Stefflon Don is on the periphery of global greatness. The charismatic, multilingual, multitalented rapper, singer and songwriter is 2018’s most electric and eclectic emerging act. Steff’s admirable achievements over the past 24 months – but particularly the last 12 – are truly remarkable. From BRIT’s Critics Choice to the BBC Sound Poll, Steff’s powerful presence commands attention both on record and in real life. With a string of prominent collaborations behind her, from Skepta to Future and Charli XCX, this fascinating 26-year-old MOBO winner is a force to be reckoned with.
Since first making a mark in 2015 with her cover of the Section Boyz street smash Lock Arff, Steff has clocked up over 130 million views on YouTube, 225 million streams worldwide and harnessed an ever-growing and highly engaged social media community. In 2017, after signing a seven-figure deal with Polydor Records, Steff shot into the top 10 with her debut single, the soca-soaked Hurtin Me, featuring French Montana, which has since gone on to be certified platinum in the UK, with 1.3 million copies sold worldwide. The single was given the remix treatment by dancehall superstars Sean Paul, Sizzla and Popcaan.
As well as fans such as Drake and DJ Khaled, Steff has also worked with British Afrobeat star Kojo Funds, south London rap titan Giggs, and esoteric Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty. Whether singing or rapping, she can smooth out the toughest of hip-hop and bashment and rough up the shiniest of pop, whether the leftfield gloss of Charli XCX’s After The Afterparty featuring Raye or Jax Jones’ calypso-flavoured smash, Instruction, co-starring America’s sweetheart Demi Lovato. In 2017, Steff was chosen to tour Europe with Future and, in 2018, she sold out her first UK tour.
Speaking English, Dutch and splattering her speech with her parent’s Jamaican patois, Steff has the effortless ability to inhabit many worlds, offering a genuine, authentic global perspective through her music. Whether rap, grime, pop or bashment, Steff sounds utterly at home on whatever genre she’s presented with. It’s perhaps why such an impressive array of artists have wanted to work with Steff, but these aren’t relationships forged through management and social media, they’re genuine friendships formed over the last few years. Put simply, real recognise real.
“That’s the most important thing to me, it’s why I called my first mixtape Real Ting. There’s so much fake out there, but I have to be real and my music has to be true to me,” says Steff. “I only make music that I love with people that I respect and who respect me. I can only make music that I believe in.” Steff’s brand new single Senseless, co-produced by Steff herself, is an outrageously self-confident dancehall styled summer smash set to subtle steel pans and an instantly compelling chorus. “Quote from Steff.” Senseless is yet another huge step in the story of Stefflon Don – and she’s yet to even release an album.
One of seven siblings born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, Steff’s family moved to Holland when she was five-years-old, where was raised in Rotterdam and enjoyed a particularly uninhibited childhood surrounded by Europeans, Turkish and Caribbean people. “I got my first piercing when I was 13 and my first tattoo at 14,” she remembers with a grin. “I don’t smoke, but weed was legal, there was very little violence. It was very different to England; Rotterdam was a very open and safe society. I think all of this moving around meant I got a different perspective on life. It gave me a wider outlook, the chance to experience other people’s cultures. It’s helped me to see the bigger picture and through my music, I want to speak to all these cultures that I’ve met throughout life. I know there’s a bigger world outside of London, outside of England.”
She had her first studio session at the age of nine and spent her teen years singing and rapping with her brothers and sisters. Steff didn’t return to the UK until she was 14 where she crash-landed at St Thomas More in Wood Green, North London. “I didn’t want to be there, it was so horrible. The kids were all coming up to me; looking at me like I was some kind of alien cos I had a weird accent. And I didn’t dress as cool as the other kids either, so I didn’t really have friends. I was swag-less,” she says with a huge laugh. “It took time but I figured it out and eventually settled in.”
After finishing school, Steff eschewed any form of a regular 9-5 (apart from a stint decorating cakes) in favour of being a full-time musician. Steff lives, eats and breathes studio. “I just don’t feel good when I’m not there,” she insists. “I’ve tried other creative outlets, but I am music.” A low-key feminist, Steff is often surrounded by female friends and family onstage. This isn’t something cynical; like the music she makes, it’s just a part of who Steff is. “I didn’t think about it until people kept pointing it out,” she insists. “It’s just normal for me to want to inspire other women. I want all females to excel and succeed.”
Steff first made an impression in 2015 with her powerful, patois-inflected version of Wretch 32’s Six Words and her take on Lock Arff. She quickly found herself fielding requests from the UK’s elite; Lethal B (Wobble remix) to Sneakbo (Work remix) and Angel (Hop On), and, coming full circle, was one of the few features on Wretch’s recent Top 5 album, Growing Over Life. She also appeared in Gigg’s Lock Doh video and joined Krept & Konan on Jerimih’s single, London.
The industry took note of her growing YouTube views and exponentially rising fanbase; in 2016, Steff signed a publishing deal with Sony, and in 2017, she signed her own label, V-IV, to Universal. Spotting a star-in-waiting, Steff was soon offered a deal by Coach K, the man behind US label Quality Control; Steff’s labelmates include Migos and Lil Yachty.
This rapidly rising superstar has lofty ambitions, but never at the expense of selling out her sound, her style or her soul. She has always been sure of herself, clear about exactly what she does – and doesn’t – want to do. For Steff, authenticity is everything.
“I feel like I hear people say this all the time, but I actually want to bring something different. But I want to do that on my terms. Of course I want number ones, Grammys, BRITs, all of that, but none of that would mean anything if I didn’t make the music I loved and that was real to me. That’s the most important thing; to be the realest artist, making the realest music.”
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