4 to Watch: Estelle

Time to Shine

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Hometown: London
Fun fact: She’s a synaesthete who often closes her eyes while singing so she can better match the visual textures that manifest in her mind. “I can see different colors and shades and they move in lines when I’m singing them,” she explains. What color is Shine? “Purple, pink, blue—they come in a range.”
Why she's worth watching: Her blend of R&B, hip-hop, dance music, reggae and African variants could open up a new era of Top 40 pop music.
For fans of: Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Lily Allen

Though her two-pronged attack as a rapper and vocalist has rightly earned her a reputation as the U.K.’s answer to Lauryn Hill, Estelle Swaray’s breakthrough hit “1980” was a classic more in keeping with Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

Tracing her life from the cramped apartment she shared with her family in West London to the promise of a better future, the tune was a disarmingly cinematic summary of a life enriched by struggle. But nearly three years after her ?rst hit, Estelle had started to resemble Hill in another way: she’d disappeared.

When she ?nally reemerged in New York City, it was after breaking up with her boyfriend, ?nding out that her fame had alienated those close to her, and dealing with a record label that wanted to remake her as a rock star. When she refused, friend and fan John Legend signed her up as the ?rst artist on his Home School label, and the second chapter of her fairytale story began.

Joined by a cast of producers ranging from Wyclef Jean and Cee-Lo to Mark Ronson, her new record Shine is both soulful and self-empowering. “When I wrote the album, it was me having things to vent about,” she says. “The ?rst album [2004’s The 18th Day], it was based on me working a lot and doing all the crazy things you have to do to get your career off the ground. This time around, I had a three-year break, but I was working consistently and trying to be a regular person and do all the dumb things I was supposed to do when I was 19 years old. All those things went right into this album.”