Jorja Smith: Our New VBF

A star on the rise, Jorja Smith is one of the UK’s most sought-after names in R&B

Jorja Smith: her songs are personal and strong; it’s as if she has plucked each verse from a diary entry

Jorja Smith: her songs are personal and strong; it’s as if she has plucked each verse from a diary entry

 

“So why are all the riches staying afloat? See all my brothers drowning even though they nicked the boat. Mothership ain’t helping anyone. See, the ships are getting bigger, full of greedy wasteful men, so can kids with the lies before they even got to 10? Sailing the internet waves, a tsunami of wise. Afloat to take it under if we can’t afford the life jackets . . . Majority don’t even have the life jacket.”

These lyrics come from Jorja Smith’s freestyle rap song Lifeboats. Empathetic, smart and taking no prisoners, it sits alongside gentle and spacious R&B songs on our new VBF’s debut album, Lost & Found, on which the 21-year-old singer from the English midlands questions everything and everyone around her without losing a sense of herself.

Smith’s career reached dizzying heights not long after she started uploading her music to SoundCloud. She caught the attention of Drake, who helped boost her profile by giving her the support slot at his sold-out Birmingham and London shows on 2017’s Boy Meets World Tour and by featuring her on two tracks on his album More Life, including Get It Together. She came fourth on the BBC’s Sound of 2017 longlist, won the Critics’ Choice Brit Award in January this year and appeared on the Black Panther soundtrack, an album curated by Kendrick Lamar, with the song I Am. The past three years have seen Smith go from working in a Starbucks in London – while recording songs on her phone and studying for school – to being one of the reliable and sought-after collaborators in R&B.

Smith’s honey-smooth voices drips over philosophical songs that take on bigger issues without making them sound complex or pompous. It’s said there’s no such thing as a stupid question, because it only ever means you want to know more than you do already, and Smith isn’t afraid to put those questions forward on Lost & Found. She opens the album with two big ones: “Why do we all fall down with innocence still on the ground? Why do we all fall down and apart on the lost and found?” she asks on the title track; and on Blue Lights, she poignantly confronts gun crime, asking despairingly, “What have you done?”

Even when she sings a love song it comes with high doses of reality, caution and consideration, especially on Teenage Fantasy, in which she encourages young people to not rush into relationships “just to fit in”, because “there’s no need to rush, take your time. Life’s a big old ride. Sit back and enjoy the vibe.”

Her songs are personal and strong; it’s as if she has plucked each verse from a diary entry, turning it into poetry or a political statement. You can catch her at Electric Picnic in September.

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