The first time NME tries to interview the UK’s great hip-hop hope, it doesn’t quite go to plan – she’s two-and-a-half hours late thanks to a hold-up with her “glam team”. After a swift rescheduling, Stephanie ‘Stefflon Don’ Allen’s timekeeping is vastly improved – in fact, she even skipped out on A$AP Rocky’s party the day before because of work commitments. “I had 10 interviews yesterday and I couldn’t make it,” she explains, after swishing into the NME office with superstar swagger. Boasting an immaculate manicure, freshly dyed red hair and a tracksuit made for looking fabulous in rather than 30 minutes on the cross-trainer, she looks a million dollars – which is appropriate seeing as that’s how much she just signed her record deal with Universal for. Well, a million pounds, to be exact. “It’s one of the biggest deals done in the UK for a long time,” says the east London-based artist with a chuckle. “Since I was 19 I’ve said, ‘I’m gonna sign for a million.’”
Now 25, she’s got her wish – and she has the rap world at her feet, with a host of huge collaborations behind her and in the pipeline, including a November release with one of grime’s biggest names plus Canada’s biggest Anglophile, Drake. “We haven’t actually been in the studio together [but] it’s gonna happen,” she says. “We’re gonna make fire bangers.” Currently working on her as yet untitled debut album (“I’ve got a lot of great songs!”), mooted for release next year, she’s already released one of the singles of 2017, the French Montana-featuring ‘Hurtin’ Me’, a slab of soulful dancehall which actually sees her singing rather than rapping, placing herself in the shoes of her man’s wounded ex. “I was a singer before I was a rapper, but I was shy. If you’re shy when you’re singing, that’s the worst combination.”
No longer shy, she’s definitely not prudish either – in fact, she has an admirable dedication to rudeness. ‘Tight Nooki’, on last year’s ‘Real Ting’ mixtape, is blush-worthy in its explicitness. “I used to be worse, when I just started rapping, before anyone really heard me!” she explains with a grin. “It would be like, ‘Damn!’ Everyone in the studio would look around like, ‘Did she just say that?!’”
It’s refreshing to hear a woman being so outspoken about how sex and female empowerment runs deep throughout her music and world view. “I feel like there should be someone to stick up for women and make them feel good and beautiful about themselves,” she says. “I feel like a lot of men are not taking that role any more and just degrading us. If you can look for love within yourself and also from another female artist, that’s sick. You don’t need it from a male artist.”
That attitude runs to her shows too. At this summer’s Wireless Festival she was joined by 50 women from the crowd, creating a booty-shaking safe space for her female-strong fanbase. “I just say, ‘Girls, get onstage,’ and they all just start running at me and climbing over stuff. It’s a lit moment.”
With her own record label imprint courtesy of Universal (“They knew I wasn’t signing, so they tried to just throw me anything!”), Steff also directs all her own videos, including for ‘16 Shots’, which sees her own mother kidnapped. “She loved it! She loves to be the star. When I do a song I can automatically see the video and see what needs to be happening.”
Her forthright image has got her a lot of love online, but also her fair share of haters too. In fact, she’s just been on a blocking spree, but her good friends Gucci and Versace act as her armour in the endless battle against the trolls. “When I’m dressed up I feel confident – no one can’t tell me anything,” she says. “I feel good, it doesn’t matter what anyone says – you can’t ruin my day ’cos I look good!” Haters be warned – Stefflon Don is tough, talented and ready to take over.