Ella Mai made history, earlier this year, as she became the first female UK artist to top the US R&B charts in 26 years with her single 'Boo’d Up'. Following this up comes her long-awaited debut album 'Ella Mai', which undoubtedly sets her up for more success.
Opening up with ‘Emotion’, a 12-second spoken-word track, Mai sets up her eponymous 16-song album with the dictionary definition of the word ‘emotion’. These spoken messages blending with her music come around sporadically, spelling out her name: E for emotion, L for lust, L for love, and A for assertive. Short, yet powerful, this undeniably sets the scene for what is to follow.
Encompassing Mai’s person and music in four words, it’s these short yet powerful words that catch my attention; forcing me to actually stop and listen. Paying homage to 90’s R&B and Mustard’s hip-pop signature sound, while simultaneously weaving new sounds into it, the album launches into the aerated beats of ‘Good Bad’, before moving into catchy, throbbing R&B track ‘Dangerous’ in which she asserts her love for a boy she can’t believe she fell for.
Following this is the swaggering, confident ‘Sauce’ which leaves you feeling confident about the excessive “sauce” you’ve got. Then come the collaborations, from peppy, carefree bop ‘Whatchamacallit’ featuring Chris Brown, which serves to bring an element of fun to the album balanced out perfectly by soulful John Legend collaboration ‘Everything’.
Another feature comes in the form ‘Gut Feeling’ with California R&B artist H.E.R. With tracks like skippy single ‘Trip’ and the ever-popular ‘Boo’d Up’ which catapulted her into fame, it’s easy to assume that the other offerings within her album live in the shadows.
There are real strengths here, however, such as acoustic song (and bonus track) ‘Naked’ which affirms body positivity, by challenging a lover to accept her as she is. ‘Shot Clock’ meanwhile is a sentimental, simmering track which speaks of an ultimatum in a relationship.
Confident, with slick production and a seamless mix of new sounds with her signature sound, and catchy, what her debut full-length album highlights is the 23-year-old singer’s vocal range. While she might play it safe as far as messages are concerned - generally exploring relationships - her metaphoric representation of them somehow manage to keep the oft-played theme quite fresh.
With a stream of songs that definitely warrant a repeat, Ella Mai proves she’s only setting up to scale greater heights.
Words: Malvika Padin
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