Loyal fans know Estelle as a vibrant female rapper who started her musical ventures in 2004 with The 18th Day and went on to release her second album, the gold-certified Shine, in 2008. Both albums received a great response, making the British singer/occasional rapper a force to be reckoned with.
Having already made her mark on her home turf of the UK, it was time to take her name and achievements to the U.S. Showing no fear whilst being so far away from home, the singer has made a mark in the States since meeting John Legend and signing to Atlantic/Homeschool Records.
After making her first chart appearance with the Kanye West-assisted single “American Boy,” the success that was to follow was set in stone. Now with a U.S. tour, several accolades and TV appearances all complete, her third studio album, All Of Me, is out in the open.
Describing the transition between the past and future, the album starts off with “The Life,” on which Estelle reflects on her career from its beginning to the present day. Representing both her old and new homes, the singer takes it back to her rapping background over the Carvin & Ivan/Wizzy Wow-produced track.
Keeping the dominant bass lines running and taking her dominant female reign worldwide, fellow R&B artists Trey Songz and Chris Brown join the singer to give us the David Banner-produced “International (Serious).” The collab is one of few that are found on the album. Despite these praiseworthy collaborations, the singer/rapper does well at not being overshined by her fellow artists, reminding listeners of her presence wherever possible.
Taking a nod from one of her many influences, Mary J. Blige, we have the ’80s electro feel “Cold Crush,” produced by Book & Bronze. Perfect for a summer rendezvous, the single falls under a category similar to that of lead single “Break My Heart” featuring MMG’s Rick Ross.
With the topic of love being prominent throughout the majority of the project, the highlight has to come from “Thank You.” The modern R&B mid-tempo ballad is a heartfelt plea to a lover after a bout of heartbreak. The tear-jerking “Sometimes I wonder/do you/even care or realize why I took care of you” sad love song follows the styles of Ms. Blige’s “No More” from 2002.
To avoid the risk of drowning listeners in sorrow, the singer adds a few uplifting tracks to balance out the energy. Cuts such as “Do My Thing” featuring Janelle Monae bring back the energetic Estelle that can be heard at the outset of the album. Both ladies flaunt their confidence over the Ne-Yo-produced track, but the sound is more suited to Monae’s voice than Estelle’s.
Showing traits reminiscent of previous projects like her feature on Gym Class Heroes’ “Guilty As Charged,” the singer makes an attempt at full pop-influenced tracks with “Love The Way We Used To” and “Back To Love.” When put into consideration with the rest of the album, both tracks stick out like sore thumbs and take away from the R&B flavour. In their defence, though, the tracks are clearly targeted more at the pop charts than the club playlists and may fair well (and do better than previous releases, including the David Guetta-produced “Freak” featuring Kardinal Offishall, that underperformed in the charts) on the commercial sides of things.
Another highlight comes from its several interludes/skits (“You and I,” “Don’t Break It,” “Who We Are” and “Blue Skies”) which bring the storyline of the whole project together, helping reveal all sides of relationship dilemmas that the singer has (or may have) experienced. Backed up by the soulful production of Ray Angry and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the interludes are based on a discussion shared between a group of people about love, dedication to their relationships and career choices -– preparing you for the track that is to follow.
Rarely in the present day are we treated to an R&B/Pop album that follows a particular narrative, and this is where the strengths of All of Me lie. The album successfully practices the art of storytelling accompanied by a modern day sound. With the assistance of songwriters including Stacy Barthe, Wyclef Jean, Bootsy Collins and Tyler Reynolds, emotions are pulled from every angle for listeners of all kinds to relate to.
Peaking in the Top 10 on the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop charts since its release in February, the highly-anticipated album has done fairly well across the pond. Despite the odd blend of Pop and R&B together on the fifteen-track project (iTunes U.S. bonus includes singles “Fall In Love” featuring Nas and John Legend, All of Me could have a chance at being well received back home in the U.K.