Less than two weeks after releasing her self-titled debut album, Ella Mai already has a gold plaque to show for it.
The project, featuring her inescapable hit “Boo’d Up,” recently rocketed to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart, and second single “Trip” is sitting just outside the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Along with guest appearances by Chris Brown, H.E.R. and John Legend, the LP cements her status as one of R&B’s most promising new talents and one of 2018’s biggest breakouts.
Before the singer took the stage at New Jersey’s Prudential Center for her Powerhouse NYC performance, she spoke with Billboard about the reactions to her album, her upcoming tour and which of her songs she’d want Lauryn Hill to remix.
Your debut album just went gold last week. What was your initial reaction to the news?
I was shocked. I was so shocked. I was like, “How is this even possible in 12 days?” Craziness. But I’m just super grateful. I really poured my heart and soul into this album, so I’m glad everyone loves it as much as I do.
What’s your favorite record off the album besides the singles?
It changes everyday, but today I think it’s “Shot Clock.” [It’s about how] people are just complacent and know that time runs out. [Laughs] But I just loved the attitude that I have on “Shot Clock.” I think a lot of women relate to it as well. But it changes everyday.
You and Mustard have spoken about all the different iterations of the album you went through. Are you totally satisfied with the final version?
1000 percent. We went through it about a million times, honestly, just trying to make sure it was right. It gets hard, because you can overthink stuff a lot, especially when you sit with some of the songs.
I was working on my album for over a year, and “Shot Clock” was the very first song that I recorded for the album other than “Boo’d Up.” But to sit with that for over a year? You would think sometimes that you might get tired of it, or you come back and you start to over-evaluate things. So we made sure that we had fresh ears, played it for other people, and I think we produced the best record that we could.
You have some heavy hitters on the album with Chris Brown, John Legend & H.E.R. Who was your favorite feature on the project and why?
Ah! That’s such a hard question. [Laughs] You can’t do that. Damn, they’re all favorites for a different reason. With H.E.R., we’re both young, R&B up-and-coming artists, and I think it’s important for women to stay together — especially young black women who can control the narrative, because [the media is] always going to try to put us against each other. I just genuinely think she’s amazing. I think she’s so talented. So I was glad to have H.E.R. on the album.
Chris is one of my idols. Like, to have him on my debut album, to me, is insane. If you would have told me that when I was 16, I would have been like, “Shut up!” Then, John is just a legend — no pun intended. So, to cheat your question, because I know you told me to pick one, I’m gonna pick all three just because. [Laughs]
I know you’re a huge Lauryn Hill fan, so if you could get her to remix to any one record on your new album, which song would it be and why?
Jesus Christ, that’s such a hard question. Probably “Gut Feeling.” Me, H.E.R. and Lauryn Hill? I’d be here for it!
We gotta make some calls then.
Make it happen for me. Make it happen for me!
Lastly, you have The Debut Tour coming up. What’s going to be different about this one compared to this summer’s Boo’d Up Tour?
So the Boo’d Up Tour was quite quick. It was only 15 shows, and we did it obviously because of the success of “Boo’d Up.” We wanted to keep building my fanbase, and I think there’s always room to grow. The Debut Tour is going to be a level up. We’re going to have way more production, different arrangements — just a lot more fun with it, because I feel like touring can be tricky. You’ve got to figure out what works for what venue since some of the venues are bigger than the others. So we have to make sure we kind of have a balance, but I’m so excited. So I can’t wait.