Taken from the summer issue of Dazed:
Criss-crossing the Atlantic as a child – moving from Rhode Island to Sweden at ten, then to Brooklyn at 18 – has given Mapei’s music a sense of displacement and a fierce independence of spirit. After the aggressive rapping of her 2009 debut EP, her singing on this year’s incredible “Don’t Wait” – all baile-funk drums and finger-clicks – has set her up as a pop innovator. Her first album sees her ditch former collaborators Diplo and Justice in favour of Magnus Lidehäll, who’s worked with Sky Ferreira and Britney. “We wanted to do a Michael Jackson album with a positive message,” Mapei states nonchalantly. No pressure.
You’ve described your household in Rhode Island as ‘part hippy’. What was that like?
Mapei: My father’s been an activist since the 60s so I grew up with a lot of people in the house: activists, vegans, just hippies that were in the worker’s movement he was a part of. There was a lot of violence, a lot of gangsters and criminals, but it was very magical as well in a way – I sang in church and started to create a fantasy world. I guess I want to show that in my music, to sing the gospel of life. (laughs)
"I’ve been really negative in the past so I want to be positive now. I wanna sing the gospel of life!" - Mapei
Your new song "Believe" is very empowering. Do you fancy yourself as an evangelist?
Mapei: A bit, yeah! I’ve been really negative in the past so I want to be positive now. I wanna sing the gospel of life! I mean, I moved to Stockholm from the US when I was younger and didn’t speak to anyone for two months, maybe longer, because I didn’t know the language. It was a total culture shock – and I missed American boys! I was the token black girl in Sweden and no one flirted with me.
Was Swedish pop a big influence on you?
Mapei: Yeah. I used to buy the mix CDs of euro techno music, like, I loved that song (sings) ‘money talks, money talks’ ("Dirty Cash" by Adventures of Stevie V). I also grew up listening to Mary J Blige. But then, one of the songs on my new album samples "All the Young Children on Crack" by the Television Personalities. I saw it on MTV2 and was like, "Wow, this is so cool." The beat is like Beastie Boys meets Kurt Cobain.
Did everyone assume you’d be into hip hop and R&B because you were a black girl from America?
Mapei: Exactly. That’s why I started rapping –I would go to different recording studios to sing and the producers would be like, ‘Can you rap instead?’ I sort of invented a hip hop scene in Sweden. I listened to a lot of booty bass in America and I was really inspired by it.
On your debut EP, The Cocoa Butter Diaries, you don’t sing. How come?
Mapei: I didn’t really have the confidence or the time. It takes time to sing. Rapping was much faster for me to do. I was scared to sing, but now I’m more scared to rap because singing comes more naturally to me.
Is it true that you scrapped an entire album with Justice?
Mapei: Yeah. I didn’t really like the way I sounded on it. I liked their beats and stuff but it didn’t really work out how I wanted it to. It’s just lying around now. Maybe I’ll leak it!
Has the positive reaction to your new single, "Don’t Wait", surprised you?
Mapei: No, not at all. It’s really catchy; I want it to be bigger. I wanted to make a song like the Ying Yang Twins’ whisper song that goes, ‘Wait till you see my dick.’ I want to have fun with my music, as opposed to poking people in the eye with it. ‘Don’t Wait’ is about when you’re drunk and you express your love for your friends. Maybe you’ve got into a fight or something, but then you’re like, ‘I love you, I love you.’
"I want to have fun with my music, as opposed to poking people in the eye with it." - Mapei
Are songs quite cathartic for you?
Mapei: Definitely. In "Don’t Wait" I say, ‘Let’s laugh and cry until we die,’ and it’s about how I want to stay young forever. You hear that in my music – I want to keep things youthful now.
How was Lykke Li as a housemate?
Mapei: I never lived with her, she just stayed in my apartment. I wasn’t there at the time.
Did she leave it clean and tidy?
Mapei: (laughs) Yes.
"Don’t Wait" is out on now on Columbia. Mapei’s debut album follows in the autumn.