The music of artist Mapei defies easy categorization. In it one hears echoes of hip-hop, club music, electro, punk, pop, folk, R&B and rock. It is music that is literally worldly – forged through life experience and travels that are uniquely her own. But no matter what the style, Mapei has a bedrock of soul that infuses every note she creates, and it is the soul in all of her music that has made her one of the hottest and most anticipated artists of 2009. In the process, she has attracted some of new music’s most inventive artists and producers and now, is working on recording an album that is sure to establish her as a unique artist creating a whole new thing.
Born in Rhode Island, Mapei spent the first ten years of her life in Providence, Rhode Island, growing up in a household that was part hippie, and in an environment that was all street. “I’ve lived an entertaining life,” Mapei says with a grin. Music was a constant in her household, and she started making it right away. “I did my own thing as soon I could – I was performing from Kindergarten on,” she remembers. “I’d record my tapes of my own music; I’d make little CD’s and small videos.” She continues, “I grew up listening to everything: Michael Jackson, Liberian music, hip hop.
Moving to Stockholm, Sweden, Mapei soon found herself performing in a strange land with a musical sensibility far different than what she had experienced in Providence. “I took a music class at school – and it was a disaster. If you sing soulfully there, you’re not normal – and I was way too soulful for music class.” Undaunted, Mapei took in the more rock oriented and pop sounds of Sweden. She reflects, “It got me exposed to all of these different worlds, even beyond what I had already. I got into pop and Swedish club music – and I began listening to a lot of Swedish folk. So many different worlds.” There was no rap in Stockholm, so Mapei began rapping at parties and clubs.
Mapei then moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn and began making music with friends, mainly rapping and singing top liners on house tunes. “I hung out with the artsy-fartsy people,” she says with an affectionate laugh. One of her songs ended up on a Rawkus mixtape that sold well in Sweden. She also began immersing herself in New York’s gay club scene, taking in the sounds, discovering new influences, and meeting like-minded rappers and musicians. She recalls, “I found a wonderful, artistic urban community in both New York City and Sweden that created music together – and genre didn’t matter, as long as it worked in the clubs.”
Moving back to Sweden three years ago, Mapei began throwing parties, recording with DJ/producer Carli and Basutbudet as well as touring with the hip-hop group Up Hygh. She also began making records that merged the kind of inventive dance music she heard in the New York club scene with rap. She thought she was the only one doing what she was doing until a fateful meeting with alternative rap and neo-electro star Spank Rock. She remembers, “I was at Studio B in Brooklyn and he just came up to me and said, ‘It’s you,’ and then told me he liked my music. We hit it off and I invited him to Sweden where we hung for a month. He told me that the Stockholm scene and the Philly scenes were very similar. We ended up hanging out in a few different cities, talking about our musical ideas and philosophies and discovering how like minded we are.”
Mapei was gaining momentum both as an artist and as a force in the Swedish club scene. After a club tour designed to reawaken Swedish club life, gigs at the Roskilde Festival and shows with her friend Timbuktu (one of Sweden’s biggest hip hop acts), she found her own recording ideas coalescing. An operation on her vocal chords forced her to be silent for two months, which provided her with the time and space to gain even more insight into her recording goals. That insight came together to create “Leader of the Pack,” a spare and effortlessly hypnotic and catchy record that Mapei recorded in Paris in 2007. It put her on the map as an artist in her own right, and it led to her signing by Downtown Records (Justice, Santogold, Spank Rock, Mos Def and Cold War Kids).
As she now records and readies her debut album for a 2009 release, Mapei is clear about what she’s trying to produce. “I’m looking to create a new way of doing soul,” she declares. She continues, “What I’ve done in the songs I’ve recorded is talk the dichotomy between the sweetness and hippieness of my home, and the darkness and violence of my immediate surroundings in Providence. I’ve seen people throw their lives away, and I get how fortunate I’ve been to get out of that. I’ve gone through so many different worlds, and this album is going to be reflective of all the chapters of my life.”
Musically, her new songs are an utterly original amalgamation of the sounds that Mapei has absorbed in her travels. Fiercely raw and spare hip-hop beats live side by side with horns and propulsive live drums that sound like modern takes on the Motown sound. There are also touches of acoustic folk, which showcase Mapei’s spellbinding vocals, right alongside her skills as a rapper. “I’m finding ways to speak our truths with style,” she says, and on her soon to be released debut, it’s a sure thing that stylistically, Mapei will prove to be like no other. “I want to speak my heart out and rap my ass off,” she declares with complete conviction, and in 2009 the world is sure to discover the irrepressible soul that is Mapei.