Margeaux Watson
December 25, 2008 AT 10:26 PM EST

Ten years ago, British hip-hop soul siren Estelle would’ve been Lauryn Hill‘s biggest competition. Today, she’s a rare gem–cosmopolitan, street-smart, and unapologetically outspoken. Featuring collaborations with everyone from Mark Ronson and will.i.am to Kanye West and Cee-Lo, her outstanding U.S. debut CD, Shine–the first release on John Legend‘s Homeschool Records imprint–is a galvanizing blend of hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and dancehall. Why it didn’t blow up like Hill’s 1998 classic, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, remains a mystery to me. But at least her single “American Boy” scored a well-deserved Song of the Year Grammy nod. That’s gotta count for something, right?

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