Sign up below to be added to our mailing list for the latest news updates, access to exclusive contests, and more!
Raised in southwest London, Ella Mai Howell moved to New York at the age of 12, then returned to England after she graduated from high school. In 2014, while attending the British and Irish Modern Music Institute in London, she competed on The X Factor as part of a trio named Arize, but the group didn't advance beyond the initial audition and subsequently broke up. The following year, Ella Mai uploaded a solo EP of originals to SoundCloud and clips of covers to Instagram. The latter caught the attention of producer Mustard, who in January 2016 announced that Mai had signed to his Interscope-distributed 10 Summers label.
Mai made her proper debut the following month with Time, a poised EP of sleek, contemporary R&B. Featuring the Ty Dolla $ign collaboration "She Don't," the six-track release introduced an artist who could sing of fierce loyalty and ruthless spite in an incisive manner. Mai quickly followed up with two more Mustard-assisted EPs: Change, a November 2016 release, and Ready, issued four months later. Ready highlight "Boo'd Up," a love ballad reminiscent of R&B's pre-new jack swing era, cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in April 2018 and three months later peaked at number five -- an unusually long period of ascent. "Trip" arrived as "Boo'd Up" began its slide off the chart and reached number 11 in October, the month Ella Mai released her self-titled debut album. Containing her two biggest hits to that point, Ella Mai debuted at number five on the Billboard 200. "Boo'd Up" was nominated for Grammy Awards in the categories of Song of the Year (one of "the Big Four") and Best R&B Song; at the early 2019 ceremony, she took home the prize for the latter. She received a Grammy nomination later that year for Best R&B Album for Ella Mai.
Meanwhile, as a featured artist, Mai nearly doubled her hit tally. She appeared on tracks by artists mostly in the R&B domain, such as fellow Brit Mahalia ("What You Did"), Usher ("Don't Waste My Time"), and H.E.R. ("Gut Feeling"), and extended her stylistic reach by teaming with Meek Mill ("24/7") and Ed Sheeran ("Put It All on Me"). She scored another gold single in 2020 with "Not Another Love Song," and in 2022 released a couple additional slow-burning tracks ahead of Heart on My Sleeve, her second album, which landed that May and entered the U.K. Hip Hop and R&B Albums chart at number 13. The set incorporated more live instrumentation and candid songwriting than the debut. Mustard remained her primary collaborator as producer, while the likes of Boi-1da, D'Mile, Harmony Samuels, and Jahaan Sweet also made contributions. Around the record's release, second single "DFMU" followed "Not Another Love Song" as Mai's fifth headlining single on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart. A deluxe edition of Heart on My Sleeve, which added three new songs, arrived in 2023. ~ Andy Kellman