As an artist and a musician, Mapei has a sound as global as her heritage.
Her mother is Liberian, she was born in Rhode Island, and she grew up in Sweden. In 2008, she was the heart of the underground hip-hop scene. Before that, she was a rapper. Now, she says, she's on a quest to become one of the most "epic pop stars" to come out of Stockholm.
Mapei — whose given name is Jacqueline Mapei Cummings — releases her first full-length studio album Hey Hey today on Downtown Records, on the eve of her U.S. tour with Lykke Li. The album was produced by Magnus Lidehäll, who has previously curated albums for Sky Ferreira, Britney Spears, and Katy Perry. It has elements of every major pop star today. On "Second to None" she's harsh like Beyoncé. On "Come on Baby" she has the clapping rhythmic beat of Charli XCX. Hey Hey sticks in your brain like any great pop album, but it has just a little bit more heart.
Here are three songs that should convince you to give Mapei a chance. If you're intrigued, check out the full interview with Mapei about her artistry and background.
1. "Don't Wait"
The album kicks off with Mapei's previously released single "Don't Wait." It's a fitting beginning because Mapei released "Don't Wait" as a transitional song in 2013. Before its release, Mapei had released an EP called Cocoa Butter Diaries that was full of tight verses and spoken word commentary. "Don't Wait" created a marked change for Mapei from her background as a rapper and hip-hop artist into the land of pop.
"Don't Wait" is a simple song. The acoustics are gentle and subdued, and Mapei sings over just a touch of acoustic guitar. The song allows her buttery voice to shine over the background noise and move listeners through her changing octaves. Mapei's voice sing-speaks the melody, and when she sings, "If it wasn't for you, I'd be alone/ If it wasn't for you, I'd be on my own / Don't wait 'til I do wrong," it's easy to visualize the conversation in which she might say these words, easy as a listener to enter into her world.
Mapei's vocals in "Change" blend soul-influences and pop buoyancy. Her voice soars as she belts "Don't you worry about a thing, my brother/ a little love is all it takes. Don't you worry 'bout a thing my sister/ we're all waiting for a change," then immediately drops an octave to switch into a spoken word section.
"Change" is a song about social progress, but it's also indicative of just how much range Mapei has. This is a pop song, but it features elements of soul, rock, and hip-hop and boasts an electronic production.
3. "As 1"
Hey Hey is an album with 12 solid, pop songs, songs that are upbeat, heavy on melody, and filled with carefully constructed, catchy lyrics. With electronic bubble sounds repeating in the background, "As 1" stands out because it sounds different from the rest of the completely upbeat album.
"As 1" is a pop song mired in soul roots. "'As 1' is very soulful," Mapei told me, " and it just reminds of being at my Nanna's house. Every song is a reflection of me, but this one really is."
Mapei's first full-length studio album Hey Hey releases today on Downtown Records. Produced by Magnus Lidehäll who has previously curated albums for Sky Ferreira, Britney Spears and Katy Perry, Hey Hey sticks in your brain like any great pop album, but has just a little bit more heart.
Mapei recently spoke with me about her artistry and background. If you're intrigued, check out three songs that should convince you to give Mapei a chance.
Kelsey McKinney:Let's talk about Hey Hey to start. What's this album about, in a general sense?
Mapei: It's an uplifting album. It's positive. It's a lot more about the sound than anything. I wanted to put together an entire album with a feeling, and I feel like I did that.
Kelsey McKinney:What were some of your inspirations in creating this album?
Mapei:I was in a cold place in Stockholm, and it was winter and dark, and I just wanted to have a fun time in the studio. This album is about fun. It's about pop and dancing.
Kelsey McKinney:Did you grow up wanting to be a musician?
Mapei:Definitely. I was always in music class trying to sing. I wrote songs and put together albums and put together titles of songs and drew album covers. I always loved music. The boys I grew up with [in Stockholm] were like, "Do you know how to rap? You sound American." And so for a while, I rapped with them. I ended up in the hip-hop scene, but I've always wanted to sing. When I sing, another side comes out of me.
