Since debuting with a cheeky guest spot on Major Lazer’s debut and releasing the Cocoa Butter Diaries EP in 2009, Mapei has evolved impressively. Where she was once poised to be something of a mellowed-out Uffie (she had recorded a full album with Justice that she scrapped), she has wisely ditched the rapping for singing and now describes herself as “21st-century gospel doo-wop.” That “21st century” qualifier may be intentionally vague: Hey Hey, her debut full-length, could have fit comfortably within the spectrum of Hype Machine-driven late-2000s blog-pop, but it feels out of place in 2014. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Mapei’s voice, though warm and inviting, isn’t strong enough to salvage this collection of stale ideas and fake-deep platitudes.
It’s a shame, considering the sky-high promise Mapei showed on the LP’s gorgeous first single, “Don’t Wait.” Released in 2013 to a wave of acclaim, the song features Mapei’s voice floating over baile funk drums, barely there snaps and gently scuzzy guitar riffs, arranged with a feather-light touch. But it’s the sole stunner on Hey Hey — the bulk of the album begs for that same subtlety and focus. Second single “Change” is an empowerment anthem stocked with cliches, from “You are royalty waiting to be crowned” to “What if this is our last dance?” The LP is littered with such banal sloganizing, where lines like “Every tear is a waterfall” (on “Believe”) are delivered with complete earnestness. All this could have been endearing had it seemed in any way ironic or if the big ideas weren’t so feebly executed. Instead, Mapei’s attempts at cool seem cold.