British R&B singer Estelle wasn’t raised on Shakespeare. But she swears by one of his quotes: “This above all: To thine own self be true.”
“Because everything that I’ve been through over the past two years is encapsulated in that statement, exactly,” she says.
While her breakthrough duet with Kanye West, “American Boy,” was topping charts worldwide and winning her a Grammy, her career was quietly imploding.
“People were doing crazy things to me — like family, friends, boyfriends — until my life just became a joke,” she says. “And the label was going, ‘You have to record your “American Boy” follow-up,’ and I said ‘Look, I’m sick of this. I’m going to go do what I want to do!’”
The lady did just that. The Grenadan- and Senagalese-descended singer, who long ago dropped her Swaray surname, has an effervescent new single with Rick Ross, “Break My Heart,” with a new mostly self-penned album, “All of Me,” coming this fall. She’ll preview other new tracks like “Thank You” (a sarcastic message to a callous ex-beau) in at the KMEL Summer Jam in Oakland this weekend.
But her situation had grown dire.
“I’d really started hating music,” says Estelle, who relocated to New York. “I’d started hating all the songs, hating being in the industry, hating doing the shows. So I had to learn to love music again if I wanted to continue doing this.”
She systematically severed ties with almost everyone in her life, demanded complete creative control from her label, and shuttered herself away in a home studio, for a solid year.
“It wasn’t complete isolation — I did answer my door,” she says. “But everybody got the word, like ‘I’m going to go work out these songs on my own, so leave me alone.’ I’d tried a lot, I’d compromised, I’d worked with other people, and it still felt like ‘I don’t like any of this music — it just sucks!’ So I did this alone, and the result is, I really like it.”
“Break My Heart” was the first sign she succeeded. The beat felt right, the lyrics rang true, and the melody struck her as effortless.
“I couldn’t just hand in any old rubbish — I can’t go on tour and sing something for three years if I don’t believe in it,” she says.
Estelle has also launched her own charity, the All of Me Foundation, and she has a new jewelry line with designer Rachel Roy.
But this Ophelia is glad to have survived her own near-tragedy.
“In hindsight, it was the best thing possible for me,” she says. “You live, you grow. And now I want to evolve even more.”
IF YOU GO
With Estelle, Trey Songz, Kelly Rowland, Lupe Fiasco, Big Sean, Waka Flacka
Where: Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $34 to $145.35
Contact: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com