If you managed to get through this summer without having “Boo’d Up” permanently engraved in your brain, you probably get your sustenance from vintage vinyl and avocado toast exclusively. “Boo’d Up” will capture you by your feelings and throw you out on the curb with that catchy melody to taunt you. Needless to say, by the time the remix featuring Nicki Minaj and Quavo came out, I had enough of the single. However, it shot Ella Mai from mostly unknown to the forefront of popular R&B.
Ella Mai is originally from London, but moved to New York City when she was 12. Starting in 2016, she released three EPs under DJ Mustard’s Record Label, 10 Summers. Following her most recent EP release, Ella Mai toured with Kehlani on the SweetSexySavage World Tour and was nominated for a VMA and two AMAs this year.
After a lot of hype and the release of numerous singles, Ella Mai’s self-titled debut album was finally released on October 12, 2018. At 16 tracks, the album is her longest project yet with features including Chris Brown, H.E.R., and John Legend. Along with her previous work, the project was also released under 10 Summers and was produced by DJ Mustard. As elucidated by the opener, the album is emotionally driven and romance-centric.
I will warn you that this album is not very musically or emotionally stimulating. I would say Ella Mai played it safe for her debut album. This was pretty disappointing, as I had high hopes for her, but I can see why someone in her position would be inclined to cater to her larger audience. I will also warn you that she makes a pretty cheesy mnemonic of her name throughout the album that reminds me of a speech I gave in middle school. With that being said, Ella Mai does have a number of tracks that might be worth adding to your library.
“Dangerous” was the first track to catch my attention on the album. The production is pretty funky and developed, especially when you consider that it is DJ Mustard’s work. Despite the song’s very overplayed commentary on the risk of romance, Ella Mai’s vocals carry the track for me. While they aren’t show-stopping, they are consistent and it is clear that she has talent. “Sauce” immediately follows “Dangerous” and continues to build momentum within the album with another funky melody. The organ focused song reminds you that this is meant to be an R&B album. In true form of all of Ella Mai’s work, it is catchy but lacks an original message. “Trip” is another strong track with piano accompaniment and Ella Mai’s consistent vocals.
Unfortunately, this momentum is lost in quite a few tracks over the course of the album. Between clichéd themes and irritating production meant to appeal to the masses, the songs really fall off the mark for me. I am sure the Chris Brown feature will garner some attention and “Boo’d Up” will surely never die, but I kind of wish she just didn’t include these songs.
Ella Mai truly lives up to my expectations of her work with “Everything” featuring John Legend. The song opens with a stretchy and exposed R&B opener that allows Ella Mai her first chance on the album to show off what she can do. She is complemented with great ease by John Legend’s butter-smooth vocals. Feeling the passion from both Ella Mai and John Legend throughout the song, they speak on giving their “everything” to a relationship and its rewards. “Gut Feeling” featuring H.E.R. is another song on the album that holds to what I believe Ella Mai is capable of. The musicality is solidly held together with some cool piano runs and Ella Mai pushes herself a little bit more in terms of her vocals. H.E.R. is a great addition to the song as she brings some depth and variety to the album.
“Easy” and “Naked” are two more tracks that are worth some acclaim. Both songs have simple yet creative production and really expose Ella Mai’s vocals. She finally shows off her full range and pushes herself beyond her comfort zone. While I wish there was more of this in the beginning of the album, I appreciate Ella Mai’s inclusion of these tracks.
Ella Mai is a solid debut album with relatable themes and cool R&B motifs. While the album is not very original, musically or lyrically, it does promise a lot of talent and hopefully better things to come from Ella Mai.
I give Ella Mai a 7.2 out of 10.