"I be international. Catch me all around the world," Estelle purrs on "International (Serious)," a towering electro-hip-hop cut featuring Chris Brown and Trey Songz that appears on the British singer's long-delayed third album, "All of Me."
"That's the hype song," says Estelle. "That's me saying, 'I'm here and I'm back.' This is what I've really been doing for the past three years: traveling and performing everywhere, from Shanghai to Moscow."
It's been almost four years since Estelle Swaray hit gold with her triumphant sophomore set, "Shine," which arrived on John Legend's HomeSchool Records (through Atlantic) in 2008. Shine went on to sell 234,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Breakout single "American Boy," featuring Kanye West, has sold 2.3 million U.S. copies, peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated twice at the 51st Grammy Awards for song of the year and best rap/sung collaboration, winning the latter accolade.
"I was definitely blindsided by a few moments," Estelle says of "Shine's" run. "But for the most part it was a case of, 'Regroup. Let's go. How do we handle this with the least amount of fuss?'"
In contrast, recording the follow-up to "Shine" proved to be a complicated, at times emotionally painful experience. Originally scheduled for release in 2010, and then 2011, "All of Me" finally arrived Feb. 28, once again on HomeSchool/Atlantic. Estelle says the delays were due to a combination of touring and her need for time away from the music business.
"I took three years just to live and grow and become a better human," says the 32-year-old, who relocated to the States from her native London several years ago. "In order for me to write, I have to experience life. I write the songs based on real life and I perform them from a very real place."
Writing the album coincided with the end of a three-year relationship, and the subject drives many of the album's 15 tracks, which span R&B, dance, doo-wop and edgy, hook-laden pop. Current single "Thank You," co-written by Akon and produced by Jerry "Wonda" Duplessis ( U2, the Black Eyed Peas), is a touching R&B ballad chronicling the end of a love affair.
Album tracks "Back to Love"; "Break My Heart," featuring Rick Ross (which originally surfaced last April); and the defiantly upbeat "Wonderful Life" also touch on heartbreak, love and loss in unflinching detail. Other standouts include the summery dancehall swing of "Do My Thing" (featuring Janelle Monáe) and "The Life," a boisterous hip-hop jam inspired by Estelle's rekindled love of rapping.
"I wanted to give the album a complete vulnerable taste of Estelle-the Estelle that my family knows," she says. "I didn't want it to be [about] heartbreak."
Atlantic Records senior VP marketing Joi Pitts says that Estelle stands out from the pack due to "the tone of her voice, her outlook on fashion and her perspective on love and life, all with a touch of her unique British-meets-New York flavor."
Estelle embarked on a promotional tour of major and secondary markets last fall, and TV also plays a big part in the album push. Appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," BET's "Black Girls Rock!," TV One's "Verses & Flow" and VH1's "Divas Celebrates Soul" have already taken place, and upcoming spots include BET's "Rip the Runway," "Late Show With David Letterman" and "America's Next Top Model: British Invasion." "Between red carpets, TV appearances, features in magazines or hosting events, her visibility assisted in making the transition from 'Shine' to the current album much easier," Pitts says.
The radio plot is also now heating up with "Thank You" in rotation at R&B/hip-hop and adult R&B stations, according to Atlantic. The next single, "Wonderful Life," has been serviced to R&B formats backed by a lyrics-only video, and an audio stream of "International (Serious)" has been serviced to digital platforms and music blogs. Meanwhile, Estelle's headlining run of the 19-date BET All of Me Music Matters tour, booked by Dennis Ashley at ICM, wraps March 5 at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live. International shows are scheduled for April/May, with dates to be announced.
"You grow as a human being over a period of three years and I really, honestly took every single moment of those three years to live life and go through it," Estelle says. "I've fully embraced who I am. I stopped fighting with people and just come to realize, 'This is me. This is all of me.'"