We chat with Mapei ahead of the release of her upcoming album on November 8.
Written by Leni - October 10, 2019
American-Swedish artist Mapei is back, five years after the release of her international hit “Don’t Wait” - a song that has since earned her more than a hundred million streams.
Part of a rising wave of new generation female urban musicians breaking the mould — like Summer Walker and Sabrina Claudio — Mapei’s sound blurs the lines between R&B, hip hop, soul and pop, expanding the genres’ horizons.
Like many of her contemporaries, Mapei cut her teeth on the underground music scene, spending her formative years immersed in Stockholm’s hip-hop community after moving from Rhode Island to Sweden at age 10.
Since then, Mapei released her debut album, “Hey Hey”, and has been busy contributing her vocals to various projects, like Diplo and Mark Ronson’s collab Silk City and their track “Feel About You”. She’s also had time to reflect on what’s most important to her (“being true to my identity”), while working on her follow-up album dropping November 8.
Chatting with Mapei on the day of her latest single release “Sensory Overload”, we can’t help but get a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" vibe — she’s fierce, she’s bold and she’s gearing up to push herself further than ever before.
Hey, Mapei! What was it like growing up in Rhode Island?
When I was a kid, my mom had three jobs so I stayed at our neighbour’s house a lot. My mom would be the first one to drop me off each day, and I would spend each day with like 10 kids whose moms also had multiple jobs, so I grew up in a very busy household. My father was an activist so he was always away at rallys. He would pop into my life at times when he could. My mom was a hard worker and she did her best for us.
Why did you move to Sweden?
We moved to Sweden when I was 10 years old so that we could get a better education. It was so surreal to come from a neighbourhood like Providence, so loud with music thumping and kids playing, and move somewhere totally calm and serene like Stockholm. I was just happy to finally get to spend time with my mom again.
How was that experience?
We moved to a really normal suburb in Sweden called Tumba, with normal houses and normal families. But it was a time when there were a lot of nazis in Sweden. My first experience with racism was when I went to a party at my friend’s house and her brother was a nazi.
Did that experience influence your music?
Yeah, it’s the reason I display all these crazy worlds that I’ve experienced and the blend of culture that I have in my head. It’s almost like a picture of a crazy eutopia or something. I always try to bring people together in my music, always pulling people from one world into another.
You have a strong theme of self-empowerment running through your music, did your mother influence your values?
A lot of people around me were depressed when I was younger, because they didn’t have things or they had to work a lot. But in our house, it was always about looking forward and being strong. Because otherwise, when you feel sorry for yourself, you can’t survive in this world. I was so sensitive as a child, and my mom used to tell me we just had to work with what we had. All that you have is your imagination. She stood up for herself and even though she wasn’t the ideal mom in Swedish society, or even American society, because she came from poverty and had dark skin and dreadlocks, she still exuded beauty in my eyes and in her own eyes as well.
Do you feel like you’ve come into your own identity fully yet, as an artist and as a woman?
I feel like I’m coming into my own identity, and feeling like I am beautiful. I don’t have to do a duck face or bleach my skin, I can just be me and that’s beautiful. I really feel like I am now a creature of beauty and that’s what my mother taught me, without exactly saying that, just by being her.
Do you feel influenced by social media and pressured to fit into a mould as a female artist?
I feel like numbers are coming into this industry more and more. I’m often outside of this whole bubble of being fake towards each other and liking a picture but not liking the person, but I’m slowly getting into it more as I’m becoming more of a business person and that’s how the business works. It’s all about numbers and streams and likes and followers, and I just feel like everyone’s a mini star in their own little galaxy, which is good and kind of an illusion in a way. I feel like a lot of people can become mentally ill by the bombardment of information and swiping and looking at stuff online. It really disconnects you from reality.
Do you have a technique for distancing yourself from this pressure?
My technique is to just not take anything personal. I don’t take anything to heart. If someone is commenting or trolling, you just have to look forward and remember you’re in your own body and your own skin and not let these things get into your thoughts and manipulate you. You just have to realise what is in your own reality and what you can control.
Your fans really show up to support you, we can see that on social media. What has been your strategy for developing such a loyal fanbase?
Be yourself and let other people be themselves too. I talk to so many people, I don’t even know if they’re fans or friends, but I know a lot of people and they’re very supportive and they tell their friends about me and then their friends tell their friends. I guess my fanbase is more like a community. I make an effort to show some intimate parts of me, not all parts, but I try to help people connect with me. It’s all about relating to your fans.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for independent female artists trying to accelerate their career?
Kill people with kindness. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s all about relationships, so keep yourself organised, and organise your connections and help people as you want to be helped.
Last question! Any teasers for the upcoming album?
It’s very bold. I’m not saying things that people usually say. There’s a red thread of love on the album, everything from meeting someone in the club to being desperate, but there’s also some random thoughts. For example, there’s a song called “Prayers” and I say “Holes in my clothes, now I’m rocking designer.” It’s very bold to say that in this world because either you’re a have not or a have. It’s not good if you express that you want something that is viewed as being superficial, or materialistic, but it’s a way for me to talk about my past, and how I went from rags to being in this world I’ve created for myself.
Mapei’s latest single “Sensory Overload” is out now, and her upcoming album drops Friday November 8.
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