Estelle (musician)Estelle Fanta Swaray (born 18 January 1980) is an English singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer, and actress from Hammersmith, West London, England. Estelle is known for her eclectic mix of various musical genres including R&B, soul, reggae, grime, hip hop and dance. She has experienced mainstream success with the single "American Boy" featuring Kanye West, reaching number 1 in the United Kingdom, and her collaboration with David Guetta in "One Love".
Estelle has released several critically acclaimed records and received a Grammy Award. She has collaborated with artists including John Legend, Robin Thicke, Rick Ross, Chris Brown, will.i.am, Kanye West and De La Soul. From 2013 to 2020, she voiced the fictional character Garnet in the animated series Steven Universe, Steven Universe: The Movie and Steven Universe Future, providing both the character's speaking voice and singing vocals.
Life and career
Early life and career beginningsEstelle Swaray was born and raised in Hammersmith, London, England. Her mother's family came from Dakar, Senegal, and her father is from the Caribbean island of Grenada, when they were French and British colonies respectively. She was the second born of nine children. Estelle's parents were very religious when she was growing up, and secular music was not allowed in the family's home. Instead, spiritual music—particularly American gospel—and traditional African music were what Estelle grew up listening to. However, she would sometimes listen to hip hop when not at home.
She spent her childhood listening to her parents' reggae records and her aunt's soul collection before discovering hip hop. "I got into hip hop from my uncle; he was always playing us Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane; he was a bad boy and my mum wasn't really happy that I was hanging out with him". By the time she was in her early 20s, she had decided on a music career. Estelle got her start in London's renowned hip-hop record store Deal Real. Her fellow employees encouraged her to take a chance and get on the mic on-stage; soon she was playing numerous London clubs and appearing with the likes of Manuva and Rodney P. Local hero Skitz asked her to appear on his 2000 album, Countryman, and soon she landed on albums by artists such as The 57th Dynasty and Blak Twang. She made her solo debut in 2003 with the 12" "Excuse Me", released on the label Paradise Isle.
Her career got a jump-start in the early 2000s when she happened to see Kanye West sitting in a restaurant while on a trip to Los Angeles. Estelle approached Kanye, introduced herself and asked for an introduction to John Legend. She eventually got that introduction, and Legend eventually helped produce two songs on her debut album.
2004–2005: The 18th DayEstelle's debut album, The 18th Day, was released in the UK in October 2004. Her breakthrough track came when "1980" was released by the V2 label and reached number 14 on the UK Singles Chart. A street-level mixtape series called Da Heat and further 12"s like "Free" and "Go Gone" helped build a loyal following, and Estelle gave back to the UK hip hop scene by forming her own Stellarents label to sign new artists. In October 2004, V2 released her album, it took its title after how Estelle's mother almost died while giving birth to the future singer on 18 January. The album was a modest success, debuting at No. 35 on the UK albums chart, and generating two top 20 singles. She also received a MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Award in the UK for Best Newcomer.
Three years later, US R&B singer John Legend announced that Estelle would be the first signee to his Homeschool label, distributed by Atlantic in the US. Four years after The 18th Days release, Estelle returned with her second album, Shine. Though it was her second album, it was the first to be released in the US and her major-label debut.
Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Wyclef Jean, Will.i.am, Mark Ronson and Cee-Lo Green and Jack Splash all worked on the album, which was executive produced by John Legend. "Her sound is a unique blend of hip hop, R&B, 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 recognised that in her when I first worked with her in 2004." He continues, "I'm excited and honored to have Estelle as the first artist on my label, Homeschool Records. I believe the world is going to fall in love with her album, as I already have. Estelle is an amazing talent, and she's going to do big things."
The lead single, "Wait a Minute (Just a Touch)", released in November 2007. In 2008, Estelle rose to fame with her collaboration with rapper Kanye West, titled "American Boy". This song reached the top 10 in many countries worldwide, including the United States and Canada, as well as achieving number-one status on the UK Singles Chart. and in Belgium and Israel. The song won many awards worldwide, including Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 51st Grammy Awards; it was also nominated for Song of the Year. It is rumored to be inspired by American comedy writer Sam Means after the artist met him near a plane."American Boy" was Number 7 on Rolling Stones list of the 100 Best Songs of 2008. The song was nominated for the 2009 Brit Award for Best British Single, and Estelle was also nominated for Best British Female Artist. Shine was released following the single on John Legend's HomeSchool label, reaching the albums chart in most countries worldwide, including number 6 in the UK. Shine sold enough copies to be certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry, and was one of the twelve albums shortlisted for the prestigious 2008 Mercury Music Prize. Shine has been certified Gold in the UK, denoting 100,000 copies sold. The album has sold 233,000 copies in the United States as of January 2012. Estelle has also released a single with American rapper Busta Rhymes called "World Go Round", from his album Back on My B.S., which was released on 19 May 2009. In February 2009, the song "Star" was released; it is also used for Crystal Light commercials. In 2009, Estelle started working on her upcoming third studio album, All of Me. Estelle made a cameo appearance in the video for new star Mr Hudson for his single "Supernova". Estelle made an appearance on 11 August 2009 episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. She performed the song "Good Girls Go Bad" with Cobra Starship in Leighton Meester's absence. Estelle also appears on the song "Rollacoasta", co-written by her and American singer-songwriter Robin Thicke; the song appears on his album, Sex Therapy.
