stefflon don, london's new grime queen, is shutting it down
As she prepares to drop her new EP, here's everything you need to know about the rising vegetarian MC.
24-year-old Stefanie Allen is best known these days as Stefflon Don (or, occasionally, Steff London). The British born, Holland-raised rhymer and singer first made an impression with her powerful patois-ridden version of Section Boyz' street smash "Lock Arff," before lining up an arsenal of features with everyone from Lethal B to K Koke and Angel. Often compared to Nicki Minaj, Stef steps lightly into the The Barb's hyper-made up heels with her bright blue hair and contoured construction, but the east Londoner sets out her stall by being brilliantly, particularly British.
"I like Nicki, she's cool, so I take the comparisons and I get them: I'm cocky, my voice is deep, I have the Jamaican flows. But time will show how we're different." This certified G's quick-witted one-liners arrive rapidly, whether extolling her abilities on Angel's "Hop On," or raising herself to empress levels on Lethal B's "Wobble." Currently readying her debut mixtape, The Plug, we caught up with the East London Don to find out a few things about the former cake decorator who is one of seven siblings…
1. The Clapton-based lyricist was born in Birmingham, but moved to Holland when she was five-years-old.
"My dad moved first, he moved to Jamaica and then Rotterdam and then my mom followed him. They was supposed to go just for a vacation but they liked it so much they ended up living there. It was very different living in Holland, but it was good. The education system was really good and there was less violence. Weed was legal, so that eliminates a lot of crime. The places that sold weed also sold Class A's, which obviously wasn't allowed, but that also eliminates a lot of crime. When I lived in Holland, you never heard of anyone being stabbed or shot, ever. The year before I left there was one incident where someone got stabbed and it created a similar groundswell of feeling to Mark Duggan's murder here. It was a very big deal because until then, things like that never happened in Holland."
2. Arriving at an inner-city London school at the age of 13 years-old presented some challenges.
"School was just the worst [laughs]. School was just so bad. It was so, so different. I came from a really small school, the size of a primary school here, and got sent to St. Thomas More, Turnpike Lane, with 2000 pupils; it was massive and intimidating. And the kids were so rude. And so noisy! In Holland, you can't make noise, you can't get up and do what you want, you can't talk to the teachers disrespectfully, you get excluded. I was hearing 'Shut up Miss' and I was like, What [laughs]. 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. But then I became popular and it all worked out [laughs]. It took time but I figured it out and I became cool within maybe a year [laughs]."
3. She has eight tattoos.
"I got my first tattoo, oh my gosh, when I was 14. That sounds so bad. I went back to Holland to get it done. A lot of kids there had tattoos and piercings, even though they're little kids, good kids, they all had piercings, it's normal there. It doesn't mean they're a rebel or a bad kid, it was more a fashion thing. I got the piercing in my mouth when I was 13."
4. Initially, Stef wasn't the greatest rapper — so she took her brain to the gym.
"I put a song up on YouTube around 2013, but I knew in myself it wasn't that great. I never felt that I was actually sick or whatever until last year, 2015, when I discovered myself. I started to really go in and feel so comfortable and confident. I don't think there's anything you can do to become good other than spend time in the studio, spend time researching the greatest rappers, spend time alone writing, trying different stuff. As time went on my raps started to get better, I started to get better at thinking, because I was exercising my brain more through the years. From 2015, that's when I definitely felt happy with how I was now rapping."
5. She heard, wrote, and made a video for her version of "Lock Arff" within one week.
"I remember hearing 'Lock Arff' playing somewhere; I heard it once and wrote to it straight away, recorded it, and did a video. It was simple as that. I slid into Inch's DMs [laughs] and he got back to me. He told me he thought I had one of the sickest versions, cos there was a few out there, so I went to go meet him and he agreed to being in the video. The video is pretty good quality — I don't ever want to put out a shit video. That was the video that really kicked things off for me."
6. Stef will reflect on love — or lack of it — on her forthcoming EP, The Plug.
"I'm single and I'm ready to mingle! Nah I'm joking. I only wanna mingle with money and music. I'm so picky; I've only had one boyfriend. He loves me writing about him — 'It's so good for your music; I gave you something to write about.' 'Bitch you broke my heart, how about you didn't and I could have written about the good side of love instead. How about you was faithful'! Everyone loves the heartbreak songs cos they can all relate, and not everyone can relate to the happy love songs, which is horrible. All of us should relate to loving relationships, but we don't. So it's powerful for music, I do understand that. I remixed Wretch's "6 Words," I called it "He Don't Have Respect For You" and girls loved it. I didn't really promote it, I didn't put it on LinkUp, I just dropped it on Soundcloud and my own YouTube channel, and I had so many messages from girls. I had no idea how effective that song would be. When the mixtape drops people will really see me, Stef. I'm gonna be talking about a variety of things: love, road life, personal stuff. It's something you can turn up to, make babies to, kill your boyfriend to [laughs.]"
7. She's a hippie at heart.
"I hope people start making a change instead of waiting for a change. People putting their heads together and realizing 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."
8. Steff doesn't partake in any substances — legal or otherwise.
"I love studio, I'm always in the studio. I don't smoke, I don't drink, so I feel like my high is when I make something that feels like a really big song. I love getting those moments. I love it when I play a song to people and they like it — it makes me want to write another one. When I feel like I've got four hits — I want to make a fifth. The reason I ain't signed yet is that I want to do me for as long as possible, nothing over my head, no strings, and I can enjoy making these songs for the sake of making them — not for a 'hit'. I want to do everything not for money right now so I can put my stamp on everything and people can see exactly what I'm about. I don't want no one telling me what to do. I know when I'm signed they'll have to have input cos I'm playing with their money and it has to be business — but I hate all that. I never wanted my music to be about business."
9. A love of learning led Steff to become a veggie.
"I love documentaries, I love learning about things I don't know about. My favorite is Earthlings. It's about how they murder animals. It will show you why not to eat meat. When you watch it as a meat eater, you will cry I swear — I cried. The way they torture animals before they kill them is heartbreaking. And it's all for a burger. It's proper sad, they have feelings, they have emotions, they love, they breathe. We can eat fruit and veg — fucking eat some fruit and veg!"
10. Stefflon Don is ambitious.
"I want to be Number One. I want to have four number one's back to back between now and 2017. I want to be as big as Adele [laughs] — watch out Adele, I'm coming for you."
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Lily Bertrand-Webb