Have you ever seen someone in passing but kinda forget about them until they are brought to your attention again and you're like "Wow, isn't that so and so! I remember seeing them at such and such". Your memory is jogged and everything comes full circle. Yeah? Well that's the story of how I was introduced and reintroduced to Young Simba herself, the one and only Ella Mai. Being a millennial, accustomed to the digital age, I first came across Ella, while browsing through Instagram. She used to post 15 second covers of popular songs back in 2015. Some went viral and I saw a few, thought she was stunning and had a beautiful voice but at the time I didn't follow up with her. But she was definitely tucked in the back of my mind, bookmarked for later.
Fast forward to November 2016, dropping her second EP "CHANGE" brought her back into my life. There was some buzz around her, I started hearing her name frequently and when I saw her picture, I definitely remembered her face and it all clicked. It was that moment of "Oh shit, I've seen her before, that's the girl that used to post covers on instagram and now she's releasing her own music!". I was excited, intrigued and had to find out more about who she was and what she was all about. Not even knowing just how my life would be forever impacted by her energy and her music.
With vocals that are a mix of honey, chocolate and tobacco, sweet, slightly raspy, smooth, rich, sultry and ultimately addictive. She has a way of casually drawing you in and making you listen to whatever she has to say. Before you know it you're listening to her music for hours and there's no turning back because she's got you completely enthralled. Her energy is one to rival with the sun. Warm, vibrant, comforting, positive, easy-going/ultimately chill but still fiery, intense and no nonsense when it really matters. There's an undeniable and overall gentle yet very matter of fact kind of commanding power that exudes from her.
Hearing her sing and watching her presence onstage, there's no question that this is exactly what she is supposed to be doing. The love and utter joy that comes through as she walks in her purpose and connects to those around her while sharing her heart musically is incredible. Someone who doesn't get nervous, she's completely at home. You can feel that who she is as a person is exactly what you see before you. No false pretenses or facades. No pretending to be something that she's not or forcing an idea to an audience that isn't genuine. Everything connects.
Taking a look at her journey, hailing from South London, being no stranger to performing arts, spending her high school years in NY, heading back to London, making the transition from brief girl group (Arize) to soloist, and relocating back to the US once more, her now being a resident of Los Angeles.
Ella utilized social media to her advantage by posting covers on Instagram and shared her gift with the world. By doing so this R&B songstress caught the attention of West Coast heavy hitter mega producer DJ Mustard. He reached out wanting to know her situation and the pieces of her journey continued to come together. After meeting in NY for the first time accompanied by a few friends, vibing well in the studio and discussing what her vision was for herself in the coming years. Trips were made to LA, creative forces linked up organically and in January of 2016. It was announced that Ella Mai was officially the new signee of Producer, turned big brother and mentor DJ Mustard under 10 SUMMERS RECORDS.
Being hands-on and thoroughly involved in her creative process, Ella's pen game is crazy. With lyrics that are honest, straight-forward, passionate, intense, sensitive and comforting. She has proven to have a way of telling it like it is without being abrasive. Being up-front in her message without it feeling like she's talking at you or doing too much. There's a refreshing honesty and overall unapologetic realness that is felt in every note and lyric. It's like it seeps from her very pores and lands in that space in all of us who take the time to listen to her music. Pulling on that common thread that connects people, that allows us to relate and really feel what she's saying. Her ability to tell complete stories and convey solid messages while at the same time still leaving room for independent interpretation by whoever is listening is remarkable. There's nothing about her that makes her feel untouchable or too far away. Undoubtedly she's like the sister, favorite older cousin and bestfriend in your life that will give it to you straight and play no games but is still supportive and will hold your hand through a tough time because she cares and always has your back.
Diving directly into her music catalog, before getting signed Ella first gave us a taste of what her pen game was looking like and what we could look forward to with who she was as an artist with the 2015 release of her first EP entitled "Troubled".
A 4-track collection of songs giving voice to the ups and downs of a breakup. Being stuck in a space where your thoughts go back and forth as you're trying to process it all. It speaks to the young and innocent being inside of us, the vulnerable space of being in love and it not working out the way we had hoped. Tracks include "Thoughts" an interlude and ode to taking time to get your thoughts together, the processing stage that takes place when you're making sense of everything that's going on. "Left Me" a track speaking on not understanding how someone could walk away after they played the role and made it look like forever. You gave your all but now you're seeing them for who they really are and although it hurt, them walking away was ultimately for the best. "I Wish" is chronicling the moment we all go through where you reminisce on what used to be and think about how you want it to be the way it was but you know that with the way that life is set up it can't be. 'Wanted", the final track expresses the extremes of love, revenge and what happens when you end up letting your emotions get the best of you.
Honorable mention going to individually released tracks "Pedestal", a track about the intensity of love and just how much you're willing to do for that special one. "No Rush" expresses the feeling of taking your time because you're there to stay so there's no need to rush. Just let things play out naturally, you have all the time in the world to see how things go. "Just in Time", being a track that speaks on finding the one for you and connecting with them intensely on every level. It happening just in time, before you ended up being with someone else.
Following her getting signed in January 2016, over the span of a year, Ella released a trilogy of single word titled EP's starting with "TIME".
