[11] Estelle, ‘1980’


Estelle’s warm and joyous, splendidly old skool autobiography is heavily abridged – I met her in about 2000, and there’s not even the briefest mention of that fleeting, significant moment. She was about to make a record with Blak Twang, and was small, but you probably knew that much. I gave the rest of her sparky debut album a spin this morning too, and it’s clear her proper breakthrough second wasn’t a huge departure – it just has a few more Kanye Wests.

For Junior, ‘1980’ is just catchy enough to have her dancing and acknowledging some non-Girls Aloud records aren’t so bad after all. She takes her baby sister’s hands for a turn around the living room, making hearts leap in mouths as they career past sharp-cornered furniture.

There were a hundred and fifty of us living in t’ shoebox in t’ middle o’ road:

[17] Jamelia, ‘Thank You’


“I didn’t like it,” was Junior’s considered response, “But I do like this.” “This” was the new Bat For Lashes album.

Poor Jamelia. Junior wasn’t interested because she was enjoying the rare treat of a bowl of Honey Nut Loops, but Jamelia’s used to the cold shoulder. A weary example of the British music industry’s failure to support black female artists – unless, like Estelle, they’ve had a snazzy US makeover – she’s currently nose to the grindstone on her fourth album without the luxury of a record contract. Our Jam jumped ship from Parlophone (or was she pushed?) when the splendid Walk With Me puzzlingly failed to shift the units it deserved. Hey, maybe the public just doesn’t like her enough.

‘Thank You’ is the title track of her second album, back when she looked like a Superstar in the making. It’s a battered but defiant roar of self-assurance, set to a typically ambitious setting of bleeps and shimmers, and was a strong enough tune to stride to No.2. The thing is, it doesn’t always work like that.

Made me strong:

[8] Kanye West, ‘Love Lockdown’

Kanye West

If it’s not conventionally danceable, you’re in for a rough time with Junior. Somehow, though, Kanye’s wail from the left field is a hit, eliciting a full-blown disco freakout. She’s hearing the floorfiller behind the bassy thrum and to-the-fore tribal drums; or perhaps she’s thinking what I’m thinking and hearing K-Klass’s Italo piano riff coaxing the song on. It’s not ‘Let Me Show You’, but it’s near as dammit. ‘Love Lockdown’ is a house track in desire if not action. Junior identifies our auto-tuned singer too, pinpointing the fur-coated chap invading Estelle’s personal space on ‘American Boy’.

The new album 808s & Heartbreak has missed the boat this year, arriving too late for the critics’ lists and too near to the Christmas meltdown to be seen above the parapet. Perhaps that’s what Kanye wanted (apart from, erm, megasales – but he seems to be headed there in a less frenzied US market anyway). ‘Love Lockdown’ is a close, panicky affair in form and content, that fits nicely with the depressed, downbeat tone of a broken album. It’s a bold move for a rapper to make an album with nary a rap in earshot, but Kanye’s never been scared of flexing his ambition even while licking his wounds. He mourns his mum and tears down his ex in hurt confusion, and we’re left with a frankly great record. Someone has to come out on top, I suppose.

[19] Estelle featuring Kanye West, ‘American Boy’


Junior recognised this from the mere ambience before the beat slips in – “It’s American Boy!” – and spent at least the first couple of verses shaking booty around the kitchen while dressed in her new hat, scarf and gloves combo. She must have been cooking. Or cookin’, to the schmoove r’n’b rhythms.

The record brims with chutzpah, a bare-faced attempt to grab a slice of the American market. And fair enough; if Britain isn’t going to appreciate its urban stars then why shouldn’t the US? Becoming best buds with John Legend and Kanye West (who muscles in with a hilarious, offbeat cameo here) can’t have done much harm either. Estelle has come along way since I met her working in a video-editing suite, persistently turning up late for work and eventually getting sacked. Video-editing’s loss is truly jazzy hip-pop’s gain.