Heaped with praise from all corners of the media, three times winner of the UK Hip Hop Awards, and the most respected female rapper in Britain, Estelle has had a lot to live up to. Regarded for some time as a "star-in-the-making", the young MC finally lived up to the hype when debut single "1980" rocketed up the charts and became a huge summer hit. It's no longer about potential. This girl has surpassed all expectations and achieved a milestone in UK hip-hop. Unlike other Brit-hop competitors who have failed to set the charts alight, she is taking on the mainstream. And winning. "1980" displayed a sense of familiarity and girl-next-door character that the nation immediately tuned into. But Estelle is not one to play the pity me card and will not go along with the "rising above the ghetto" template. The positivity of her music shines like a beacon and cuts through the grime, crime and "tryin' to make a dime" stance that characterises much of the UK urban scene. "Free" is a real call to the nation's youth to do something with their lives. The same encouragement is given in "Change is Coming", and in the gospel-inspired "Gonna Win" her self-belief wins through as she heeds the inner voice that tells her to keep pressing on with her music, despite what others say.
Although voted best newcomer at the 2004 MOBO awards, for some, Estelle's debut, The 18th Day
, has been a long time coming. One of the most respected female rappers in the UK, Estelle's style effortlessly eschews the trappings of sounding like her US counterparts and gives her a really natural, British, flow.
The album is almost split into two distinct styles: one half funky, UK R&B hip-hop whereas the other more downbeat and soulful. Opening track "1980" sums up the early part--the backing a wall of sound and the catchy vocals reminiscing about growing up. "Dance Bitch" is slightly more US sounding where one can hear echoes of Missy Elliott; "Go Gone" is fun and poppy, sounding like an update on the classic Northern Soul sound; and "Free" is a bouncy funk number and also second single.
For the ballad "I Wanna Love You", Estelle slips more into singing mode and her confidence grows with each subsequent song. "Crazy" shows off the range and dexterity of her voice, it may not be that of a world-class soul diva but it's strong and the phrasing is fantastic.
One big highlight is, "I'm Gonna Win"--dramatic, rousing and an uplifting moment on a really enjoyable album. On The 18th Day there is very little filler and whilst the heavy ballad section can be a little bit too much, it never falls into bland mediocrity.--David Trueman