A 6-track project that may be miniscule in the number of tracks but is potent and effective in it's delivery of realness. "TIME" is a collection of tracks that are chronicling the end of a relationship. Accepting that it's over and picking yourself up so you can move on to bigger and better things. Pairing Ella's sultry smooth vocals, meaningful lyrics that have you feeling like she's reciting pages of your journal with hard hitting beats that you just can't listen to on a low volume. Tracks include "Switch Sider" which speaks on loyalty and being down for your significant other even through the craziest of times. "She Don't" ft. Ty Dolla $ign, a track about your ex finding a new girl and you being confident in the fact that she doesn't possibly compare to what they had in you. "One Day" is the track saying goodbye for good and is a huge I tried to warn you but you wouldn't listen so now you fucked up but you gon' learn one day. I told you so. "Don't Want You" being a track that is aptly titled because it's the moment where you are literally saying stop wasting your time trying to apologize and explain yourself. It's okay, I don't want you anymore. I've moved on. "Old Dog, New Bitch" an interlude and confession of getting revenge. The EP rounds out with a ballad, "A Thousand Times" which is sentimental and reminiscent but doesn't stray from the point of telling the person it's truly over and I hope karma bites you in the ass for all that you put me through.
Next up came "CHANGE".
A 5- track EP, that takes it back to a more mellow and melodic R&B vibe that still sticks to the topic of relationships and love but being in the next phase after a breakup where you're open to finding someone again. Your mindset is changing and you're redefining for yourself the meaning of love. Tracks include "Down" that speaks on showing a person that you're down for them. Not just talking about it but seeing what could be if you were to actually swallow your pride and be forthcoming with the fact that you're down. It better showcases the depth of Ella's vocals and the warmth of her tone that pulls on your heartstrings. "Who Knew" a track that speaks on how love can creep up on you. It can have you looking back like damn who knew this was how it was gonna go down? "10,000 Hours" tells the journey of what it takes to find love and how to know that you've found it. That it takes time and effort and every moment spent together counts so don't waste it. "Lay Up" is a real R&B banger, a track that you instantly bounce along to as soon as the beat drops. It speaks on the step in a relationship where you both are feeling eachother, you know you're feeling eachother but you've gotta test it to see if it's gonna be for the long run. Going away on a romantic getaway together, just the two of you. Preparing yourself for the best experience or the worst but taking the next step together to get to know eachother further. The EP concludes with the ultimate ballad "Found" that expresses the moment of being thankful to have found the one for you. How they are your everything and you can't imagine being without them.
Ending with her EP "READY"
A 6-track EP that rounds out the trilogy on a fun note. Filled with bouncy up-tempo tracks that although they are very danceable and sound amazing when they are turned up. They don't shy away from making you feel something. As a whole it's the final step in a relationship where you are both in it to win it with the one you love but also ready to walk away if necessary. Ready and willing to give your all and ultimately see where things go. "Boo'd Up" is true to it's name and speaks on being boo'd up and comitted in a relationship with someone. Only checking for that one person. "Breakfast in Bed" is a track that speaks on being slightly frustrated because the one you really want is playing hard to get when all you wanna do is give them the world. Just ready to make sure they are happy and satisfied in every way. "Nobody Else" is that vibe where you're territorial over your man and is making it clear that they are yours and you don't want them to go anywhere. They simply can't fuck with nobody else. "My Way" is lowkey hip-hop influenced track that makes you turn up your attitude and let em' know that it is what it is. Either they are gonna be on top of their game and know how to treat you correctly or it's over. Your morals and standards are not up for discussion because you've been there done that and it's not happening again. "Makes Me Wonder" speaks on the moment where you and your significant other are not together but you're missing them and reminiscing about the relationship, wondering if they are thinking of you too. The possibilities that run through your mind. It ends with the track "Anymore" a track finalizing the end of a relationship and the moment you know you're moving on from it.
Ella has been labeled along with others as being underrated. Not getting the shine that she deserves. But from where I'm sitting, she's not underrated at all. Her star is rising organically and ultimately she is taking her time, making + creating in the way that she knows how and showing that she is ready to share her voice and make her mark in this world. Her journey is continuously unfolding and she's right where she's supposed to be. Nothing worth having ever comes easy and the makings of a long lasting career in any field never happens overnight. It's a journey and after seeing her tour with Kehlani, experiencing her energy for myself and taking note on how fans show love to her on a daily basis. The way people connect to her, light up in her presence and welcome her into their hearts. There is no doubt that she is truly someone special who knows what she's doing and is touching lives in a truly genuine way.
Her talent speaks for itself and if you're not touched in your soul by her energy or by the seamless quality of her harmonies and transitions between notes. If her lower register and tone don't just snatch your whole heart and make you hold your chest because you fuck with it heavily. Honestly if you can't go through her entire musical library and find atleast one song that provides an escape for you or just one that you can relate to in some capacity then hey, maybe she's not for you. But for the rest of us cubs, she's the truth, someone we vibe with and are inspired by. Someone who instills hope for the future, shows us that if she can do it so can we and gets us through our day when we need it. Ella leads by example in knowing and staying true to who she is.
Stay tuned for what she's bringing forward on her journey, Young Simba is definitely one to watch and one that won't be forgotten. In order to keep up with her, you can find her on all social media "@ellamai" and be sure to peep her website ellamai.com for updates and releases from her and her team.