The plaudits have already been flowing in fast for Estelle Swaray. Voted Best Newcomer at this year’s Mobo Awards, she has also triumphed at the UK Hip Hop Awards on three occasions and delighted the Black Police Association’s RFH bash last month with a short and sassy set. Debut album The 18th Day, especially in the absence of Ms Dynamite, was eagerly awaited.
From the anthemic 1980 it’s clear that the potential is being translated to something special as the 24-year-old tells us over a Tony Orlando sample of how she arrived in the world – “1980, year that God made me” – began writing, learned to sing in church and, shock of shocks, played Connect 4. The track’s gritty descriptions aren’t representative of the album, however. With the requisite amount of hard life lyrics it is the angriest moment on the record.
The 18th Day unfolds as an album of variety and style, which is never less than optimistic, fun and polished. It ranges from the Motown-influenced Go Gone to the booty-shuffling Dance Bitch (easily the best track on the record) and the ballads Maybe and Crazy.
Free, featuring the vocal talents of So Solid Crew‘s Megaman, has all the exuberance like a latter-day Jackson Five tribute, while Change Is Coming sounds like Estelle’s very own Gangsta’s Paradise for the London posse. The sultry beats of Maybe remind one most of Erykah Badu, but the ballad pace goes on one song too long with Crazy, the only filler on the record.
Not least on 1980 we hear Estelle’s London accent and are reminded of The Streets, but Estelle’s London is a transferable thing, her observations almost always universally applicable to boys and girls muddling through life as well as they can, enjoying the good times, getting through the bad. Never does she come over as sanctimonious or preachy. And the musical vibes she employs could please that holy grail of musical marketplaces, the United States, too.
Even without the assistance of Megaman and the endorsement of Tim Westwood, Estelle’s debut album would stand up and be counted. The 18th Day heralds the emergence of a major new talent.