By CHEVEL JOHNSON, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — R&B singer-songwriter Ella Mai’s meteoric rise up the charts and in fans’ hearts brings her to the 2018 Essence Festival in New Orleans.
The 23-year-old London-born singer has never attended the festival, which for 24 years has celebrated all aspects of Black culture, but she says she’s “super excited to attend and perform” at the coveted event.
Her performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT Saturday in one of the Superlounges — an intimate club-like space set up inside the cavernous halls of the Superdome.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ella Mai said she’s still wrapping her head around the success of her platinum hit single, “Boo’d Up,” which is currently No. 7 on the Billboard Top 100 and has since been remixed with collaborations by rappers Nicki Minaj and Quavo of the Migos.
“I think going platinum is something every artist dreams about their whole life,” said Mai, who signed with DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers label about two years ago. “Everyone wants to reach the top and share the best of their abilities. I didn’t know it would be this song, which has been out for over a year. That kind of caught me off guard, but I’m super grateful and glad that my fans can relate to it.”
Mustard came across one of Mai’s 15-second video posts on Instagram in which she covered Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.”
“He saw it and he (messaged) me and asked about my situation,” she recalled. “I told him I didn’t have a ‘situation’ at the time. I was working in retail. After that he told me he was in Philadelphia but was coming to New York and wanted to know if I wanted to come to the studio. Of course, I said ‘Of course!’ So me and three of my friends went there and we ended up recording three songs that night.”
Mai said she grew up in the church — her grandmother’s a minister — with music all around her. Her parents — of Jamaican and Irish descent — were big jazz fans and named her after Ella Fitzgerald and her brother after Miles Davis. She attended a performing arts school and realized as she got older that “singing was what I was really passionate about.”
Mai said Mustard “seemed genuinely interested in me” after their impromptu recording session and wanted to get her to Los Angeles. “When I arrived there, I was in the studio all week and we ultimately produced three EPs together — ‘Time,’ ‘Change’ and ‘Ready.’ It’s just so crazy to think about. It’s almost so unbelievable — it’s like a fairy tale.”
She said linking up with Mustard, who’s also produced for YG, Ty Dolla Sign, 2 Chainz and Tyga, has been phenomenal.
“Musically, it’s amazing,” she said. “He’s one of the biggest producers of my generation and having him by my side for advice, as a mentor, is just … wow! We click so well. Being in the studio with him doesn’t get old. He gives me a lot of freedom and that has helped our success.”
She said she hopes to grow new fans from her performance at Essence and solidify those already in her corner.
“I think anyone coming to my sets should come ready to sing and come ready for a good time,” she said. “I’m real big on vocals. It’s just me and my band on stage but there’s a lot of energy and good vibes all around. My music is all about love and relationships and if you’re in love, this will be the perfect set for you.”
The whirlwind of Mai’s success has sparked a 15-city tour which launches next month and is said to have sold out in 24 hours. It opens Aug. 6 in Dallas before heading to other key markets including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago.
After that, she said she will focus on her album, which she hopes to drop before the end of the year.