Stefflon Don is on the periphery of global greatness. The charismatic, multilingual, multitalented rapper, singer and songwriter is 2017’s most electric and eclectic emerging act. Steff’s admirable achievements over the past 24 months – but particularly the last 12 – simply don’t happen to your average artist. From Jools Holland 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, this fascinating 25-year-old female is a force to be reckoned with.
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, bashment or bubbling, Steff sounds utterly at home. It’s perhaps why such an impressive array of artists from Charli XCX to Lil Yachty and Wretch 32 have wanted to work with the 25-year-old. And these aren’t relationships forged through management and social media, but genuine friendships formed over the last few years. Put simply, real recognize 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. 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.”
Since first making a mark in 2015 with her cover of the Section Boyz street smash Lock Arff, Steff has clocked up over 50m+ YouTube views and harnessed an ever-growing and highly engaged Snapchat community. As well as social media fans such as Drake and DJ Khaled, Steff has worked with British Afrobeat stars Abra Cadabra and Kojo Funds, south London rap titans Krept & Konan and Giggs, US R&B superstar Jerimih, and esoteric Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty. Earlier this year Steff was chosen to support Migos, Popcaan and Pusha T on their London dates and stormed her own sets at Wireless and the Great Escape. Whether singing or rapping, she can smooth out the toughest of hip-hop and bashment and rough up the shiniest of pop, whether the left field gloss of Charli XCX’s After The Afterparty featuring Raye, or Jax Jones’ calypso-flavored new smash, Instruction, co-starring American sweetheart Demi Lovato.
Following her hugely successful mixtape, Real Ting, which was released earlier this year, Steff is currently readying a brand new single. Hurtin’ Me, produced by Rhymez (Wiley, Lil Yachty, Sean Paul), features Moroccan-American hip-hop superstar French Montana. A ridiculously insistent Soca-soaked track, Hurtin’ Me is sure to join Steff’s outrageously rowdy 16 Shots as a 2017 Carnival classic. The steel-pan, lovestruck single places Steff effortlessly but confidently on the global platform she already inherently inhabits.
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 comprehensive in Hackney, 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 get depressed when I’m not there,” she insists. “I’ve tried other creative outlets, but I am music. I can’t do anything else. I don’t know, or want to be good at anything other than this.” 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 the Section Boy’s street smash 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.”
As Steff herself says on 16 Shots, ‘What I’mma do, they ain’t prepared for.’ When it comes to Stefflon Don, prepare to be unprepared.