Over the past few years, the mainstream music charts haven’t seen much from the R&B music scene. Many people have argued that R&B is a dying genre in music and has been taken over by hip-hop, which is currently the dominating genre of top music charts in the United States. Many new artists today are referred as contemporary artists, Frank Ocean, SZA, and The Weeknd are a few of many combining R&B and other genres to create a more modern, alternative sound. This new wave of alt-R&B and neo-soul has many convinced traditional R&B may never return, but London-based singer Ella Mai has different ideas. Introducing herself with confidence, Ella Mai’s new self-titled debut album brings listeners back to the 90’s R&B sound while updating it with a touch of modern trap and pop-like beats.
Ella Mai comes off as a fresh-faced young woman who just wants to utilize her talent of singing and songwriting to express herself and relate with listeners which is refreshing in today’s mainstream music setting. Born and raised in London, Mai moved to New York City at the age of 12 attending high school in Queens then moving back to London to study music in college.
Like many other famous singers and artists today, Mai was discovered through social media garnering the attention of well known producer DJ Mustard after posting several videos on Instagram singing covers to popular hip-hop and r&b songs and eventually signing to his label 10 Summers Records in 2015. Two years go by with three short introductory EP’s released to sound cloud (Time, Change, and Ready) each quickly racked up millions of listens. Ready is the EP that rocketed Ella Mai to international success featuring the song Boo’d Up, which abruptly gained major popularity in early 2018 a year after it was released. Boo’d up peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States and was certified 3x platinum. After having time to adapt to her success and craft her first album, Mai made her debut with Ella Mai on October 12th, 2018.
If there is one thing that can be learned after listening to Ella Mai’s debut album, it’s that she knows how to capture a specific moment in her life, and put it into song lyrics. Mai has an ability to use refrains and word play to capture the emotion she feels in her lyrics. This can be seen in seen in breakout love ballad “Boo’d Up” and the also successful slow-keyed trap tune, “Trip”.
Even though most of the production on this album is done from DJ Mustard, the hip-hop trap beats are only sprinkled throughout for a modern effect and most of the album shows reverence to the 90’s R&B era. A few songs on the album seem to have a few overdone lines and phrases including the catchy but too- generic, “Sauce” and the all-to-typical Chris Brown featured, “Whatchamacallit”.
For her debut album, Mai decides to keep it low on the features with singers John Legend, Chris Brown, and H.E.R. being the only three cameos. Although none of these features bring anything exciting to the album, Mai is still able to adapt and mesh well with each featuring artist.
Mai seems to shine the most when she goes solo in her music, “Dangerous” and “Good Bad” are both empowering energy-filled openers. Mai shows off her confident persona in “Cheap shot” and the sensual jam “Own it”. The raw and soulful “Naked” concludes the album with Mai opening up and showing vulnerability to the listener while also promoting self-positivity. Overall, a solid debut record was delivered that has a few gems and a few fillers, but proves that Ella Mai is more than a one-hit wonder and has potential to grow into more of her own sound. When it comes to R&B, Ella Mai confidently shows that it is here to stay.