Three years ago Ella Mai was a university student with a passion for singing. She was studying at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute London. She had auditioned for X Factor but it hadn't really gone anywhere. There were blips of opportunity, yet nothing substantial. In her spare time, she recorded 15 second covers for Instagram, which people seemed to like. One of those people was super producer DJ Mustard.
After Mustard heard Mai's R&B-stylized cover of Fetty Wap's "679", he quickly signed her to his 10 Summers Records label. Together they created "Boo'd Up", a poppy, crossover single that sounds exactly how you'd think DJ Mustard pushing into R&B would — 808s, claps, and synths. The track quickly caught a lot of steam: everyone was lip syncing it on social media, from John Wall To Stevie Wonder, Nicki Minaj and Quavo jumped on the official remix, while others like T-Pain and Plies dropped their own covers. The song was a hit, but it seemed like everyone was talking about the track, the remixes, the big names around it, and not Ella Mai. It may have been her voice on the hook, but it was DJ Mustard who made it a hit.
Last week, Mai released her self-titled debut album through 10 Summers. As Pitchfork points out, the album sticks largely to Mustard's enjoyable, yet almost standard trap-leaning pop beats, and employs heavy features, like John Legend and Chris Brown. On a whole, it's fun, but feels manufactured. Like on "Boo'd Up", the big sounds and names around Mai on almost swallow her, until we get to the last track: "Naked".
It's just Mai and her guitar on "Naked", a song stripped in all ways, as she asks a lover to accept her, flaws and all. It's vulnerable, and with the focus on Mai, she shines, reframing nudity from a context of seduction to a moment of self-conscious, almost innocent intimacy. Just as with her "679" cover, on "Naked", Mai shows she can stand with the best of them. We hope she really believes that herself. Listen now and let us know what you think about Ella Mai!
You can learn more about Ella Mai here:
About the curator - Cormac McGee
Cormac McGee is a DJ, artist manager and concert promoter based in Toronto, Canada. He’s played in front of crowds from 10 – 1,000 people and has run concerts with some of today’s top hip hop artists, including Drake, Future, Mac Miller, 6lack, Ab-Soul and more. He also runs the Music Den at Ryerson University, a business incubator for entrepreneurs in the music industry.