Estelle on Her New Sound—and the Daring Move That Caught Kanye West's Attention
Seven years after a smash single, the British songbird is singing a different tune.
Photo: Sophy Holland
Where You've Heard Her Before
In 2008, whether you were at the gym, in your car or at a party, singer Estelle's chart topper, "American Boy," a sunny dance tune showcasting her raspy, charmingly British sound, was inescapable. Although it was her first major hit, the London-born artist had been working on a solo career for 11 years in the UK. Her big break: spotting Kanye West at a Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles in 2004. "I yelled his name as soon as he stepped outside," says Estelle, now 35. "Luckily, he didn't think I was crazy."
The chance encounter with West resulted in his joining her on "American Boy", a record deal and the release of Estelle's first U.S. album, Shine, which spent 30 weeks on the charts. Her second U.S. album, heavier on breakup ballads, was less successful. "The songs weren't as relatable as my earlier ones, which felt more 'I'm happy, I'm free!'" she says. "But a great album can be about fun and heartache—a little bit of everything."
Why the Third Time's the Charm
With her sensual voice backed by a blend of soaring violins and high-energy soul claps, Estelle's True Romance (out this month) is a mix of party anthems and love songs. But while some have called her a one-hit wonder, Estelle is happy to take a lesson from her Top 40 moment. "So many people remember singing 'American Boy' at the top of their lungs with friends," she says. "That's what I want to keep doing: creating songs like that, when you hear them 20 years from now, will make you say, 'Remember that time when...?'"
To hear the song "Conqueror" from Estelle's new album, download the O app in the iTunes Store.