Mahalia’s songs are self-portraits. Each one lets you into the mind of a 21-year-old Leicester native learning to maneuver through relationships. Her music shares essential lessons from those who left an impact on her life—including the exes she couldn’t miss even if she tried (“I Wish I Missed My Ex”).
Mahalia first gained international traction in 2017 with her single “Sober,” which she performed for COLORS later that year. To date, the video has more than 33 million views. In 2018, the lo-fi R&B singer released “I Wish I Missed My Ex,” which, at present, is her most-streamed record on Spotify at 26 million plays. Despite her success, however, Mahalia is ready to take another leap forward—a jump that begins next month on her major-label debut, Love and Compromise.
“I want my album to be an album that you play when you’re eating dinner with your family, or you’re cooking with your parents or that you play when you’re in the car out with your friends on a road trip,” she explains. “I hope that I have an album that creates nothing but pure happiness.”
When Mahalia started working on Love and Compromise last January, she knew that letting the world in wouldn’t be possible unless she presented her entire self and all of her relationships—family, friends, former love interests—as one complete package. That package, set for release on September 6, will serve as her mainstream introduction; not only to her raw, lyrically-driven brand of R&B but as a testament to her musical and personal growth since 2015’s Diary of Me.
“Whenever I talk about love and relationships, it’s not about being a bitch, and it’s not about being stubborn,” Mahalia says. “It’s about compromising and learning how to love freely.”
Mahalia believes she has the right team behind her to propel her music to the masses in her native U.K. and beyond, and considering that team is responsible for recruiting soundscapes from TDE producers Sounwave and DJ Dahi and a guest feature from rising star Burna Boy (“Simmer”) for Love and Compromise, she’s well on her way.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: You’ve transformed your Instagram into a profoundly personal blog. Are penning these posts at all comparable to when you write a track?
Mahalia: Wow, what an amazing question. Although I feel I’m giving people a part of me in music, melodies [and] words in my music, I find it easy, to be honest, and easy to write from my heart. What I’m doing now on Instagram is a massive, massive challenge. I have to come up with something inspiring that people will react well to; it’s been a challenge. People only get to see one side of me in my music, so I wanted to give them more before the album came out.
One post, in particular, focuses on the stress of perfecting a record. Is the stress of finalizing a debut album comparable to anything you’ve felt before? Did you feel this same stress with Diary of Me?
I’ve never done any of this before. It’s really special because it’s my debut album, but there’s this sort of pressure on releasing a debut. When I was writing Diary of Me, I thought it was gonna be an album, and then we kind of collectively decided to make it a project. It’s weird because once you take off the [label] “album,” it’s not scary.
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At what point in the creative process did you land on the title Love and Compromise?
A huge inspiration behind the album is a clip of Eartha Kitt in an interview, and she was talking about love and compromise. I was like, “This clip inspired me. I want to make an album dedicated to this.” So, that’s what I did.
I remember [bringing up the title] “Compromising” or saying that maybe we should call it “Never Compromising.” But [my friends] all felt a little bit too negative. And then one of my friends texted me and said, “You should call it Love and Compromise.” I remember telling my parents, and we were all just like, “Yeah, that’s it.”
A year after its release, “I Wish I Missed My Ex” remains on the project. How does the record tie into the themes of the album?
This whole record, it’s kind of me weaving my way in and out of different types of love. Whether that means good love, bad love or family love, or work relationships and friendships and all that kind of stuff. With “IWIMME,” when I was writing that song, a lot of people thought I was having a go at the guy I was talking about. But, when I was writing that song, I was annoyed at myself. I’m kind of stubborn, and the word “compromise” is just a massive part of my life. With “IWIMME,” that was me being uncompromising and stubborn. By calling it Love and Compromise, I gave myself a range of where I could go with it.
As a writer at heart, is it hard to trust mega-producers like Sounwave and DJ Dahi, or any producer for that matter, to help convey what you’ve written?
It’s tough. But Sounwave and Dahi, in addition to being incredible producers, are two amazing people. Sounwave, in particular, when we first met, I didn’t connect with him. There’s something about him that inspires you to work and be honest. If you connect purely on a human level, it makes all of that stuff easy. I did trust them, but trusting producers, in general, is hard.
Describe the process of trying to break into the U.S. market as a U.K. act?
Honestly, I never thought I would. It’s not that I didn’t believe I couldn't do it, it’s just so difficult. The U.S., in comparison to the U.K., is so big and so vast. There’s so many more places where you can hit. Once I realized it was a possibility, it was the most shocking thing in the world. I remember my first show within [North America], it was actually in Toronto, and I’ve never, ever, ever come off stage crying that much in all of my time playing music. It’s the most incredible feeling.
What do you want Love and Compromise to say about you as an artist?
I hope that people believe me. When I say that, I mean, I would hate for people to ever hear my songs and think, “She’s not telling the truth.” The first thing I want people to feel when they hear the album is a feeling of strength. Whenever I talk about love and relationships, it’s not about being a bitch, and it’s not about being stubborn. It’s about compromising and learning how to love freely.
I want my album to be an album that you play when you’re eating dinner with your family, or you’re cooking with your parents or that you play when you’re in the car out with your friends on a road trip. I hope that I have an album that creates nothing but pure happiness.