Earlier this year, 23-year-old London native Ella Mai went from posting 15 second covers on Instagram to hearing her song played in virtually every club, radio station and public music venue in the country.
Both “Boo’d Up” and “Mai” were overnight sensations. The debut single peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 over the summer. With the success of the song, Mai now had the hefty task of avoiding being delegated to a one-hit wonder.
Her first effort has come in the form of Ella Mai, her self-titled debut album released on Oct. 12. In a field as hard to break into as R&B, where big names like Rihanna and Beyoncé reign supreme, Ella Mai is appearing to slip in seamlessly.
Ella Mai gives the newcomer a chance to prove that her success wasn’t by chance—to show that she has what it takes to make it in an industry where breaking through as a new artist has become increasingly more difficult.
“Dangerous” and “Sauce” work together in perfect harmony. The former is reminiscent of Beyoncé’s strongest record to date, 4, while the latter is what I assume to be the sound the now defunct Fifth Harmony was going for with their final, self-titled album.
“Whatchamacallit” is simultaneously the best and most conflicting track, as it comes along with a feature from notorious abuser and generally bad person, Chris Brown. Brown is talented, no doubt, and is one of the biggest names in R&B. None of this, though, is a good enough reason to give him a platform. The song, however, is outstanding, so I’ll just cover my ears and say “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” like a toddler during his verses.
Mai’s best chance at another hit comes with “Cheap Shot,” which has the same chilled out rhythm that resonated with fans of her debut. The lyrics won’t hurt her, either. After all, “Drinkin’, smokin’ / Dosin’, potions” seems to be a fairly good depiction of the current cultural climate of young adults.
The second act crawls to the finale, which isn’t to say that it’s bad—there’s just not much memorable content.
Mai finishes various songs and interludes with little speeches, like the one that closes “Boo’d Up,” spelling out her name: E for emotion, L for lust, L for love, A for assertive, M for mystery, A for aware, I for inner. It’s like a musical acrostic poem, culminating in the utterance of “I am Ella Mai,” an introduction in the purest sense.
“Easy,” is the official closer of the album (excluding encore “Naked”) and is the only true ballad on the track list. It’s an opportunity for Mai to showcase her vocal talent, as well as her impressive penmanship (the song isn’t the only one penned by Mai—she has writing credit on all 16 tracks).
Even with its dull moments and questionable features, Ella Mai is an exceptional effort by an up-and-coming artist in a very much established genre, and an exciting preview of what is to come.