In 2008, British singer, songwriter Estelle Swaray established herself among the hip-hop elite with her anthem "American Boy." The song has been nominated for two Grammy Awards, including Song of The Year.
Performing under her first name, 28-year-old Estelle has earned three consecutive "U.K. Hip-Hop Awards" for Best Female Artist, and in October she was named the MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) Awards' Best Newcomer as well as achieving the same honor at the BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards.
It has been four years since Estelle released her debut album, The 18th Day, which achieved limited success. With her new CD, Shine she was able to work with will.i.am, Kanye West, Wyclef Jean, and John Legend. Despite the stardom of her collaborators, Estelle is not feeling pressure to excel.
"I try not to feel any pressure at all," she said. "That is the worst thing in life, to feel like you have to live up to a certain thing, or you have to do anything based on other people's expectations. I don't like that feeling, so I choose not to feel it."
"I didn't feel much pressure. Plus the words were kind of spilling out. People were like [saying], 'The words, the lyrics, where did you come up with that?' They were conversations I had. I did not try romanticizing the lyrics or putting them into great context for a glorifying moment ... I was like, 'Yeah, that is how I feel today,'" she added.
In 2008, Estelle was introduced to American music fans with the hit song "American Boy" which features Kanye West.
"Kanye [West] is an amazing person," she said. "People get on him about his ego but I say it's great that he believes in himself."
Estelle admits she did have an American boyfriend. The end of that relationship was her motivation for writing the songs on the new album.
"Everyone was really shocked at the time. But for me, I felt it was a feeling of release ... like my chest opened up," she recalls. "It just hit me, I was dealing with a lot of stuff, my music, and my album that was doing well. I was not sure what was happening with my [record] label. That was [her relationship] just one thing I had to get rid of and get out. That was the spur [inspiration] for the album ... for a lot of things in my life ... just breaking up with him."
Estelle found music was her only form of expression growing up in a house with eight other siblings where she was the oldest.
"It got to the point where I was like, 'I don't know who I am other than music.' I wrote so much music out of frustration, out of just being angry because that's the only way I could describe it. I was just vexed all the time. I was like, 'No one understands me', and I was like, 'I don't even understand me', so I had to figure that out," Estelle said.
Estelle spoke out this year against British artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele who claim to be hip-hop or soul, which caused some negative publicity. She maintains her unique approach is always original.
"My thing in life is I speak me," she stated. "All I care about is you respect me. I don't care if you like my opinion because everyone has got an opinion." I do dance music, I do reggae music, I do hip-hop. I never claimed [to do just] one thing. I don't really care. On a real level, I speak how I feel, and if people take from it what they want and come to their own conclusions, then it must be true."
Estelle is on tour in the U.S. promoting her CD, Shine and is looking forward to attending her first Grammy Awards in February. Perhaps she will go home that night with yet another accolade.
Some video courtesy of Atlantic Records