State of Jorja

State of Jorja

In just over two years, U.K. crooner Jorja Smith has gone from her first SoundCloud single to becoming a bona fide R&B force.

In just over two years, U.K. crooner Jorja Smith has gone from her first SoundCloud single to becoming a bona fide R&B force.

Photography: Britt Lloyd

Styling: Kate Iorga

Text: Lisa Mischianti

This article appears in the pages of V113, The Music Issue, on newsstands May 3rd. Pre-order your copy now at shop.vmagazine.com

It feels rather fitting that Jorja Smith is calling from her hometown of Walsall in the West Midlands of England. The 20-year-old Londoner has returned to her old stomping grounds for some weekend family time, allowing her to reflect on the start of her luminous young career in the place where it all began. “I started singing when I was 8, and then when I was 11, I started writing my first songs,” recalls Smith of her earliest efforts. “I wrote about all of the shops closing down [in Walsall during the recession]. I tried to write about my environment, to put it into music. I still do that now.” Smith’s father, who himself was part of a neo-soul band called 2nd Naicha, encouraged her to pursue her talents at school; meanwhile, her home life was kept—very literally—harmonious. “[Growing up] I listened to a lot of Amy Winehouse, Damian Marley, Adele, and Lily Allen. And my parents would play a lot of iconic reggae and ska,” Smith says. “They always would have music playing in the house when I’d come back from school; my mom would have the volume turned up really loud. My house was just full of music.”

A 2016 SoundCloud track—self-released right after quitting her Starbucks day job—was the first the world heard of Smith. Entitled “Blue Lights,” it’s a powerful R&B ballad about police oppression that stood out in a sea of online uploads, garnering over 100,000 listens in its first week and catching the attention of acts like Stormzy, Skrillex, and—most famously—Drake, who has remained among Smith’s most vocal champions and ultimately featured her on two tracks from his album More Life. “I guess it was kind of a big leap of faith. But I like to think that good music will always be found, that what we put out there is always going to be discovered by the right people,” muses Smith, making the seemingly daunting prospect of debuting work on the Internet feel more like a poetic path to destiny. She followed the success of “Blue Lights” with two more singles—“A Prince” and “Where Did I Go?”—then later a four-track EP dubbed Project 11. By the start of 2018, she had four more singles under her belt, including a hit collaboration with Stormzy called “Let Me Down,” plus a track on the Black Panther soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar.

Smith’s debut full-length album comes out this June. When asked what fans can anticipate, she answers simply: “People can expect more Jorja. The album is like a bigger version of my EP—a mixture of songs [about everything] from love to social issues. I hope they feel my honesty in the music, and I hope they get to know me a bit more.” This will inevitably mean a generous serving of Smith’s signature soulful, jazz-inflected vocals, which have won her comparisons to legends like Lauryn Hill. It will also mean more of the raw, emotional energy present in her existing releases. “The songs on my album are songs that I have written between the ages of 17–20, and a lot of the songs are recordings I’ve already made,” Smith explains. “I hate re-recording. I like singing, but I don’t like recording a song over and over, making it too perfect.” Considering her career thus far, she does seem to have a knack for getting things right the first time.

DRESS AND SLIP GUCCI, EARRINGS (THROUGHOUT) STONE PARIS
Credits: Makeup Carol Lopez Reid Hair Marcia Lee Production Harry Fisher and Mariana C Stylist assistant Justin Hamilton Location SHOWstudio

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