The confidence that resonates from Jorja Smith quickly leaves you defenceless. She’s an 18-year-old going on 28, singing about urban life, young love and society’s uncomfortable injustices.
Propelled by the response to ‘Blue Lights’, a short tale of a young person walking unwelcome streets, which garnered much acclaim for her at the start of the year, Smith has apparently received plenty of offers from major labels, but has so far declined them all. She prefers do her own thing. The strength of her first EP, Project 11, is good reason for this rising talent to continue being an independent woman.
Project 11 is a marvellous demonstration of Smith’s vocal and storytelling abilities. Vocally, Smith, who has been training her voice since high school, brings Ms Dynamite and Katy B to mind, and her love of reggae can be felt in the occasional Caribbean lilt to her phrasing. The sultry blues of break-up song ‘Something in the Way’ makes it easy to picture Smith delivering jazzy pop akin to Amy Winehouse. With ‘So Lonely’ and ‘Carry Me Home’, the latter a bewitching duet with Maverick Saber, she has the control of Emeli Sandé and a maturity all of her own.
These tracks alone are the mark of a well-practiced singer. But it’s ‘Imperfect Circle’, the final track, were Smith hits you with an eleventh hour masterpiece of socially aware R&B. All five of the EP’s instrumental beds were created by London producer Charlie. On ‘Imperfect Circle’ he winds up a percolating rhythm of bright, up-tempo bass and percussion, and light piano keys, into a wonderfully moreish loop. Over this loop, Smith muses about the repetition of world events, large and small, singing and rapping with spectacular flair.
‘Imperfect Circle’ alone is enough to keep Smith on heavy rotation for weeks. She’s had a sterling year – she’s performed at festivals, released the ‘Where Did I Go?’, and been featured on Cadenza’s summer single, ‘People’ – so it’s no surprise to see Smith has made it through to the BBC Sound of 2017 shortlist. Charming, confident, and street smart: this young lady is poised to take 2017 by storm.
Project 11 EP is out now on FAMM Records.
[This review was first published on aaronlee.co.uk, Dec 2, 2016.]
Image: FAMM Records