The Spotlight: Stefflon Don – The Real Ting

The Spotlight: Stefflon Don

Stefflon Don is the Bougie Star that British Rap Needs

Stefflon Don Shuts It Down In This Photoshot

At 25 years old, Stefflon Don embodies the sexy, ostentatious glamour associated with some of the best—and certainly my favorite—female rappers, a category she’s quickly joining. She’s something of a throwback to the spirit of iconic American hip-hop artists of the 1990s and 2000s (think Lil Kim or Foxy Brown or Trina back when they ran things). Though UK rap and R&B is currently heaving with female talent—Lady Leshurr, Raye, Nadia Rose and Little Simz to name just a few—there’s nobody quite like Stefflon Don. Almost at odds with the cold, back-to-basics hardness that has come to characterise “urban” music in the UK right now, #TheSpotlight is on this ultra-feminine, performatively bougie mc who is highly specific about her aesthetic.

“I care about how I look—I just love it! If you feel like you look good, you’re also gonna do a better job of whatever you’re doing,” Stefflon Don says once we arrive at our destination, with me trailing behind her as she strides into the studio and makes a beeline for a clothes rail crammed with Versace and Fendi. Perhaps it’s a lazy comparison, but it’s easy to see her as the bossed up, appearance-aware Nicki Minaj figure our rainy little island—with its Ed Sheerans and its Rag’n’Bone men—truly needs.

Taken from a March 2017 Interview on Noisey By Lauren O’neill

She’s had a striking run as a guest artist nonetheless. After first surfacing in 2015 with a cover of Wretch 32’s Six Words, which took the tender ballad and flipped it on its head, she featured on tracks by Lethal Bizzle (Wobble remix), Sneakbo (Work remix) and Angel (Hop On). Coming full circle, she featured on Wretch’s top five album, Growing Over Life last September, then rounded off 2016 by dropping her debut mixtape Real Ting, being named on the BBC’S Sound of 2017 longlist, and lining up as the single most exciting female MC in the UK rap (as distinct from grime) scene.

Touted, somewhat lazily, as the UK’s answer to Nicki Minaj (“well, at least they’re not comparing me to anyone shit!”), she raps with wit and ferocity about female empowerment, street life and sex, her brash, charismatic music marked by authentic injections of Jamaican dancehall.

Born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, Allen spent her formative years in the Netherlands before returning to the UK at 14 when she settled in Clapton, east London. It was the dance music of the surrounding immigrant communities of Rotterdam – “Portuguese, Suriname and Spanish” – that tuned her ear, and their sounds can be detected in the way her music differs from conventional Jamaican rhythms.

Her voice in conversation is as it sounds on the songs – falling in and out of tough London edges and soft drawling patois. “I didn’t really know a lot of UK music apart from So Solid Crew and Dizzee,” she says. “I heard a lot of Spanish music and even Turkish music that had a slight influence of dancehall and reggae. It was a bit more uptempo than I was used to, so every time I hear Turkish music it takes me back to my childhood.”

She grew up in a musical family, with a mother who sang in choirs, and a rapper brother known as “Dutch”. Drawn as a child to singers like Usher and Whitney Houston, she would perform Destiny’s Child songs at school productions, and was “anti-rap”. But by her late teens she’d fallen for Foxy, Missy Elliot and Lil’ Kim. “I liked the songs where they were just being bad and getting at a guy and getting what they wanted!” she laughs. “I used to love Ladies Night by Lil’ Kim so much that I performed it in school, without really knowing what it was about. I just knew that she was getting at a guy and winning.”

Her brilliant single Real Ting riffs on this between thunderous bass claps as she celebrates her “belly fat” and “being bad”, boasting about diamonds in her Rolex and men coming over “just to do the dishes”.