If there’s anyone who knows how to beautifully illustrate the plight towards coming-of-age, and how that journey further elucidates a discovery of one’s own self-worth – it’s Mahalia. For years now, we’ve seen the 21-year-old always be her unapologetic self, releasing music that moves to deconstruct her multi-faceted approach towards friendships, relationships, and emotions; graciously, she continues to bless us all with gems of advice on her brilliant debut album “Love and Compromise”. Boasting offerings in Neo-Soul and traditional R&B – innovatively amalgamated with contemporary Pop sensibilities –, each track is grippingly emotive in its musicality, holding immense replay value and ultimately embodying the songstress’s characteristically wise charm.
The record begins with a famous sonic memento courtesy of the late Eartha Kitt, where the revered singer, activist, and poet exclaims colorfully when questioned about compromise, “Compromising for what? Compromising for what reason?”; Kitt’s powerful words boldly outlining the contextual matter Mahalia aims to confront throughout the album. Ensuing, atmospheric choral lines introduce the grounding harmonic placement for the track “Hide Out”, before a cutting violin enters the soundscape, serving as a dynamic transitional element and setting up for the hard-hitting drumline to land and carry the track throughout. Over the catchy instrumentation, Mahalia’s confident songwriting proficiencies glisten, as she tells a story of coming to understand that her partner isn’t being entirely faithful (yeah, you striked out/ all the times, thought I didn’t know ‘bout/ all the lies you denied, but I know now/ ‘bout your hideout/ I can’t believe you thought I’d never find out). Furthermore, the songstress continues to cleverly interlace Kitt’s dialogue across the opening track, bolstering its overarching message and simultaneously setting the tone for a brilliantly executed debut.
Following this, the familiar ‘I Wish I Missed My Ex” provides an anthem for re-claiming your self-confidence after a bad break-up, to the tune of melodic piano arrangements and hip-hop drums, further bolstered by gorgeous trilling mellotron accents and uplifting trumpet fanfare (I know how this goes, yeah/ talk about you need closure/too many missed calls, too many texts/damn, I wish I missed my ex). Then, the mood shifts massively as Burna Boy’s characteristic dancehall sound lends itself to the infectious “Simmer”, where Mahalia outlines her personal parameters for passion, and Burna challenges them. Fittingly, both parties’ lyricism coalesces for the purpose of highlighting a duality of perspectives with regards to the nuanced nature of maintaining a balanced, reciprocated relationship.
It’s awe-inspiring to see that alongside the audible dedication paid to instrumental experimentation across the record, Mahalia manages to thematically portray its’ grounding sentiment across each genre-bending track; never straying too far from the recurrent themes of both love and compromise. Experimenting with syncopated rock-guitars on “Good Company” – over the solid production of Terrace Martin – she places focus on her own expectations, telling her crush “If that’s the kind of girl that you came for/ then, baby don’t you get too comfy/ I like a kinda guy that will wait for it/ ‘cause I need to be in good company”. On the upbeat “What Am I?” she gets vulnerable about wanting to know where she stands with the object of her affections (I wonder if you need me, wonder if you see me/see me when you’re dreaming/ I wonder what I mean to you), and over the sassy acoustic guitar chords of “He’s Mine” she lives her best Brandy and Monica fantasy (He’s mine/ so don’t ask around, checkin’ up if he’s alright/ you don’t need to worry, he’s mine/ don’t creep around baby girl, this ain’t your life) – claiming her man and several wigs in her wake.
In amongst the standout tracks, is a glittering collaboration with Ella Mai (What You Did). Hinged on an exultant flute sample and paired with the re-emergent trumpet fanfare and hip-hop drum patterns idiosyncratic of the records’ sound – again, the meticulous choice of instrumentation works interdependently to form a bouncy, dynamic R&B number. On which, Mahalia and Mai beautifully incant their respective arguments for choosing to not stick around with a lover who insists on perpetually deceiving them (I would not expect someone to stay around/If I let them down). Additional sonic highlights include the breath-taking saxophones used on “Karma”, the affecting lyricism of “Regular People” featuring London’s Hamzaa and Louisiana’s Lucky Daye, and the heartfelt messages left on “Do Not Disturb”.
The record culminates with Mahalia figuratively back at “Square 1”. Using jazzy inflections, the talented songstress illuminates the nicety of pursuing personal relationships, detailing how you can be led to believe that you know someone inside out, and then in the blink of an eye you’re back in the ‘friendzone’; both living separate lives. It’s a track that perfectly ties together the thematic elements explored on the record, whilst simultaneously driving forward the endearing sentiment that the cyclical nature of life is something to be pondered upon and utilized for self-progression. After all, how can we continue to repeat the same mistakes if we deliberately place focus on learning from them? Overarchingly on her triumphant debut, Mahalia poetically conveys all she’s learned in dealing with “Love and Compromise”. She unapologetically deconstructs her own experiences in the pursuit of clarity and emotional intelligence, whilst dealing with the ever-relatable challenges of coming into your own as a woman – it’s liberating and cathartic listen, to say the least.
Don’t miss out! Stream Mahalia’s “Love and Compromise below!
Want more Mahalia? Read her interview with NBGA’s Millie Hall here!