Stephanie Allen aka Stefflon Don first set the underground alight in 2015 with her take on the Section Boy’s street smash Lock Arf. The Clapton rapper has been hot prop ever since, driving grime and rap fans alike wild with her wicked wordplay. Currently readying the release of her new mixtape, Real Ting, Steff is one of the most electric and eclectic emerging acts for 2017. The self-described “girl with the blue hair” is a truly singular proposition; the bilingual, mum-of-one, who both raps and sings, is smart, stylish and witty – a true one-off.
One of seven siblings born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, Steff has been surrounded by music since the womb. Eschewing any form of 9-5 in favour of being a full-time musician. Steff lives, eats and breathes studio life. “I get depressed when I’m not there,” she laughs. “Dancehall and reggae has been a part of my life since I was young; music is almost like breathing to me, that’s how natural it is, but also how much I need it. I’ve tried other creative outlets, but I am music,” she insists. “I can’t do anything else. I don’t know, or want to be good at anything other than this.”
Steff first made an impression on the internet in 2015 with her powerful, patois-inflected versions of Wretch 32’s Six Words and Lock Arf, the video for which featured Section’s Inch. She quickly found herself fielding requests from the UK’s elite; over the last year Steff has lined up an arsenal of features with everyone from Lethal B (Wobble remix) to Sneakbo (Work remix) and Angel (Hop On), and, coming full circle, recently found herself one of the few features on Wretch’s recent Top 5 album, Growing Over Life. She also appeared in Gigg’s Lock Doh video and joined Young Spray for his all-star remix of Sho, alongside Chip, Frisco, Devlin and Ghetts. In September she worked with Krept and Konan on R&B star Jerimih’s single, London. The 24-year old’s quick-witted one-liners arrive rapidly, whether arch observations on London – ‘you haffi marry the na-na-na-na before mi ride the banana’, drolly extolling her awesome abilities on Hop On, or warning women of the dangers of abusive relationships on Six Words.
The industry took note of her rising Youtube views and fast-growing fanbase, and earlier this year Steff signed a publishing deal with Sony, but has decided to remain otherwise independent until she’s ready for a record deal. “I want to do me for as long as possible, nothing over my head, no strings, and I can enjoy making these songs for the sake of making them – not for a ‘hit’,” says Steff of staying DIY. “I want to do everything not for money right now so I can put my stamp on everything and people can see exactly what I’m about. I don’t want no-one telling me what to do. I never wanted my music to be about business.” For Steff, the most important thing is staying true to her very strong sense of self. “The most important thing to me is being real – that’s why I’ve called my mixtape Real Ting. I only talk about things I’ve experienced, or things I know someone very, very close to me has experienced. It’s about being the real ting cos there’s so much fake out here, so you have to be real. My music has to be true to me. I don’t make it to go on radio – I only make music that I love. I don’t care if no one else loves it. I’m true to myself.”
It’s this confidence in her own being that helps Steff to stand out. Though she may invite inevitable comparison, the east Londoner takes inspiration from a globally diverse set of influences. Moving to Holland when she was five years-old, Steff enjoyed a particularly free childhood. “I got my first piercing when I was 13 and my first tattoo at 14,” she remembers with a grin. “I don’t smoke, but weed was legal, there was very little violence; it was just very different to here. Rotterdam was a very open and safe society. Later in life, me moving around meant I got a different perspective on life. It gave me a wide outlook, the chance to experience other people’s cultures. I grew up around lot of Turkish and Moroccan people… it made me more of a people’s person. You can put me in a room with anyone and I’ll get along with them. It’s helped me to see the bigger picture; through my music, I want to speak to all these cultures that I’ve met throughout life. I know there’s a bigger world outside of London, outside of England…”
Steff didn’t return to the UK until she was 14 where she crash-landed in St Thomas More comprehensive in North London. “I didn’t want to be there, it was so horrible. The kids were all coming up to me; looking at me like I was some kind of alien cos I had a weird accent. And I didn’t dress as cool as the other kids either, so I didn’t really have friends. I was swag-less,” she says with another huge laugh. “It took time but I figured it out and eventually settled in.”
Eight years on and Steff is currently readying her debut mixtape, which features Jeremih and Scouse Trappin Tremz. The rising young rhymer, writer and singer has lofty ambitions, but never at the expense of selling her sound, her style or her soul.
“I feel like I hear people say this all the time, but I actually want to bring something different. But I want to do that on my terms. Of course I want number ones, Grammys, BRITs, all of that, but none of that would mean anything if I didn’t make the music I loved and that was real to me. That’s the most important thing; to be the realest artist, making the realest music.”