Let’s talk numbers for a moment. On January 19, 2016, a short 2-and-a-half years before her studio debut Lost & Found, and even shorter 11 months before her “unofficial” debut Project 11, Jorja Smith released “Blue Lights” on SoundCloud. Within a month, “Blue Lights” reached 400,000 streams on SoundCloud, and, as of December 12, 2018, stands at 51,100,361 streams on Spotify. As part of the 12-track Lost & Found, “Blue Lights” sits comfortably among modern classics that elevated Smith to number 41 on the Billboard 200, number 3 on the UK Albums Chart, and nominee number 9 for the 2019 Grammy for Best New Artist. Behind these numbers is a talent able to convey the quiet brevity of ritual sadness in a manner unmatched by any modern singer not named Amy Winehouse.
Amongst her many talents, Smith has mastered the art of being relatable without being all encompassing. Her recent performance at The Fillmore Silver Spring flowed from strength-to-strength, leaving the audience gasping for more compositions of loss and steadfastness. Her charisma, and the way she sauntered across the stage with sultry confidence, was enough to make you forget this once-in-a-generation talent only turned 21 in June. Jorja Smith revels in trying to understand the troubled world around her through vocal variations of swagger and anguish lit by falsetto. She pulls you in with each word, letting you narrate the emotion behind each vowel to fit the life you’re in.
When I saw Smith earlier this year at The Foundry in Philadelphia I was floored by the revelry of her voice. When my colleague Jose López-Sánchez saw her at Howard Theatre shortly after, he wrote her performance “felt like a coronation.” Her show at The Fillmore Silver Spring felt like a victory parade, garnished with an unspoken realization from the sold-out crowd that each step, each chord, each fluctuation of tone was unlike anything we deserved. In the 1,087 days since “Blue Lights” hit SoundCloud, Smith has redefined modern R&B. The next 1,087 days glow with a potential many of us are impatient to witness.