Get ready for a British invasion, Chicago. “Break My Heart” singer Estelle drops into Enclave on Thursday to kick off Dwyane Wade’s Wade’s World Weekend. In advance of her arrival, RedEye chatted up the U.K. and U.S. chart-topper on an array of topics, including her work with rappers from Kanye West to Rick Ross and where she keeps the Grammy she shares with West for her breakout hit, “American Boy.”
She even told us what she would or would not be willing to do to amp up anticipation for her next album, “All of Me,” expected early next year. Check out the highlights of our Q&A. Feel free to read her responses with a wicked cool British accent.
What was it about your first U.S. single, “American Boy,” that captivated the U.S. public?
I think when you put your energy into a song that’s what comes out the other end. It was just the vibe and the energy and all of that. You automatically feel that when you hear it.
What is Kanye like to work with?
He came in off a plane, did [the song] and went to the club later. It was real easy working with Kanye. We were all on the same wavelength. It was like, let’s knock this out.
Where do you keep the Grammy you won for the song...and tell the truth.
[laughing] I keep it on my bookshelf.
Do you keep it gleaming?
My friends come round and polish it. They say ‘girl, you need to take more care of it.’ I need 12 more before my career is through, though. That’s my personal goal..13 Grammy’s.
What’s it like working with Rick Ross on “Don’t Break My Heart?” Are you getting more calls to work with rappers after working with him and Kanye?
Yeah, I think I’m getting more calls. People still say, ‘Oh, do you sing with rappers?’ I’m like, do you realize I had a song with Gucci [Mane], Kanye, and I’m doing something with Jadakiss coming up. Some people don’t know I used to be a rapper. I’ve worked with Busta before and will again. I get a whole lot of love from hip-hop.
But did Rick Ross try to wrap you up in his swagged out lifestyle?
[laughs] Ha, he was a sweetheart. We weren’t in the studio together when we did the song, but we did the video. It was cool. Such a moment. There was a beautiful sky, blue yellow and bright.... and he was so nice and so cool. People like to say, ‘Oh Maybach Music is rough.’ But he was totally cool. Sitting in a limo, eating Taco Bell. And he was just so cool. Like family. Just nice.
How does your own rap past help you in dealing with the hip-hop community.
It totally helps. I get their vibe. In fact, I never thought I was going to be a singer. I thought I’d be a rap singer. I write, put down hooks like a rapper. They always say: ‘You get it.’ With my last album, “Shine,” I sang more because I was coming out of a personal period in my life where I was more into singing and I was listening to a different type of music.....But now, I’ve got my swagger back, my energy back for rap....I’ll always be both.
Lately, there’s been focus on singers who have been posing nude lately. How do you feel about tapping into your sexuality to attract a wider fan base?
I think with some people, amazing because some of it is real..[bleep] it I’mma do it and love it. But for those who say ‘I might need to do this,” that irritates me. You’re not doing that. Your publicist told you to do that. In five years’ time, you’ll hate yourself. “I love being sexy; I love that stuff. But I like my clothes too. I love keeping my knickers on...that’s my passion. [laughs] I’ve been offered to do a shoot and be half naked and be topless, and I’ve said nope. My mum said for me to be proud of myself and don’t be ashamed to be naked. And she’s right, but nobody is going to tell me to take my bra off. You tell me your idea, why it makes sense and your concept, we can talk. I’m not going to be that girl where you say take your bra off and I say [breathless, higher voice] ‘Oh, okay.’”
If we were listening to an Internet radio station with a channel called “Estelle,” what singers with a similar style from the past, present and future would come up?
From the past, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, those types. For the present, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and Kelis might pop up on there. In the future, on my rap side, you might hear Big Sean. I love that guy. You might also hear [indie rapper] Rapsody, and one more, Lauryn Hill. I love these people. These people give me a platform.
Finally, I know this is a tough subject for you, given your past support for musical peer Amy Winehouse, but how do you feel learning that her toxicology reports released [on Tuesday], showed no drugs in her system when she died?
It’s good that she was on the right path, but then that begs the question: then, what the hell happened? What the hell? I don’t understand. One of those days, those doozies, I don’t want one more bad thing to happen. I want some good news.
Estelle will perform on Thursday at the kick-off Wade’s World weekend, beginning at Enclave at 9 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20 and $120. More info at dwade3events.com. Event proceeds benefit the Wade’s World youth charity.