As we count down to the ESSENCE Festival, taking place June 30-July 3 in New Orleans, artists from our power-packed lineup will sum up their lives—from childhood to stardom—in 10 songs. This week it’s Estelle, who will hit the Mainstage when it all goes down at the Superdome.
1. Bob Marley, “Zimbabwe”
One of the first records I remember listening to as a kid and knowing the words back to front. I remember seeing him on TV performing and being mesmerized. All I knew was the Zimbabwean people were not being treated right and there was someone speaking the truth about it. My family was always real honest about explaining songs and music and the messages.
2. Bob and Marcia, “Young, Gifted and Black”
My mum arrived in London as a 12 year old from Sierra Leone, Africa, having been living with my great grandma and great grandad, who were pillars and leaders in the community and villages. So we were very clear as kids who and what we were and raised with a clear pride. That meant this song was played loud and proud many nights with us all dancing to it!
3. Mel and Kim, “Respectable”
Right as I made my first trip to Senegal with my cousin and brother, to take ourselves out of the sadness of leaving our parents for the first time, me and my cousin made up a dance to this song and did it coming down the stairs with our koala backpacks and flower-print jumpsuits. We swore we were Mel and Kim, and that was all!
4. Boogie Down Productions, “Jack of Spades”
The beginning of the new jack era heralded the film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. “Jack of Spades” was the main end-credits song. When I think of the beginning of my teens, I think of that song. It perfectly let me be a hip-hop head and a R&B new jack swing dancer all at the same damn time.
5. 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre, “California Love” /The Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy”
My entire ’90s experience was defined by these two. They were both conscious and gutter. I loved it all.
6. Fugees, “Nappy Heads” remix
I still know all of the words! The Fugees were like a breath of fresh air to someone who loved rap and R&B with clear words and meaning to it. It felt like magic to hear soul singing along with rap music that I loved so much. It made me feel like I could have a career in music for real. It’s a blessing to say I personally know all the members of the Fugees.
7. Mary J. Blige, “Real Love”
I remember watching her in the video on cable and thinking, “Who’s this girl in blonde and hitting these moves?” Of course me and my cousin learned all the moves!
8. Erykah Badu, “Cleva”
I remember a period of my life whe I was homeless, living in a hostel. [Mama’s Gun] had just come out, my part-time job at the time gave me free CDs, and this was one of them. This song was a reminder that though I didn’t have it all—an apartment, good clothes, money, peace of mind—I had a brain and talent, so I could get it done. It reminded me to have faith in myself and God. It’s a timeless song that still rings true today. The whole album Mama’s Gun is a classic.
9. Stevie Wonder, “As”
The best, most beautiful song ever written. It’s the never-ending symbol of love in song and music form. It’s a song that makes big red hearts appear in my mind’s eye whenever I hear it. Stevie Wonder is a living legend.
10. Marvin Gaye, “All the Way Around”
My best guy friend gave me this song during a period of feeling lost musically and professionally, waiting to start recording what would become Shine. I would get up in the morning and literally lay on the ground all day listening to music—all day, every day. I’d known Marvin’s music before, but this song opened me up to him in a new way, as a very vulnerable gentleman. I appreciated his being in a whole new way. One of our greats.