When last we heard from Estelle Swaray, the British R&B singer who records under her first name, she was the saucy foil to Kanye West on their big hit together, 2008’s “American Boy.’’
As the second single from “Shine,’’ her sophomore release, it finally catapulted Estelle to international fame after an earlier album failed to catch fire.
Four years later, she’s back with “All of Me,’’ a defiant new album that suggests she struggled with her newfound success back then. The opening track snaps you to attention, and that was her intention.
“They said that all I had to do was rap again/ Go ahead and get back to black again,’’ she raps with a brittle intensity on “The Life.’’
The new album, whose title is meant as a tribute to Dinah Washington’s version of the jazz standard of the same name, will be released on Feb. 28. It’s a deep soul record flecked with hip-hop and contemporary R&B and features cameos from the likes of Rick Ross and Janelle Monáe. Conversational interludes are meant to recall the energy of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.’’
Estelle, who was born and raised in London but now splits her time between Los Angeles and Brooklyn, N.Y., will give a sneak peek of the album when she plays two shows with a small band at Regattabar on Thursday.
From a tour stop in Dallas earlier this week, Estelle told us about her hiatus and how she found something she had lost: the joy of making music.
Q. Welcome back. Is it appropriate to throw confetti?
A. Absolutely. Yes, you can. That’s what we’re doing this year: celebrating.
Q. We haven’t seen you in a while. How are the new songs sounding on the road?
A. Everything has been so good. I’ve been working so hard, but the results have been incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation and a better time to release this new album.
Q. From the very first song, this new album sounds like you’re reclaiming a sense of purpose.
A. This album was me saying, this is me. With every single album you go through a growth spurt, and every couple of years you become a different person. It just so happened that these past few years have been an accelerated, very visceral version of events for me. People are going to understand who the hell I am this time around. Not that I didn’t do that before, but this time I’m going to let you know before you come out with anything crazy about me. I had to go back and find my love of rap and figure out why I got in the game in the first place. I had to go back and find the joy and love. It got really boring.
Q. Did you feel disillusioned after “Shine’’ became a success?
A. Not even disillusioned, but more that it started to turn into a routine. You’re supposed to feel a certain way. People around you are like, “Aren’t you happy?’’ If I say anything bad, I feel like I’m ungrateful. You start feeling forced happy. I started to feel dishonest with myself. A lot of people dropped out of my life. It was great. I felt a lot lighter.
Q. What was it about “Shine’’ that allowed you to break through?
A. “American Boy’’ was the juggernaut. It just went and you had to hold on to the back of it and hope for dear life that you didn’t fall off. Thank God for that song. I think people appreciated that “Shine’’ was a complete album from front to back. It had something to talk about, a thread of optimism and love. This new album is about optimism and being truly who you are. Don’t compromise. Life is too short.
Q. How do you think tastes in pop music have shifted since your last record?
A. It’s a cyclical industry. Everything goes round in a circle. You’re expected to do something one way because that’s what your last record was like. When I’m doing something different, let me be as an artist. I can take a left-hand turn and do a soul record and still have a lot of love from my fans. I’m thankful for that.James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.