Photo Credit: Jonathan Mannion
U.K’s newest female R&B star Ella Mai is the kind of R&B musician this generation needs. Her self-titled debut album Ella Mai, delivers an authentic and refreshing soulful sound that is missing in today’s music industry.Picture 90’s trio SWV meets a young Janet Jackson type of vibe. Led by the love struck summer single “Booed Up” the album is filled with such novel types of smooth, laid back rhythm and blues flavor the game has been missing for quite some time. You know that classic sounding R&B, of genuine sentiment and relatable innuendos. She’s not crying over a failed relationship, nor is she boasting about some unrealistic portrayal of perfection like many do. She simply keeps it cool but honest.
Discovered by DJ Mustard in 2016, from doing random cover songs on her Instagram page, Ella Mai’s debut comes on the heels of her third released mixtape. Featuring guest appearances by the likes of John Legend, Chris Brown and breakout artist, H.E.R. In addition to her catchy follow-up single “Trip” Ella Mai pulls you in from the very beginning on sensual tracks like “Close”where she croons, “I just can’t live without my baby // come and kiss up on me”. She gets even more seductive on the sultry “Own It” in which she samples Adina Howard’s 90’s hit slow jam “T-Shirt and My Panties On”. She holds nothing back as she sings, “I’ma let you play with this, play that sh*t, stay in it // Just tell me you want it // And I know you love the taste of it // Take a whole damn plate of it.” She then signs off with her fitting signature thinking out loud moment at the end of many of her tracks, speaking low and patiently as if to show her reflective side. Perfect.
Elsewhere she hooks up with R&B bad boy Chris Brown on the up-tempo “Whatchamacallit” and actually holds her own as they trade saucy lines about having an undercover affair. She then coyly immulates the “Freaky Friday” singers style on the standout track “Cheap Shot”. The British songstress seems to have a little something for everyone on her album. For example, she keeps up sweet grooves on highlight tracks like “Good Bad”, “Dangerous”, “Sauce” and “Shot Clock” (which is already another fan favorite) which is reminiscent of a throwback Ashanti meets Nivea R&B vibe.
She then slows it down on “Easy”, a beautiful love ballot to a former lover. Talented upcoming sensation H.E.R. pops up on the charming sounding duet “Gut Feeling”. Mai also serves as a fine compliment to the ever-soulful John Legend on the track “Everything”. What is most notable upon listening is that for a debut artist Ella Mai manages to strike an impressive balance with a nice collection of exploring the depths of love, the light and dark moments of relationships, lust and some girlish fun all wrapped up into one.
With that being said, all in all the London born beauty holds her own throughout her debut. At 24-years-old, she is well beyond her time and will continue to thrive artistically. Though there are a few filler songs which seem somewhat redundant and none that match the overall commercial or contagious appeal of her lead or follow-up singles, Ella Mai more so impresses than not. She doesn’t do too much, and her vocals are rock solid. With a #1 debut album under her belt, a few multiplatinum singles and a trip to the 61st Grammy Awards in February on the way, the U.K prodigy proves she is very much here to stay and that she has always been one hit away.