Mapei has a voice that will touch your soul. It’s husky and soft, haunting and beautiful. For some this might come as a surprise. Five years ago the Stockholm based singer appeared on the scene as a fierce rapper with her cheeky EP Cocoa Butter Diaries, complaining about lazy boyfriends and social injustice.
After a realigning phase the US-born musician returned last October with a new single, “Don’t Wait”, recorded by Swedish star producer Magnus Lidehäll (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Due to its state of the art sound – a gentle guitar riff, sparse beats and her soulful voice – it quickly became of the most blogged-about songs on the Internet.
THE RED BULLETIN: What was your life like two years ago?
MAPEI: I was just in my apartment in Stockholm listening to music and hanging out with friends. I was DJing at parties, writing songs for other people, not wanting to be in the spotlight at all because I had released an EP in 2009 but after that I felt like I didn’t want to be in the music business anymore.
It felt hard to find my own thing. I worked with friends that produced J Dilla esque [hip hop] beats, and I would go to my techno friends and try to do EDM songs. I tried different styles but I still felt lost. I was frustrated.
Only two years later people on Twitter have been comparing you to Lauryn Hill …
That is so cool because I’m a student of her music. She is a genius, a prophet and a guru. So is Madonna. Their albums The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Ray of Light came out at the same time. Back then I was like, ‘these two records are my world’. I lived in a cold melancholic Sweden – Madonna’s Ray of Light is really cold and melancholic – and The Miseducation is just speaking truths. So those two albums really changed my life.
One reason you started rapping instead of singing was because your choir teacher in Sweden told you your voice sounded too ‘soul’.
When I was young I was ad-libbing everywhere because I listened to 112 and Boyz II Men so I had that texture in my voice. But this teacher was like, ‘this is not R&B or soul. This is Swedish traditional music!’ It made me introverted. I would just stand at the back of the class and whisper, not even sing. Then I was embraced by the dudes, who were like ‘You are from the ghetto, you can probably rap’ (laughs). It was like solving a puzzle for me to write raps. You have to be really quirky and on point, and in Sweden, they appreciate hip-hop a lot.
How did you become a singer then?
I never had boyfriends when I was growing up. But then when guys started to get interested in me, I created a feminine side. With rapping, I would write stuff and be angry. But with singing, with all these worlds that I have on my album, I had all these accessories to it. I could put it in the music, and I had time to sit down and scream or sing.
Why do you think there is so much successful pop music coming out of Sweden these days?
Swedes are very competitive. They want to be trendsetters. School is free so people just study music or fashion for fun. People just study their craft.
Lykke Li is one of the figureheads of this new stream of Swedish pop artists. Is it true you two shared a flat in New York a few years ago?
She rented a room in my apartment in New York and sang at different venues. She is really persistent and a hard worker. I don’t have that. I’m a slacker. It took me five years to do my album. She did it after six months. (laughs)
Speaking of your album, it sounds quite warm and cosy, different to the current cold and rather synth-driven R&B trend.
I’m just a 1980s baby. I love bubbly sounds, like in Into The Groove by Madonna. I grew up going to the ice cream trucks, so “Blame it On Me” sounds like an ice cream truck beat. But there is also some spoken word in there influenced by Saul Williams. “Hey Hey” is very eclectic. Being in the studio with Magnus[Lidehäll], he really inspired me to live out my dreams and make this collage that is every part of me.
What’s the environment to listen to your album?
Just sitting in a car with loud speakers, preferably a Cadillac, driving through a very urban setting.
What goal do you want to reach with your music?
It could go bad and I could get dropped from my label tomorrow, but then I’d have a lot of songs and pictures to show my kids one day. (laughs). I could go to school in Sweden for free and become a computer technician, but I want to reach as many people as possible and be really big.
Computer technician? Seriously?
Yeah, I’m definitely interested in that. I don’t programme yet but I watch tutorials on the Internet and I’m like, ‘wow, that is really cool!’