Meet Jorja Smith, the Walsall-born singer who went from SoundCloud to the international stage in two years
1. She released her first single, 'Blue Lights', while she was working as a Starbucks barista
While she was working as a barista at 18 years old, Jorja Smith would record her lyrics on her phone in between breaks and continue writing songs after her shifts ended. 'Blue Lights' was first uploaded on Smith's SoundCloud page in January 2016, sampling English rapper Dizzee Rascal's political track 'Sirens'. The song was inspired by Form 696, a risk-assessment document created by the London police in 2005 where nightclub promoters had to give details about the kind of music played and the ethnicity of the audience attending. It then received co-signs from Skrillex and Stormzy, and was nominated for Best Song during the 2016 MOBO Awards.
2. She grew up with music
Smith's early exposure to music was thanks to her father, who's the lead singer of a Walsall neo-soul vocal band, 2nd Naicha. "Mom and dad have always played music in the house, in the car, non-stop ever since I can remember so sound has always followed me... A lot of reggae when my mum was cooking," she said in an interview. "I would write songs with my dad or play him anything and everything I'd worked on." Her father took note of her talent after watching Smith sing 'Silent Night' in church one day. He then encouraged her to pick up the piano, which earned her a musical scholarship where she learned the oboe and classical singing.
3. She appeared on two tracks in Drake's commercial playlist, More Life
We have to thank our lucky stars for this amazing collaboration, because it almost didn't happen. The Canadian rapper messaged Smith in July two years ago, asking if she would like to collaborate on 'Get It Together', to which she said no. "I didn't get the song. I'm not going to do a song just because it's with Drake," said Smith in an interview. But, after going through a breakup with her ex-boyfriend, she contacted Drake a few months later if he was still interested in working with her. This led to another song, 'Jorja Interlude'. "I'm just very grateful. Without More Life, who knows, but I was able to be tapped into this different audience, which I wasn't in," she said in another interview.
4. She's collaborated on a song with Kendrick Lamar in the Black Panther soundtrack
With many of Smith's songs focusing on standing up for oneself, it felt like second nature that she was featured on the highy-lauded Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack. In 'I Am', Smith sang about hustling and believing in herself. Lamar himself made a short appearance towards the end of the track. "Jorja is a constant reminder that true artistry, writing and creativity will forever be alive and well. She is the future and present," said Lamar.
5. She wants to be independent as a singer
"When I was 12, I thought, 'You can't make it unless you're with a label, you have to go to America and sign a deal'... Labels are there for a reason, they've always been here and they always will be, I just don't know what its like to be with a major label... I don't think I need to go to a label at the moment," she said. Even for the music video of 'Where Did I Go?', Smith shot the entire thing herself on her aunt's staircase and got her friends to design its cover art.
Look out for Jorja Smith's debut album, Lost & Found, which will be released on 8 June.
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