“I don’t like to write about myself. I like listening to people.”, a 19-year-old Jorja Smith told The Fader. Fast forward seven years, and we receive the intensely personal, direct, and understood falling or flying, that is indicative of Smith listening to people, taking stock, and producing a sonically and lyrically honest album that is for her and her only. It’s paramount that you now listen.
By 22, Jorja Smith was almost a household name; Drake features, Kendrick Lamar collaborations, a Mercury Prize nomination. She sat seamlessly alongside the Foo Fighters and Van Morrison on the 25th anniversary of Later… with Jools Holland. A voice and presence beyond her years, genuinely echoing and living up to her hero Amy Winehouse, she wasn’t just one to watch but demanded attention by simply being herself. Her debut album Lost & Found possessed aching tales of adolescent love (‘Teenage Fantasy’), written before she had a relationship, and speculative, poetic monologues on wealth and power (‘Lifeboats (Freestyle)’) that interpolated and followed in the footsteps of Lauryn Hill.
falling or flying occupies a different space. London was getting on top of Smith, so she moved home to Walsall, teaming up with the anonymous production duo DAMEDAME*. Smith had known one of the duo since she was 15. Away from the noise of the industry, Smith could breathe and simply make music. Honesty between the trio in the studio has worked a treat. falling or flying is assured, courageous, and authentic.
The album cover sets the tone for Smith; the artwork is monochromatic, but textually prominent – very much like the striking dress Smith wears in an otherwise unoccupied shot.
At its best, the album explores Smith’s central conundrum: whether in her life, she’s falling or flying. She flies on the engineered for partying ‘Little Things’, now a mainstay sample in DJ sets and subject to a plethora of remixes, and on the Bombay Bicycle Club inspired ‘GO GO GO’, ushering out a soon to be ex-lover.
However, the album nosedives into melancholy on the delicate ‘Makes Sense’ and the hushed ‘Too Many Times’. This is not the Smith who proclaimed at 20 that “life’s not full of shallow ends” and that “your house ain’t full of armbands” but instead the person who has experienced the deep end. falling or flying is evaluative of her career so far, in beautiful style. Tied together are features from Lila Iké and J Hus’ guest verse on ‘Feelings’, managing to yearn and brag at the same time like no one else (“bad man but still sometimes I want a cuddle”).
falling or flying is a statement of intent from Jorja Smith. It’s a body of work that’s taken time and consideration to arrive, and it’s how albums should be made. If Lost & Found was Smith asking all the questions, falling or flying is not her answering them, but posing crucially new ones with the information she has gained about herself over the last five years. Smith still possesses the ethereal observations of her younger self, but this time around has the battle scars to not make them observations, but anecdotal and evidenced. “I could be falling or flying, I wouldn’t know the difference”; she’s not asking us for an answer, but searching internally. At the end of the day, it’s all up to her.
falling or flying is out now. Jorja Smith plays at the Albert Hall in Manchester on November 9th. Join the waiting list here.