We've adored Stefflon Don since hearing her powerful, patois-inflected versions of Wretch 32's "Six Words" and Section Boys' "Lock Arf." She soon found herself fielding requests from the UK's elite; over the last year Steff has lined up an arsenal of features with everyone from Lethal B ("Wobble" remix) to Sneakbo ("Work" remix) and Angel ("Hop On"), and, coming full circle, recently found herself one of the few collaborators on Wretch's recent Top 5 album, Growing Over Life. She also appeared in Gigg's "Lock Doh" video and joined Krept and Konan on R&B star Jerimih's single, "London." The 24-year old's quick-witted one-liners arrive rapidly, whether archly observed metaphors on "London," sharing solidarity with her sisters on "Six Words," or holding her own on "Envy Us" alongside man of the moment Abra Cadabra, taken from her recently released mixtape Real Ting.
Born Stephanie Allen in Birmingham to Jamaican parents and raised in Rotterdam, Steff's formative years happened in Hackney, where her family returned when she was a teen. Since then she has forsaken financial stability for life as a studio rat, practicing and perfecting her talents as a rapper who sings and a singer who writes. Steff, like the city to which she pays homage, is truly one of a kind; the bilingual mom-of-one is wild and witty and rising fast in the ranks of UK rap. And though she has has lofty ambitions, Steff is all about staying true to her clearly defined sense of self. "My music has to be true to me. I don't make it to go on radio - I only make music that I love."
From: Hackney but I just moved to Essex. I miss the ends though. I've already had two complaints about my music and it's not even been a week! And it's not even late - or loud. I don't want to be around people like that, people that moan.
What have you taken away from such a varied upbringing?
Holland was just different. I got my first piercing when I was 13 and my first tattoo at 14. I don't smoke, but weed was legal, there was very little violence; it was just very different to here. Rotterdam was a very open and safe society. Later in life, me moving around meant I got a different perspective on life. It gave me a wide outlook, the chance to experience other people's cultures. I grew up around lot of Turkish and Moroccan people; it made me more of a people's person. You can put me in a room with anyone and I'll get along with them. It's helped me to see the bigger picture; 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.
What's the best/ worst about where you're from?
Hackney - the best is the people, the hood, the fast life. The worst, the gang stuff, cos I've got brothers. I'm happy to be a girl mate, all day. I ain't got time to be shooting after people, I'd get tired. Cos if I was a boy, I'd really be bad, you know, I'd probably be in jail now [laughs].
Who's your favorite Londoner?
Alan Carr. I love him. I want him to be my friend. I want to be on his show. My G!
How was the transition of moving from Holland to Hackney?
Ah man, 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. It took time but I figured it out and eventually settled in.
What's your earliest memory of discovering music?
The first time I went to the studio and recorded I was nin-years-old. My dad took me. I wrote this song - 'Live your life. Don't be wasting it/ Pay the price for the trouble's we're faking it, Sacrifice/ Sacrifice nobody's faking it' [laughs]. That was the first song I wrote and sang. It was with this guy, a grown rapper, and they put me on the hook. They were going for an Annie type song.
Why do you make music?
I want to represent someone who does what they want and who doesn't care about other people's opinions. Follow yourself, write your own destiny. I hope people start to realize what really matters in life. It's not materialistic things - it's love and kindness and good vibes. That's what really matters. When people realize that, the world will be a better place.
After a number of remixes and guest appearances, you recently dropped your debut mixtape. What did you want to say with Real Ting?
The most important thing to me is being real - that's why I called my mixtape Real Ting. I only talk about things I've experienced, or things I know someone very, very close to me has experienced. It's about being the real ting cos there's so much fake out here, so you have to be real. My music has to be true to me. I don't make it to go on radio - I only make music that I love. I don't care if no one else loves it. I'm true to myself.
Why do you think British rap and grime is enjoying so much success right now?
Because it's about being yourself. That's what the people love the most. I'm so happy that this generation has clocked onto that and said 'This is what we want'. People should just be themselves. That's why I love Section so much; they just be themselves. They say all this funny stuff and I love it and I love that people love them for being them.
What do your parents do?
My dad, I don't know what he does; he's probably in Jamaica up to no good. My mom is in the church all day. She's in the choir.
What's the worst job you've ever had?
I've never had a job. I've worked for myself here and there - decorating cakes [laughs] - but that's it. I get depressed when I'm not in the studio. Dancehall and reggae has been a part of my life since I was young; music is almost like breathing to me, that's how natural it is, but also how much I need it. 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.
What are the biggest issues facing young people?
Man. Dirty, stinking man [laughs].
Lets talk about Drake. He's been popping up in your Snapchat.
[Laughs] He's a handsome man, he's cool, we're friends. I think some people see his support of the UK in a negative light, but I think it's positive. From time he was doing songs with UK artists. I feel like Drake knows that the UK is the real ting! Shout out to Drake.
What are your hobbies?
I eat ice; I'm addicted to ice. It's beautiful. It's heaven.
Who do you want to work with?
DMX; we should celebrate our legends while they're here. And Jeremy Scott.
What defines your generation?
This generation is more fearless. Maybe because of the Internet, people are able to live their dreams rather than follow what you're 'supposed' to do.
What's your favorite emoji?
The splash and the tongue.
Who are you tipping for 2017?
What are your plans for 2017?
I want to have at least three number one's next year. 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.
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Hanna Moon
Styling Max Clark
Hair Maarit Niemala at Bryant Artists using Moroccan Oil.
Make-up Athena Paginton at Bryant Artists using Kryolan.
Set design Mariska Lowri.
Photography assistance Alessandro Tranchini, Ilenia Arosio.
Styling assistance Bojana Kozarevic.
Hair assistance Benjamin David, Mikaela Knopps.
Make-up assistance Billie McKenzie.