Jay Z's Protegee Burns Up the Charts
Rita Ora makes climbing the ladder to pop superstardom look easy — as if anyone could get a music deal at 14. “That’s when I started going to the studio after school, in my uniform, and kinda just write. Even though I didn’t know what the hell I was writing about,” says Ora, who is Kosovar but has lived in West London since she was one.
Her effortless rise has a simple explanation: if you could genetically engineer Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, and Rihanna into one endowed being, that woman might look and sound something like Rita. Big voice, banging figure, and pretty face: check, check, check — along with a bubbling charisma that delights audiences and media alike. It’s probably why Jay Z didn’t waste much time after meeting her, signing her to Roc Nation when she was 18.
Now 21, she’s starting to making moves. Her first single, “Hot Right Now,” a bass-driven pop cut with DJ Fresh, hit number one in the UK and that sold over 100,000 copies in the first week. When she premiered her first US single at the end of February, it was on New York City’s biggest radio station Z100, personally introduced by Jay Z. And although she has yet to drop her debut album, the big names who worked on it from Chase and Status to Drake, have us all dying of anticipation. So with just two singles out, Rita will spend the summer opening stadiums for Coldplay.
Read on to find out what kind of boss Jay Z is, what early nineties group is her fashion inspiration, and how she was an awkward teen with, horror of horrors, a curly fringe.
So…we have to start with — what was it like when you went to Z100 offices in NY last week?
I was about to faint, no joke.
We’ve been working on this album for two and a half years, so it was so exciting to finally see it going to use, and people reacting to it. It was so unplanned. I didn’t even know what was going on until I got in the car and I left. I started crying from happiness.
What did Jay say to you afterwards?
He was just like “Congratulations kid, your dream is finally happening.”
I used to get frustrated in myself, and he always taught me just be patient. That was the best thing he ever said to me. And I was patient.
It was just weird for me to hear my song on American radio. Because I’m not even from there. It was such a special moment for me, I wish my mom my dad and my sister and everyone was in that room (laughs)!
What else can we expect from your debut album?
You can expect a lot of party tracks, a lot of fun moments. A lot of honesty, and a lot of genuine emotion — I really admire people like Adele and Sade – people that speak literally everything on a song.
What was the first time you were working in music and thought this is really a career?
The first time was when I was 14, and I got my first music check. It was something like 80 pounds and I was like “Oh My God!” It was for something stupid, I think I did backing vocals for something like James Morrison.
At the age of 14 I got a production deal, and that’s when I started going to the studio after school, in my uniform, and kinda just write. Even though I didn’t know what the hell I was writing about. That’s how I met a few A&Rs in the industry and start to get my face out there, and get my name known.
From Tinie Tempah, to Drake, you’ve already worked with several major artists. Who made you the most star-struck?
My boss, when I first my boss, Jay Z, was when I was the most starstruck. But it was a very different type of starstruck. He’s a very warming person, he just shook my hand and made me very confortable. He was just like another guy who was like my brother. My palms were sweating when I first met him, though.
And when I met Bono! Oh, that’s when I was starstruck.
What was it like growing up Kosovar in London?
I moved to London when I was one. I was born in Kosovo but I’ve been living in West London my whole life. In London, I had a normal childhood, I’d go out with my friends. My dad owns a pub, and we’d usually go there and have some free beer and stuff. And then he’d be like “A’right now Ri’a, that’s enough, go home now (laughs).”
It was great growing up in London. I love West London and Portobello Road – I used to work there. When I was 16 I used to work in Size, selling sneakers in a shop. I used to make 60 pounds a week. That’s what made me obsessed with trainers. I used to save up my money and spend it only on trainers.
How many pairs of trainers do you own?
I have a LOT. I even have some in my mum’s house in my old room under my bed. Which you just reminded me about actually, so I think I need to go dig them up….I have a lot.
Thank you! I love showing people pictures of my clothes. I love clothes, I do. I think it’s another form of art and creativity, and expressing yourself.
How would you describe your style?
I don’t really have a blueprint to clothes. I’m not really scared of putting things on, so I’d describe it as very free and fun.
Is there anything you’d never wear?
No! There’s nothing. I was watching this video of TLC today called “What About Your Friends” — and they looked SO COOL. I was like, one day I’m going to do a video just like that.
Aren’t they wearing overalls? [Ed. Note: They’re actually suspenders.]
YEAH! And they’ve got these green professor hats on with glasses with like one eye and stuff. I was like “HOW COOL. COOLEST GIRLS EVER.”
So I don’t really have anything I don’t like.
I wouldn’t wear a yellow bodysuit, or a scuba diving suit. A scuba diving suit onstage, imagine!
For all the young girls and the late bloomers out there, can you tell us about an awkward phase you had?
From when I was 13 to 16, I felt like the most awkward human being on the planet. My hair was up to my shoulders, I cut my own fringe, I had brown hair. It was a curly fringe.
I went to a theater school, it wasn’t a scholarship school. You had to pay every term for your tuition, so I wasn’t really the most…I wasn’t the richest kid in my class, you know what I mean? My mum and dad had to work really hard to pay off my tuition, which now I realize, and I didn’t at the time. So I was always the one with the same schoolbag for like three years, and people would walk in with Louis Vuitton backpacks. It was a private school, and you’ve got rich kids and stuff.
So I was always the one with my same Nike rucksack, and I felt sometimes like, why couldn’t I have things like that. Sometimes it’s hard to find yourself. But when you do, it’s such a beautiful thing.
So what are some tips?
The most important tip for me is to be confident. It’s the umbrella over everything. Working with what you’ve got, and being proud of yourself, because you’re on the planet for a reason.
Speaking about confidence, your single right now is called “Hot Right Now.” What does that song mean to you?
“Hot Right” now is basically a drum-and-bass song about being the hottest in the building. It’s kind of very obvious, and I love it.
Besides yourself, what do you think is something that’s hot right now?
Well. I just got this new shade of blonde hair, and I think that’s hot right now (laughs). It just happened yesterday.
And this video that I’ve just shot, which will be out very soon. It’s with Tinie Tempah.
Is that a song off your upcoming album?
To wrap up – when is your album coming out?
The single comes out May 6 in the UK. The album is definitely this year. We’re very close to finishing it.
Thanks for talking with us!
Sorry for bombarding you for half an hour. I just looked at the phone and it’s 28 minutes and I’m, like, whoa!