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15th Oct 2018

Estelle: “America is talking about UK music in a way it never has before”

Will Lavin

“Every single time I hear an American do a British accent I get excited in my soul”

Hearing Estelle say those words is both funny and extremely satisfying. Why? Because 15 years ago when her career was just starting out it was quite the opposite to what’s going on now, especially in London.

Contrary to public perception, the UK has always had a thriving Hip Hop scene. Sure, back when the likes of Rodney P, Skitz, Mark B & Blade, Blak Twang, Roots Manuva, Skinnyman, Ty, Klashnekoff and many more of the country’s premier talents were at their busiest the scene wasn’t as publicised as perhaps it should, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t popular, it was just more a grassroots movement than one fully embraced by the majors.

During this time though, from the outside looking in the UK scene wasn’t as respected by other countries, especially America. And because of that many UK artists in the late 90s and early 2000s were quick to add an American twang to their vocals in a bid to be accepted by the birthplace of the culture. But truth be told, it was wack.

But things soon began to change once The Streets dropped Original Pirate Material in 2002, Dizzee Rascal dropped Boy In Da Corner in 2003 and then both Wiley and Kano dropped albums in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

The birth of grime gave the UK an opportunity to carve out its own identity. There was no need to sound like an American anymore. The UK built its own culture, its own sound, its own lingo. And as you now know it’s the most dominant thing to come out of the country since The Beatles.

But while the culture has crossed over to America, thanks in part to assistance from both Drake and Kanye West, will the music ever make its way on to Billboard?

“You’d be surprised, it has a core audience out there,” says Estelle, stopping by our office while on a brief press trip to the UK to promote new album Lovers Rock.

“It absolutely has a core audience. For instance, my director, the one who I worked with on all of the videos for this new album – he’s also one of my favourite people – I wanted to work with him because I would watch him on Instagram and he’d be in his car playing Skepta, he’d be in his car playing Stormzy and he’d be in his car playing all British artists, this was before we knew each other.

“When [Americans] gravitate to it and they like it, they just ‘like’ it and they play it on Sirius and on whatever other station, or they’re streaming it on Spotify and what not. They like what they like.”

So while mainstream America might not have caught on just yet, the underground has. And in an almost role reversal, it’s the English accent that has become cool to use on record.

Highlighting the fact that “the streets are out here playing Davido. The streets are out here playing Skepta and A$AP [Rocky],” for Estelle it was when JAY-Z paid homage to the UK scene that she realised things had well and truly changed.

“I’m not gonna front,” Estelle begins. “Every single time I hear an American do a British accent I get excited in my soul.

“When I heard JAY-Z on ‘BLACK EFFECT’ I was like, ‘Wait! Hold up, did you hear us!? Did you hear us!? Wheel up, wheel up.’ He said, ‘Put your hands up high this is not a test,’ bruv. I was so hype in my soul, I rewound it and rewound it and rewound it.

“Back when I first started everyone was trying to sound American and now it’s the other way around. I got in my soul and put up a post that was like, ‘Guys, we’ve landed. We’re here. It’s Plymouth Rock all over again. I don’t know what the analogy is but we are here. We have landed.’ It’s so amazing to me.”

Proudly representing British youth culture, grime is in its own lane and on its own wave. So whether it makes it in the U.S. or not it doesn’t matter because the UK scene no longer requires validation, we’re doing our own ting.

Estelle’s new album Lovers Rock is out now.