When the nominations for the 2019 Grammys were announced last month, rising star Ella Mai found herself named not once but twice.
Breakout smash ‘Boo’d Up,’ an ear worm like no other, is currently up for Song of the Year and Best R&B Song — and is hotly tipped as a favorite in both categories.
The impressive feat crowns a whirlwind journey for the songbird, who this month kicked off her first headline trek, aptly christened ‘The Debut Tour.’
Join us below where That Grape Juice‘s Chet Kincaid reflects of Mai’s ascend, with insights from the singer herself.
Intrigued by the growing buzz about the Brit-bred talent, December 2017 saw us present at New York City stop of her her ‘Time. Change. Ready’ mini-jaunt. The performance took place at the Mercury Lounge in the Lower East Side; it was an intimate yet telling experience with the 22-year-old.
At that time, few could predict the gargantuan success around the corner, but to watch her was to watch someone who possessed an enchanting strand of special.
And by curtain call, we had an appetite to learn…more.
As if by happenstance, several components aligned and we soon found ourselves in deep conversation with Mai via telephone.
The first thing we discovered about vocalist was that, though a UK native, she spent her high school years in New York City before moving back to London. A reality that gifted her dual perspective. She then tread her first steps into the music scene.
She auditioned for The X Factor UK in 2014 as one third of the group Arize. Unfortunately, the trio would not advance too far before disbanding. Shortly after, Ella set sail on her solo career. She explained:
“So, a few years ago in 2015 I just started randomly doing covers on Instagram and at that time Instagram only allowed you to do 15 second videos. It was like when they first started Instagram video.”
From there her clips started to garner major recognition and there was one famous producer that changed the course of her trajectory:
“DJ Mustard hit me up just randomly in my DM’s and was just like “what’s your situation?” And at that point I didn’t really have a “situation.” He was interested in working with me, he loved my voice and it just so happened that a month later, I was gonna be in New York… so yea I had a studio session with him, we made three songs that night.”
The songstress then became an official signee of Mustard’s record label 10 Summers:
“Following that [session], he said to me how he wanted to get me out to LA and he was interested in finding a female artist. He was just starting up his label and stuff like that. So, he flew me out to LA and generally spent quite a lot of time back and forth. Then once I signed, I actually moved to LA some time after.”
Since then, Mai has released three EP’s: ‘Time,’ ‘Change’ and ‘Ready’ and was commenced work of her debut album. On the process of its creation, she said:
“I started it and then I kind of like had to give it a break because we’d been on the road for so long.
As for what you can expect from first listen? Similar concept [to one’s previously explored] about love and relationships and stuff like that. A bit more now knowing that I’ve seen so much on tour also and experiences now being in the industry, experiences I didn’t have before. But I would say it’s similar sound to the EP’s. I love the bouncy sound that me and Mustard kind of created with this really fun and like energetic, but the lyrics and the vocals are still very raw and punch you in your feelings kind of.”
The ‘Naked’ singer giddily opened up about her collaboration plans, one of which notably came to fruition:
“I actually have a session with Craig David coming up… I’m hoping that we can create something really good, which I’m sure we will. I would also really like to work with English talent, I would really like to work with Fraser T. Smith, but that hasn’t happened yet. I would really love to work with Stevie Wonder too. He’s so talented and he’s just so musical.
I’d love to work with Chris Brown, he’s one of my favorite artists. Honestly any and every one.” [The latter of which manifested in the form of ‘Whatchamacallit’]
Reflecting on her musical rooting, Mai’s Jamaican and Irish heritage influenced her in some ways:
“I’m not that in touch with my Irish side. I grew up with my Mom, my Mom is the Jamaican side so I’m a bit more in touch with my Jamaican side. But, I would say definitely my mom and my grandma and my granddad always used to play reggae. I’m always very in touch with what’s going on culture-wise and music-wise in Jamaica and who’s the next thing in Jamaica. Just loving the music even though it’s not in my music that much, I think it definitely does inspire me and it was a bit of an influence.”
Being away from her family she was always meeting new people and hearing a balance of positive and negative feedback:
“The best advice I’ve received is definitely something Mustard said to me when I first met him, he told me you know never let your environment change who you are. So, you know, it doesn’t matter who’s around you or where you are or whatever’s going on you know, it’s always be true to yourself.
The worst advice that I’ve received, I don’t think it was a personal thing I think it was in a conversation that I was having with a group of people, but and I’ve heard it before too, but when people say “any publicity is good publicity, because people are talking.” I think that’s definitely the worst advice.”
Optimism reigns supreme in the ‘Anybody’ cooer’s life. She is always looking ahead the future.
Beyond releasing her debut album and headlining her own tour – two goals she’s manifested – she added she has more on her agenda:
“I definitely want to do festival season next year as well. But, whatever comes, I mean I may be way different, I don’t know, but that’s what I hope will happen.”
Reflecting on Ella’s wins, it’s impossible to not be impressed.
Indeed, within the space of one year she has managed to nab a number one single on the Billboard R&B tally and a top 5 on the Hot 100; she also released her self-titled debut album and landed her dream collaboration with Chris Brown as well as duets with the likes of John Legend and H.E.R.
And then there’s the growing list of awards and nominations.
The rise of Ella Mai is real and 2019 only looks to bring more success her way.