2010–2012: All of Me
Estelle confirmed her third album would be titled All of Me. The album was originally led by the single "Freak", featuring Kardinal Offishall and produced by David Guetta. The video premiered on her website on 26 February 2010. The original second single from the album was announced as being "Fall in Love", which featured versions featuring Nas and John Legend. Due to the underperformance of both "Freak" and "Fall in Love", both songs were ultimately left off the final track listing for All of Me. However, "Freak" was featured on both the Step Up 3D soundtrack and the reissue of David Guetta's album One Love, titled One More Love. In 2010, Estelle also modelled at Naomi Campbell's Fashion For Relief runway show for The White Ribbon Alliance to raise funds for mothers in Haiti. She was also featured on Reflection Eternal's new album with the song Midnight Hour and last track of Gucci Mane's album The Appeal: Georgia's Most Wanted.
In 2011, it was announced that "Break My Heart", featuring Rick Ross, would be released as the new lead single from All of Me. It was released for download on 26 April 2011 and released to US urban radio stations on 17 May 2011. The song peaked at 33 on the US Hip-Hop/R&B, the week of 2 July 2011. The following week the song rose to 37. Dual second singles were released in the US and UK. In the US, the second single was announced as being "Thank You" whereas "Back to Love" was issued in the UK. Estelle subsequently confirmed on Twitter that All of Me was released on 28 February 2012 in the US. In the UK, All of Me was released on 12 March 2012.
2013–2016: True Romance, own label and acting ventures
In 2013, Estelle announced the launch of New London Records, an independent label in partnership with BMG, with whom she's worked as a writer since 2003. Estelle will release the second and third volumes of her three-volume EP Love & Happiness on the new label (the first volume, Love Jones, was released in June), taking creative control of her current and future musical endeavours. "This is a new and exciting move for me," Estelle said in a press release. "BMG has been an awesome partner throughout my career, and with New London we plan to continue bridging the gap between soul, R&B, London and New York – uniting them through music." Added BMG executive president Richard Blackstone, "Estelle has been a valued member of the BMG family as a writer for some time now. She is a deeply passionate artist gifted with a tremendous voice and has music running through her veins. We are thrilled that Estelle has expanded our relationship and entered into a new partnership with BMG Label Services to release her upcoming album." She also began voicing Garnet in the animated series Steven Universe.
In 2014, Estelle performed live at Amber Lounge, the original Formula One after-party, in Singapore. She would return for an exclusive performance at Amber Lounge Abu Dhabi in November. In March, she premiered the first single off her fourth album True Romance which was "Make Her Say (Beat It Up)." The follow-up single "Conqueror" premiered on 15 July 2014. After numerous delays, the album was released on 17 February 2015 in the US.
In 2015, Estelle guest starred in the hit Fox TV show Empire, singing the duet version of her single "Conqueror" with Jussie Smollett, refuelling sales of the single (peaking at No. 42 on the Hot 100 and No. 15 on R&B) and making it her biggest US hit since her Grammy-winning "American Boy" with Kanye West. In October, Estelle accepted the invitation to be the grand marshal of Howard University Homecoming vs. Norfolk State University. She also sang "We'll Be There", the theme song for We Bare Bears.
2017–present: Lovers RockIn June 2017, she announced she's working on a full-length reggae album due for a late 2017 release, in addition to releasing the album's lead single "Love Like Ours" featuring Tarrus Riley. On July 13, 2018, the title of the album was revealed as Lovers Rock. The single "Better" was released along with the pre-order. The album was released on September 7, 2018.
She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
InfluencesFor her ability to rap, sing, act and write songs, Estelle has been praised by musicians such as John Legend and Roots Manuva; Estelle's taste in music encompasses Todd Rundgren, Lauryn Hill, Kanye West, Nas, Jill Scott and Jay Z.
In league with other contemporary British sirens like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy, her main musical influences are Mary J. Blige and Ella Fitzgerald. In an interview, Estelle remarked: "Every three years they are talking about the 'British (musical) invasion.' It's been ongoing. It's been an invasion for the last 10 years. We are here! We crossed over. I'm like one of the first black British artists to come over here and win a Grammy. We are here!"