JUICE doesn’t usually cover pop acts, but it takes a special kind of female pop star to get co-signed by Jay-Z, and then signed to his label Roc Nation. Rita Ora is that act whose anachronism (she’s a champion of ‘90s party-fuelled anthems) belies her young years, she wants to bring back the golden age of hip hop, a decade when she was barely old enough to dance and sing as she is doing now.
Born in Kosovo and raised in London, Rita grew up in a multi-ethnic community where she was exposed to the likes of TLC, Salt-N-Pepa, Aaliyah, and a whole slew of ‘90s hip hop and r’n’b. This is immediately evident when you look at her fashion sense; bleach blonde, floral shorts, gold jewellery, and etcetera. She’s mimicked their vibe to a (Billionaire Boys Club) tee, she’s the hip hop-r’n’b equivalent of a hipster.
Rita started performing at the tender age of 14, appearing on a little known movie first and performing at bars before collaborating with Craig David at 16, but then at18 she was flown to New York for a meeting with Jay-Z. Before she knew it, she got a record deal the next day. The next 3 years of her life there was under the mentorship of Jay-Z, a time spent that culminated in the release of her album Ora (her surname is, fittingly, Albanian for the word ‘time’).
Lead single of her debut, ‘How We Do (Party)’, co-opts Notorious BIG’s ‘Party & Bullsh!t’ in its chorus, returning the line “I wanna party, and bullsh!t” into a party chant again, this time for ‘90s babies. The pop-rock track is something like what would happen had Katy Perry been a 21 year old who grew up on ‘90s hip hop. Yes, we know that sounds terrible, but it works without blaspheming Biggie.
The rest of the album sees her enlisting the help of superstar producers that range from Will.I.Am, Diplo, to DJ Fresh. Creating a sound that sits on the peripheries of mass-friendly genres – hip hop, r’n’b, rock, rave, and even a little quintessentially Brit d’n’b. Roc Nation has groomed Rita to be as pop-savvy as she possibly could, which is both good and bad.
The song that propelled her to fame, ‘Hot Right Now’ by DJ Fresh, is Rita at her best. It’s the sort of garage-d’n’b joint that only Brits could pull off, hearing it at the end of the album makes you wish that they were more of that instead of the America-friendly tunes that dominate the rest of the record. Nevertheless, when it works, it goddamned works. Opener ‘Facemelt’ is a startling start, ‘Roc The Life’ is as good as urban pop could get, and ‘Love and War’ reminds us of why J.Cole was at one point a hyped up rapper.
Rita Ora is a promising pop act that needs more time, but for now let’s just let her party and bullsh!t.
P&B with Rita here.