Jorja Smith Talks Admiring Amy Winehouse And Ripping Mos Def Albums From YouTube

The breakout R&B star is MTV's new Push: Artist to Watch

At the tail end of a breakout year marked by her critically acclaimed debut album, a Grammy nomination, and a Coachella debut, Jorja Smith added one more accolade to her list: being named MTV's Push: Artist to Watch for the month of January.

The 21-year-old sat down with MTV News to dissect her serene R&B sound, which was built on a foundation of fiercely honest songwriting and inspiration from some iconic artists. Among them is Amy Winehouse, whom Smith fondly remembers listening to with her parents.

"Whenever I listen to her music, I can imagine being in a room with her and her band playing, and I really love that," Smith said. "That's what I like [to do] with my music: to make it sound like you're in a room with me and I'm playing live."

Smith's other key influences include Damian Marley, whom she's dying to work with someday, and Mos Def, whose album Black on Both Sides she once ripped from YouTube to listen to on long train rides. All three artists helped the English singer find her sound and her songwriting voice, which is something she's excited to keep honing in 2019.

"The way I want people to perceive me is that I'm honest. I just know I'm me, that's it," Smith said.

That honesty shines on songs like "Blue Lights," a slinky slight against stop-and-frisk policies. Smith said she wrote the song while making a documentary for school about the relationship between grime music and police. While interviewing fellow students, she noticed "they were all like, 'I hate the police, they're always after us, they're always on to us," she said. "I was like, 'what have you done?' and they're like 'nothing.' I was like, 'OK, that's interesting.'"

But it isn't just young people who can relate to her debut album, Lost & Found. In her words, it's "everyone."

"My song 'Teenage Fantasy,' I wrote that when I was 16 and I was babysitting, and people that are a lot older than me can relate to that," she said. "So I think I'm quite good at just writing for everyone."

Check out Smith's interviews with MTV News above, and see an intimate, exclusive performance of "Blue Lights" below.