Kelsey McKinney:How does your heritage influence you?
Mapei:Well my mother is from Liberia, so when we went to Sweden, we were immigrants of course. So I connected with immigrants and people who were friendly to immigrants. I learned some Persian. I grew up with people with people from all over the world: from Thailand, from Africa, from Stockholm.
I still feel like my upbringing was international growing up in Sweden. I just feel like I'm open-minded. My stepfather is Swedish, so I would call that my home. I feel like I'm everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Kelsey McKinney:Your EP Cocoa Butter Diaries has a lot of social commentary in it, but Don't Wait is simpler. How have you grown, and where do you hope this album will take you?
Mapei:Before, I just wanted to say what I had been through. Maybe I had anger built up from my childhood and what I was going through in life. I just let go of that. I just felt like singing more and being more positive. Yeah. You know when you're going through puberty, you have anger, and that's a lot of what that first album was — that anger. But now, I feel like I've moved past that, that I've grown in a way.
Kelsey McKinney:Hey Hey has a spoken word feel to it in sections. Do you feel influenced by rap or spoken word?
Mapei:I feel that it's like spoken word. I listened to a lot of Saul Williams, a song called "Talk To Strangers," when writing this album, and I think that really affected me. My childhood was listening to a lot of hip-hop and rap, so going back to my mom's house and listening to the albums I listened to when I was a child really impacted my sound.
Kelsey McKinney:This is your first full length album, how do you feel on the eve of its release?
Mapei:I'm ready. I feel like I did a really good job. A lot of people have writers on their album, but I did this on my own. I had a lot to do with the sound. It was fun, and I didn't feel stressed.
Kelsey McKinney:How do you write your songs?
Mapei:I come up with a melody first, and then I have stuff that I'm really inspired by. I'll listen to some Twin Sisters and Brownies. I'll listen to some other songs.
It has to feel good. I can't just sing anything. My voice just turns to nothing. It comes from the heart. Sometimes, I would do different songs, and I would be like, "Nah, this is not me." I put the songs that I really liked on the album. It's hard when you're adding your soul to an album, but I feel like it's like a rainbow. Like a light at the end of the tunnel I've been looking for.
Kelsey McKinney:You've said before that you want your music to be "visual." What do you mean by that?
Mapei:When I listen to music sometimes, I just see visions. When I listen to a song, I'll just look out the window, and I can imagine a whole scene playing out in front of me. And not just listening to the notes. It's listening to the notes and the lyrics. I want my listeners to see visions when they listen to my album like I see them. Like if they were passing by on a run downtown, they would see the beauty in everything.
Kelsey McKinney:Are you ready to go on tour with Lykke Li?
Mapei:The audience really appreciates the music. I thought I was going to be tired and stuff, but I'm not. I'm so pumped up. It's really dope to travel the US. and stay in hotels. I really like staying in hotels and living. I transform into this ... I don't know what.
Kelsey McKinney:What do you mean?
Mapei:My presence on stage, it's like someone just stepped out of a gospel church and ran into the center and rapped a little bit. I do a lot with my hands. It's the voice captures you most.
Kelsey McKinney:So you're transitioning to music that is more pop. Does it feel like a big change?
Mapei:No. Not at all. I think that's what I've always been like. I'm not trying to like poke people in the eye or be cool or weird. I think that I've always wanted to do that. I've always been in scenes with, like, cool producers. I've had more control over what I've wanted to do. I've always had this ear for pop music. A collage of everything.
Kelsey McKinney:Are there any songs on the album that you particularly love?
Mapei:"Things You Know Nothing About." I think that is a reflection of the whole dance scene and also "As 1" is very soulful, and it just reminds of being at my Nanna's house. Listening, every song is a refection of me.
Sometimes, it feels weird because you're just putting your soul on display and [yourself]. Those are the entities that are exchanged. It feels personal. It feels like me, and it's my world and I'm letting people in.