Twenty-three year old Ella Mai is a beacon for potential, and her self-titled debut album is the ultralight beam announcing her arrival. Thick sultry vocals combine with beautifully direct lyrics that listen more like a short story sculpted by luscious harmonies supported by the 808s they sits on top of.
From inception the album is a journey through Ella’s mind, body and soul; narrated by an acrostic poem spelling her name. On emotion, poetry sets in motion thoughts that this is a true writer. Though young, she is a seasoned expressionist that draws inspiration from many sources. The most prominent on the album seemingly Chris Brown; and the first four tracks, including “Whatchamacallit” (which Brown is featured on), sounds like a dedication to his early sound. “Cheap Shots” provides a sonic transition and sets the stage for a more grounded and self-owned middle section of the album, where production transforms from daily hip-hop, to a more introspective melodic mesh of R&B with subtle hints of jazz, soul, deep house and gospel.
Regardless of the instrumentation, no song is to big or to small for Ella to handle. Even on “Everything,” where we receive a beautiful feature from John Legend, Mai is effortlessly herself and in no way intimidated by the grandiose presence of a living legend. Rolling in the deep of her lower end and mid range vocals and reveling in the nuance and Mary J Blige tendencies that can be found there.
Though concepts on the album do vary little, the amount of perspective provided on romantic relationships and lustful encounters is plentiful, and keeps listeners engaged and connected for the entirety of the album. If this album says anything it’s that Ella Mai’s light is burning bright and will not soon be extinguished.
North Carolina native Kerry Blu is a rapper, actor, columnist and teacher living in Brooklyn, NY. In 2014 he founded the Empire State Music & Arts Festival; an annual multi-genre music celebration that takes place in NYC, where he continues to help build platforms for independent artists and entrepreneurs.