Stefflon Don’s last appearance in Leeds on November 29, 2017 was certainly auspicious. That night, not only did the London-based rapper and singer take centre stage at the MOBO Awards, performing her breakthrough hit Hurtin’ Me, she also came home with the prize for Best Female Act.
Almost a year to the day later she is due to return to the city for a show at the University of Leeds venue Stylus.
“I mean that was obviously a massive achievement,” says the now 26-year-old on winning such a major award barely two years into her recording career. “Growing up with the MOBOs and hoping one day to be on it and then to be recognised for my talent is amazing.”
Don – whose real name is Stephanie Allen – recently released her second mixtape, Secure.
Its songs, she says, reflect the different sides of her personality, with raps that are by turns raw, forceful, raunchy and sometimes vulnerable.
“It definitely captures all elements of my moods,” she says. “Some parts of it are vulnerable and others are fun at the same time.”
The mixtape’s title is itself significant, both as a comment on how Don presently feels as an artist and as a kind of message to her growing fan base, particularly in when many people seem to be struggling with issues of confidence in an image-conscious age of Instagram and Snapchat.
“It’s definitely about how I’ve always felt,” she says. “I’ve always felt secure in myself. It’s more about the fans to feel secure and always be in power and in charge.
“When you’re insecure you lack the power of being in charge of the stuff you need to get done. It’s definitely for the fans. I wanted to pout the message across for them to be secure in themselves.
“I was hoping that after they’d listened to the tape they will feel a bit more confident about whatever they’re dealing with.”
I loved Destiny’s Child, Missy, Foxy, Eve. I liked every single rapper that was bringing something hot. I think they always stood out for me, they were always catching my eyeline.Stefflon Don
Don chuckles softly and politely says “thank you” when it’s suggested that she manages to outshine the many guests on Secure.
It’s clear she has the ambition to match such notable collaborators as Future, DJ Khaled and Sean Paul. “Yes, definitely,” she agrees in considered tones.
It’s a point reinforced by the fact that Don has reportedly signed a £1.2m record contract with Universal Music – the kind of sum that most contemporary artists could only dream of.
She can “definitely” be a tough negotiator, she says, adding: “My manager is very good at negotiating as well. We go hand in hand, you know.”
Don’s strong work ethic comes across in many of her interviews. As one of four children raised in a largely single-parent family, first in Birmingham then Holland and later London, her determination is, she says, simply “just how I am”.
“I’m a go-getter so I definitely work hard in every area to make sure everything is reaching new heights.”
Living in Rotterdam between the ages of four and 14 shaped Don’s life in different ways.
“It made me a bit more open to first of all different cultures,” she reflects. “I have no problems with doing something in Spanish, which I’ve done on my last tape, I used certain words that were Spanish because growing up in Holland with different cultures a lot of people might be from Caribbean islands but they speak Spanish, which is something else.
“I’m definitely influenced by that, and then increasingly the dancehall culture [in London] a lot more, they didn’t really have that as much out there when I was there.”
Relocating to London in her mid-teens seems to have suited Don. “It was very different [compared to life in Holland],” she says. “I felt a bit more at home, coming back to London, only because in Holland there weren’t really any Jamaicans where I was from. It was only rarely that we saw a Jamaican person, so coming to [part of] England where everyone is Jamaican was a bit crazy.”
Don has said in interviews that she didn’t consider herself a “proper singer”. Instead she found her voice as a rapper “very late on when I was about 19”, she says. There were “a lot of people” she looked up to in those days. “I loved Destiny’s Child, Missy [Elliott], Foxy [Brown], Eve. I liked every single rapper that was bringing something hot. I think they always stood out for me, they were always catching my eyeline.”
For her forthcoming UK tour Don has been putting herself through two months of extensive dance rehearsals.
Her aim, she says, “100 per cent, definitely” is to create a show that will live long in the audience’s memory.
With her stated ambition to at some point direct her own stage shows and videos, Don is evidently keen to control as many aspects of her career as she can. “Fortunately for me I’ve got a vision and I always wanted that vision to be put across the right way, so I’m definitely involved in everything I do, most of the time.”
Secure is out now. Stefflon Don plays at Stylus on Monday November 26. facebook.com/stefflondon.official/