Jorja Smith, the name on everyone’s lips

If there’s one thing we can say for sure is that 2016 was the year RnB returned to the charts with a vengeance, came a new group of leading female solo artists. For Notion’s 74th issue, we spoke to those women stepping up and dominating the genre, beginning with Jorja Smith.

2 years agoText by


“I quit music; I told my dad ‘I quit music, I’m never going to make it, so that’s it’. I used to be so dramatic!” Jorja Smith is telling me about the time she nearly quit music forever. That forever turned out to be about three days. Maybe it is dramatic, but looking back, it would have been a terrible decision for her to throw the towel in if all the hype surrounding her is to be believed.
“When I used to write my own songs in my room, I’d always come down and play them to my dad and record them on Garageband,” she continues. “And he’d be like ‘I can’t hear the chorus on that’. He’d always be right, but he said that one time and I was like ‘Fine, I quit. I’m going to do public servicing’.”

Jacket Tommy Hilfiger @ Serotonin Vintage, dress SoulCal

In reality, quitting was never really on the cards. Growing up in the West Midlands surrounded by music, there was no doubt in her mind she’d be doing anything else right now. Jorja was passed on her music gene via her father, once part of neo soul group 2nd Naicha and she inherited her fearlessness from her mother, an independent jewellery maker. Her parents’ record collection framed the environment from which she grew; Curtis Mayfield, Mos Def, Damian Marley, island sounds and all their colourful forms were significant to her childhood. An organic appreciation of music led to her picking up the piano and the oboe as well as singing. “My parents weren’t the pushy kind,” she says and her soft Walsall accent comes through. “It naturally happened. I’ve always been singing.”

The stories and scribbles she wrote at school became the basis of Smith’s early songs (ones that may or may not have been vetoed by dad) including ‘Where Did I Go?’ and the viral smash ‘Blue Lights’, a commentary on street crime and fear of the police. Shortly after this, her talents would get noticed and she’d spend the rest of her school days balancing usual teenage stuff and crafting away at her dreams in studios. “By the time I got to year twelve and started writing a lot more, I really didn’t want to be there, but I’m glad I stuck at it,” she says, a hundred words a minute and often via various unrelated but fascinating subject matters. “I didn’t used to get in trouble or anything; I just used to talk loads in lessons. I did well in my GCSEs, my A Levels I passed, but because I didn’t really want to be there, it affected it. I stuck at it though.” Like a lot of creative teens she sees flaws in the current school system, “I think school is so difficult if you don’t know what you want to do. The way they are with things like ‘you have to do this to get into this university’, not everyone works or learns like that. I think I was lucky that I could cope through school, but with some it was really not for them. We all have to do it but hey.”

What she studied would help define her sound, style and understanding of music – even the classical music she learned at school would become part of ‘A Prince’, her Maverick Sabre-featuring second track which samples 17th century composer Henry Purcell’s work. “I got played that in year thirteen by my teacher at the time, Mr Mason – he’s amazing,” she reminisces. “He played it and I was like ‘what’s this called?’, and I remember writing it down on a scrap piece of paper and went home, listened to it and worked on a piece.”

There’s a lot to be said for a teenager that can combine classical learning with modern tales so eloquently which is likely why, three songs in, Jorja’s name is effervescent with promise. Winning support across the board from artists and media, she has a support slot penned in for RnB powerhouse NAO later on this year as well as a number of headline shows. She’s also gearing up to release her first EP, the songs of which concern the next part of her life since leaving Walsall. “Two of them are about love, one is about moving to London alone and then the final track is more political,” she says. “I’m excited, it’s a step towards a bigger project. They’re all produced by this one guy called Charlie; he’s like this shadow and no-one knows him… but I think he likes that.”

While there’s plenty to get excited about, Jorja’s taking her sweet old time and being careful to do things properly, choosing to stay an independent artist despite numerous offers otherwise. As an independent it means she’s allowed the freedom to build on her visible talents without a deadline getting in the way. “A song is like three minutes but that alone could take weeks or months”, she says. “The word ‘rushed’ should never be used because you can’t rush art.”

Words Phie McKenzie
Photographer Elliot J Kennedy
Stylist Daisy Deane
Makeup Debbie Finnagan Using MAC Cosmetics

Featured image:
Jorja wears jacket + trousers Tommy Hilfiger @ Serotonin Vintage