Jorja Smith’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric.
After notching co-signs from Mercury Prize-winning grime merchant Stormzy for her early work, the 21-year-old former Starbucks barista has gone on to snag the Critics’ Choice at the Brit Awards and contribute to the Kendrick Lamar-helmed Black Panther soundtrack in 2018 alone. And last year, Drake was so enthralled by her music, he requested her vocal presence on More Life’s South African-house stomper Get It Together (and he joined her onstage at the Velvet Underground last summer).
But on her debut album, the singer, who hails from the West Midlands city of Walsall, resists the urge to call in favours from her high-profile friends. Instead, she wisely sticks to the creative path started on her 2016 debut EP, Project 11, which is what got her noticed in the first place.
Amy Winehouse’s influence is an easy dot to connect, especially with the impressive range of Smith’s voice, but Smith’s music is linked to a deeper tradition of UK soul that Winehouse also drew from. Overlapping with elements of what used to be called acid jazz and neo-soul, Lost & Found also astutely nods to Smith’s potential pop appeal.
Lyrics oscillate between steely independence (Where Did I Go?) and angst-ridden ruminations on wide-eyed romance (Teenage Fantasy) – not unusual for a singer barely out of her teens – but her arresting voice and song concepts also convey assured maturity.
Blue Lights, the debut single, which deals with racial profiling by police, was actually written as a school project about post-colonialism in grime music, with a Dizzee Rascal sample to boot. The title track, Wandering Romance and Lifeboats (Freestyle) where Smith raps uninhibitedly about UK class divisions are rooted in Black British soul. Stormzy collaboration Let Me Down and throwback garage/two-step banger On My Mind, both released in the run-up to this album, are disappointingly absent.
The album favours a downtempo pace, and Smith’s superstar potential is apparent on close-to-final song Tomorrow. But it’s the mid-album entry The One, with its swirling string arrangements and ambiguous tension between defiant lyrics and aching delivery, that suggests Smith’s ascent is far from over.
Top track: Blue Lights
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