In fact, the velvety, raspy voice behind the single “Don’t Wait”—which blew up SoundCloud in 2013—didn’t even give her vocal talents much of a chance until five years ago.
“Every time I would join a choir they would tell me I couldn’t really sing so I became really self-conscious,” she says. The diagnosis? “I sang too soulful.”
Today, that alleged weakness is the strength behind her sound, which has caught the attention of some major names: “Don’t Wait” was included on New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones’ top songs of 2013 playlist. In January, Adele praised the song, tweeting at Mapei, “don’t wait is incredible! Can’t wait to hear more x.”
The tune—Mapei’s only claim to fame at the moment, though there are murmurings of a 2014 album—traces its origins back to a club. Mapei’s friends were complaining that they felt stuck. Her advice to them: “Don’t wait for life.” Lyrically, the song doesn’t become much more complex than that—it’s not a new idea—yet the theme is refreshing: It presents a declaration of friendship and genuine affection.
And like a genre-indifferent music fanatic assembling auditory tangrams, Mapei complicates and elevates even this ordinary friend-to-friend pep talk.
The song begins with a grungy guitar solo, then moves into a pop beat rooted in a Brazilian funk sample and lifted by Mapei’s soulful voice. She raps in the middle; the first line is lifted from a cousin’s Twitter.
She also blends cultures. She was born in Rhode Island, but spent nearly a decade in Stockholm—and hip-hop, she says, was how she improved her English while in Sweden. Brooklyn, however, was where she was inspired to write her raps. “I try to mix as much as I can in my music since my life is so schizophrenic.”
Another single, “Believe,” implores a young woman to let go of insecurities. “I like to hear other people’s stories and put them into songs,” Mapei explains, “I can see someone on the train that seems really cool and make up a story about that person.”
Alternately, her rap song “Swedish Jealousy” is about how she envies a popular girl.
Research into the song title’s idea yields some confusion; performing a rap song vocalizing your spite seems to run counter to the concept itself. Where in some cultures, one might feel a jealous and say something about it to someone else, “Swedish jealousy,” or Den svenska avundsjukan is a slow-burn kind of envy without a perfect English counterpart. It grows demons inside of you, but you are forbidden to express it.
At this moment, Mapei is in Bushwick, where she is shooting her first music video for “Don’t Wait,” on a set that consists of a few brightly colored panels and well-placed palms. She—in a sequin bustier dress and orange ankle-length trench coat—sings and struts toward the camera, her voluminous hair bound in two pigtails near the nape of her neck. The video will use an effect called time displacement slit scan, a method that manipulates and contorts the subject’s body, making limbs seem fluid and bodies look like rubber. It’s ambitious for her first video, and it’s likely to escalate as her arsenal grows.
But despite the label, the video, the dress, and the million-plus listens, Mapei says she has much to learn. Her new year’s resolution is “just to stay healthy.”
Any goals for her professional life?
“I still don’t feel professional.”
Photographer: Mark Peckmezian for webberrepresents.com. Stylist: Joshua Liebman for JoshuaLiebman.com. Hair: Brittan White for utopianyc.com. Makeup: Mark Edio for seemanagement.com.