Estelle unwittingly launched her career from London's beloved Deal Real record store and scored her first hit as a headliner with the autobiographical hip-hop anthem "1980" (2004). Just as Estelle summarized the song as "the beginning of her life," the single poised the singer, rapper, and songwriter for stardom and sustained success that culminated with "American Boy," an international smash hit — number one U.K., number nine U.S. — that made her second album, Shine (2008), a cross-continental Top Ten entry. That flirty disco-funk throwback single also made Estelle a Grammy winner for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, yet she has evaded stylistic and one-hit-wonder pigeonholing with later works such as All of Me (2012), True Romance (2015), and the contemporary reggae-oriented Lovers Rock (2018).
Exposed to traditional African music, gospel, and rap via family members in her native West London, Estelle Swaray 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 mike on-stage; soon she was playing numerous local clubs and appearing with the likes of Roots Manuva and Rodney P. Local hero Skitz asked her to appear on his 2000 album, Countryman, which led to appearances on albums by the likes of the 57th Dynasty and Blak Twang. She made her solo debut in 2003 with the "Excuse Me" 12" on the Paradise Isle label, but her breakthrough came in 2004 when "1980" was released by the V2 label and reached number 14 on the U.K. pop chart. A street-level mixtape series called Da Heat and charting singles "Free" and "Go Gone" helped build a loyal following. In October 2004, V2 released her debut album, The 18th Day..., which featured her three hit singles and peaked on the U.K. chart at number 35. She won the 2004 MOBO Award for Best Newcomer.
Although The 18th Day... was not released in the U.S., one of its contributors, John Legend, fostered a cross-continental deal with major-label Atlantic for Estelle's next album. Issued in April 2008, Shine became her biggest hit, reaching number six in the U.K. and breaking into the U.S. Top 40. Its success was driven by "American Boy," a collaboration with will.i.am and Kanye West that topped the U.K. chart. In the U.S., it went Top Ten and won a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration on its way to a double-platinum certification. In February 2012, following numerous singles featuring the likes of Kardinal Offishall, Nas, and Rick Ross, Estelle released album number three, All of Me. It went Top 30 in the U.S., but it would be her last release for Atlantic. Estelle subsequently established a boutique label through BMG Rights Management and continued with the February 2015 release of True Romance. The album contained the inspirational "Conqueror," performed with Jussie Smollett in an episode of the television series Empire, and her most successful single since "American Boy." After the 2017 retro-soul single "Woman's World," Estelle made a full return in September 2018 with the contemporary reggae set Lovers Rock. ~ Andy Kellman & David Jeffries