Rita is one of the few British female singers that has emerged singing the opening bars of her career ready for world star status. So why is she so palpably shy of celebrating herself? ‘Because, you know what? I might seem confident about all this. It might be all I’ve ever wanted. It might even be all I’m ever any good at. But I am still really, really nervous about it all.’
The fact that she has already made British chart history as the guest vocalist on one of the first ever drum’n’bass number 1 singles here, DJ Fresh’s Hot Right Now, is almost brushed aside. ‘That was Fresh’s triumph,’ she gifts the producer, though clearly her vocals lend the propulsive tune a hefty portion of its personality. ‘He started a tiny drum’n’bass record label back in the day, now here he is with its first number 1? That’s incredible for him. He owns that.’
Regardless, the breakout smash success of her first number 1 looks very much like the dress rehearsal, the overture or prelude to the main act: Rita Ora solo. If Hot Right Now put a temporary rocket up the British pop chart, her solo cannon is about to blow its mind.
Rita Ora began singing as a 6 year old. This is where the magic started. ‘What drew me most to singing was the fact that I could make a noise that made me feel good about myself. I used to sing poems. It was just about doing something that inspired a reaction. It was about self-esteem, even back then, at a young age. I made a noise, the reaction was positive. Simple as that. I could sing my feelings. It was a new, exciting way of expressing myself. This brand new communication device. I understood the power of it straight away.’
Rita was born, the second of two girls in war-torn Kosovo at the start of the 90s. Her mother, father and elder sister decamped to London before her first birthday. ‘I wasn’t made to feel aware of what we had come from,’ she says, ‘but obviously when you grow up you get to learn something of what your parents went through to get you where you are today. I owe them everything.’
Guided by her innate performance instinct, as well as her developing and hugely impressive, powerhouse vocal range, she began dipping her toe into the local music industry in West London as an early teen. She managed to keep one step ahead of the stop-starts and false alarms of anyone treading tentatively into the shark pond of the London creative elite, enjoying notable highs.
Rita has a natural propensity toward mixing street-beats with pop. Her music is the contents of her young brain spilling out into song. The sounds she heard on the streets of Notting Hill, the brassy calypso and ragga of Carnival mingling with the ringtone pop emanating from fast food joints; the splash and funk of the locale’s black music history engaging with the elegant noise of gentrification. If she sounds black and white, hard and soft, rich and poor, it is because her world is full of those competing factions too. She just learnt to set it all to song. ‘My first record,’ she says, ‘had to sound exactly like my life.’
Equally, her brilliantly developing sense of style is a dynamic and deliberate mismatch of high and low fashion, ball-gown, Louis Vuitton shoe and biker jacket make perfect sense in Rita’s distinct fashion vocabulary. Costume jewellery is interchangeable with opulent bling. She says working with a stylist ‘Is just like playing dressing up with your friends before you go for a night out, with a few more contacts.’ She loves a signature red lipstick and platinum blonde hair. She cannot see herself ever going brunette (‘I tried a wig on in Top Shop recently and just thought, never again’) and was delighted to see young fans at her recent London showcase who had already cottoned on to her signature red smackers. ‘They were all rocking red lipstick on the front row. Yes. Fierce.’
Though Rita is signed to a model agency, it is clearly musically that she is about to shine. Her debut single R.I.P is a thrusting, compelling ode to lost love. Sitting around the peripheral borders of pop, R&B, rock, rave and dusted off with a sugar-coating of immaculate heartbreak, it thunders in on first listen. It was written by the current master-craftsman of relationship drama, hip hop connoisseur, Drake (‘I had the hugest crush on Drake. Then I met him, sweetest guy ever and it evolved into a great friendship. I can’t believe he gave me such a great song’). It is produced by the titans of underground/overground crossover British dance, Chase and Status. There is a guest rap from that pocket dynamo, Tinie Tempah (‘I wanted to keep it British. I need to rep for the UK’). Yet for all its invincible, diamond-plated credentials, this is very much Rita Ora’s opening shot. This time she really does own it.
There’s plenty more where that came from. Rita Ora has fashioned a debut album that is ready to stake its claim on the world stage. She has become a huge priority for JAY Z’s Roc Nation, the music supremo introduced her personally to the American public with a surprise visit to one of the US’s premier radio stations Z100 earlier this year. ‘I was so nervous!’ she enthuses ‘but so excited too’.
The name-check cast-list of people that have queued up to work with her reads like a Award ceremony of modern urban musical excellence, from the left-field margins right to the heart of the mainstream: as well as Drake and C&S, there is Diplo, Switch, Stargate, and The Dream to add to the list. ‘I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been,’ she says, ‘that these people have even given me the time of day, let alone clicked with me in making my album.’
The result is a monopoly stronghold on future pop supremacy. ‘I had to learn my pop instinct,’ she says. It came good on the immaculate, girl’s night out anthem Party and Bullshit. ‘The lyrics had to be tough because the song is so immediate. I wanted that twist. This is about the feeling of waking up in the morning and wanting to take another whisky shot.’ She looks embarrassed for all of five seconds. ‘We’ve all been there. Haven’t we?’ She namechecks Rock The Life – a ridiculously catchy, mid-tempo R&B growler – and the beautifully delivered ballad, Love and War as other album favourites, before the world picks its own.