated that.’
Though the sleek pop duet turned out well, Estelle, who now splits her time between London and the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, said she was still stunned when “American Boy” went to No. 1 in England.
“I wasn’t even going for that,” she said. “I was going for great music. I wasn’t expecting it. I jumped up and down. I called my mum. I hugged my friends and they were like, `I’ve never seen you cry so much in your life ever.’ It was such a huge sigh of relief. I was so surprised because people were saying, `Black artists don’t sell, they don’t do well over there.’ Well, I showed them different.”
It’s proof of what Estelle told Legend and other industry execs early in the process. She knows what she’s doing.
“At one point, they were telling me to do this great big piano ballad with John Legend,” Estelle said, laughing. “He said, `Let’s humor them, right?’ When it was done, we just laughed at each other because we knew it was a bunch of rubbish. That’s when he said, `Let her do what she wants.’ “
She said there was never any chance she would be like so many artists today who work with hit-making producers or writers and end up sounding exactly like them.
“John was like, `You mean I don’t have to be in the studio with you all the time? You mean I can live my life? Call me if you need anything,’” Estelle said. “I just took that and ran. I mean, as much as I listen, I’m gonna have an opinion too.”