MAPEI IN NEW YORK, JULY 2014. JUMPSUIT: MISSONI. EARRING: LELE SADOUGHI. COSMETICS: CHANEL, INCLUDING PERFECTION LUMIÈRE VELVET IN 50 BEIGE AND LES BEIGES POWDER IN N°40. HAIR PRODUCTS: ORIBE, INCLUDING DRY TEXTURIZING SPRAY AND APRÈS BEACH SPRAY. STYLING: VANESSA CHOW. HAIR: TOMO JIDAI FOR ORIBE HAIR CARE/STREETERS. MAKEUP: ASAMI TAGUCHI FOR CHANEL/FRANK REPS. SPECIAL THANKS: GEORGE BROWN STUDIOS.
Swedish-American musician Mapei has a very simple goal for her debut full-length, Hey Hey, out this month on Downtown. “I just want the dudes who I used to rap with to like the music,” she says matter-of-factly over a cup of tea at a Lower East Side diner. For the 30-year-old vocalist, born Jacqueline Mapei Cummings, that kind of cred is hard won. After moving from Rhode Island to Stockholm at age 10, Mapei spent her formative years immersed in the city’s underground hip-hop scene, which entailed certain rites of initiation. “You have to be real to be down with the dudes; they’re such purists,” she says. “I had to prove myself, and I was better than them, so … I just had the swag from here.”
So far, so good: “They like the single ‘Don’t Wait,’ so it’s cool,” she says. They’re in good, and wide-ranging, company—the track instantly went viral upon its release last fall, with eight million streams and counting. Its combination of Brazilian baile funk-influenced drums, a deceptively simple guitar riff, and Mapei’s own plaintive vocals, distorted à la Imogen Heap, is surprising but inevitable, the pop song you didn’t know you were waiting to hear.
Though Hey Hey does display Mapei’s rap bona fides on occasion, at its core, it’s a pop album that fulfills the promise of “Don’t Wait,” full of lively, soulful hooks and multi-hyphenate arrangements that hint at her diversity of influences. In the course of a conversation, she mentions Nada Surf, Mase, Ray of Light, “Black Hole Sun,” and Mariah Carey.
The album also folds in more recent inspirations gleaned from a half year spent traveling the world, including stints in Brazil (“I was chilling with the old ladies on the porches in the favela”), Tunisia, Portugal, and Ethiopia, where she met influential Ethio-jazz musician Mulatu Astatke. The trip clearly made an impression, but Mapei’s heart lies back in Stockholm, no matter how “gray and dark and melancholic” she says it might be. “Sweden is like an old husband,” she says. “It feels like home.”