It's possible Rita Ora -- Jay-Z's new Next Big Thing -- has already been stuck in your head. After all, she's the charming British singer who took the words "party and bullshit" from Biggie and turned them into "How We Do (Party)," a song that's catchy enough to make it the "Party in the U.S.A." for the throw-your-diamonds-in-the-sky crowd.
It's true that, like One Direction, Paloma Faith and a whole host of Brit-pop artists looking to carve out a fan base in the States, Ora is British. But that's probably the least interesting thing about her. It might be the least interesting thing to her as well. In an interview on the set of her MTV "Unplugged" taping, Ora handily dismissed the notion that some grand trend or movement was to blame for her newfound success. "I literally just think that right now, great music is coming from Britain," she said.
It makes sense that Ora's more interested in stunting around on music video sets than chatting about British artists who preceded her. When asked to name the British artist she felt paved the path for talent such as herself, she chose ... Janis Joplin.
"Was she British?" Ora asked. When informed that Joplin was, indeed, not from the U.K., she batted away the mistake by comparing the late rock singer to Madonna: "Do you know those people, they're like Madonna, all these artists who you don't think are like, who are American, like, you could think that they’re British?"
The twee boys from The Wanted and 1D are not Ora's peers. Instead, she's better placed among her label-mates -- J. Cole, Bridget Kelly, Jay Electronica and Willow Smith. Finding artists with just enough edge to be different while making conventionally appealing music is what Jay-Z's four-year-old label has done best.
Cole is a gifted lyricist who's unmistakably working in traditional rap. Bridget Kelly is a singer with lungs that make her a natural double for Alicia Keys (Kelly often sings the hook on "Empire State of Mind" when Jay-Z is touring). Smith and Electronica are a bit less traditional, if only for the former's blinding fame and preternatural swagger and the latter's unending ability to develop hype despite not having put out a single studio album (Act II: Patents Of Nobility is due out next week).
If she's lucky, though, Ora will be able to go toe-to-toe with Jay's most successful find: Rihanna. The comparisons are inevitable, but Ora rightly refuses to take them as anything but compliments. "[Jay] found her when she was around the same age," she said. "I feel like ... it's a huge compliment, really. It doesn't bother me at all ... but I do understand why. We are part of the same family, and our journeys are almost similar. I still just had my first MTV Unplugged, which is like legendary."
It's with the same nonchalance that she discusses her mentor and boss. "Ten minutes after I met [Jay], I felt like I had known him for ages," she said. "He's such a cool, cool spirit ... He's funny, and he cracks jokes. He's just like everybody else."
When Jay-Z is "just like everybody else" to you, chances are you're ready to face just about any challenge the music industry can toss your way.
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