By Geoffrey Rowlands
English singer/songwriter Ella Mai almost saw her hopes for a music career hit the skids four years ago. Her all-girl group, Arize, failed to progress beyond the judges audition on Season 11 of The X Factor. But, disappointments sometimes happen for a reason. If Arize had fared reasonably well on the show, Ella definitely now would not have been enjoying her debut hit on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“We broke up soon after failing the X Factor audition,” recalled 23 years old singer. “I suppose you can either rehearse more to try to get better or accept that you don’t have what it takes. We took the second option.”
Not that Ella had any intention of giving up on her dream. She never lost confidence in her own ability. The only change was that she would endeavour to make it as a solo artist rather than being part of a group.
In 2015, she uploaded a four-track Extended Play (EP) of her own songs to Sound Cloud. She also posted a series of covers on her Instagram page. It was this work which attracted the attention of DJ Mustard.
“He sent me a direct message on Instagram. He said how much he enjoyed my stuff and wanted to fly me out to Los Angeles to record some songs with him.
“To be honest, I thought it must be a wind up. It had to be some vindictive person who wanted to build up and then dash the hopes of an aspiring artist. But no, I went to Mustard’s page making sure it was really him and could hardly believe it, when I found everything was genuine.”
Mustard had no idea that Ella was English. She sounds American when she sings, perhaps a legacy from spending most of her teenage years in New York. Ella’s family moved to America after her mother was offered a teaching position.
“I was the only kid in school with an English accent. People would ask me to talk. I’d been to a performing arts school in England but I was just trying to fit in so I left singing alone even though I always wanted to be a singer. I was actually named after the great singer Ella Fitzgerald and I braided my hair and learned to play the piano so I could be like Alicia Keys.
“I left it until my high school graduation when I volunteered to sing the National Anthem. Everyone was shocked by my performance. They were like ‘you can sing!’
“I returned to England after leaving school. I studied creative music at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute and began writing my own songs. Then I got the message from Mustard and the flight to Los Angeles.”
Ella signed to Mustard’s 10 Summers label and recorded enough material with him for three EPs. They were released over the course of one year. Time was issued in February, 2016. Change appeared in November, 2016 while Ready came out in February, 2017 and soon hit number seven on Billboard’s top R&B Album’s chart.
“They represented three different phases in my career and personal life. The song on Time covers my introduction as a performer. Change deals with moving to Los Angeles and finding new love and Ready explores the emotions involved with my new relationship and my progression as an artist.”
Boo’d Up is one of the six tracks on Ready. It was released as the lead single back in February, 2017. The song began to gain popularity after Ella performed as the support act on Kehlani’s North American concert tour. Radio airplay increased and Ella found herself with a slow burning hit at the time, when she was about to promote a brand new song, Naked, as her next single.
“It was weird. There I was expecting to put all my effort into promoting Naked and Boo’d Up was making all kinds of gains. It made the Billboard Hot 100, the top 50, the top 20 and I really couldn’t believe it when Boo’d Up not only made the top ten but also hit number one on the R&B Songs chart. I still can’t believe it. I don’t have the words to express my combination of incredulity and delight.”
With her debut album in the pipeline, Ella recently announced her own headlining US concert tour. It covers three weeks in August, but she may well need to add more dates as every ticket has been sold already.
One week after 20-year-old rapper XXXTentacion was shot dead in Deerfield Beach, Florida, his track, Sad!, vaulted from number 52 to pole position on Billboard’s Hot 100. It also topped America’s streaming chart listings with just short of 49 million streams.
This follows the usual pattern of enormously increased interest in the work of recently deceased artists. In addition to Sad!, which originally peaked at number seven this past March, eight more XXXTentacion songs found places on the Hot 100. The lowest of these was Numb at number 82.
On the Billboard 200, it was slightly surprising that one of XXXTentacion’s albums did not top the chart. ? climbed from 24 to number three while 17 rose from 60 to number seven. His 2017 mixtape, Revenge, reached a new peak at number 30.
Dedrick Williams, the man accused of XXXTentacion’s murder, has lodged a not guilty plea. Williams, a tattoo artist, has had a string of previous arrests on charges such as cocaine possession, weapons possession, domestic violence, aggravated assault with a firearm and grand theft auto. Police are still seeking a second man believed to be Williams’ accomplice.
Sir Paul McCartney
James Corden secured his top target for the Carpool Karaoke segment on his Late Late Show when Sir Paul McCartney agreed to be his guest.
Not only did Paul sing some of his favourite songs with James but the former Beatle also revisited a few old haunts in his home city of Liverpool. These included the barbers shop mentioned in the lyrics of Penny Lane.
Paul also returned to his old family home in Forthlin Road. The house is now a National Trust property open to the public and a stopping point on the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.
The day climaxed at the Philharmonic pub in Liverpool city centre. Paul and his band were concealed behind a curtain. Customers were shocked when the curtain opened to reveal the musicians who belted out A Hard Day’s Night. This was just the first song in what became a full concert.
It was 2008 when singer Chaka Khan released her last single. The track, One For All Time, did reasonably well peaking at number 35 on Billboard’s Hot R&B, Hip Hop Songs chart.
Since then, she has only been heard as a guest vocalist on songs by other artists, most notably Beverley Knight’s Soul Survivour and Tieks Say a Prayer. But Chaka has now returned to the music scene in her own right with a new single, Like Sugar. She has signed with Diary Records, a new label owned by Major Lazer co-founder Switch. Like Sugar is the lead single taken from her forthcoming 12th studio album, Chaka’s first LP of new material since 2007’s Grammy Award winning Funk This. The video for Like Sugar features some excellent dance routines but Chaka herself is noticeably absent. This is no real surprise. She is now 65 and carrying rather more weight than in her youth. It would be unfair of fans to expect her to appear in an all-dancing video.
Despite sharing virtually everything else with her fans, rapper Cardi B chose to keep secret her marriage to Migos star Offset.
The couple were actually married in Atlanta on September 20, 2017. This was a month before Offset publicly proposed to his supposed girlfriend onstage during a Migos concert in Philadelphia. Rumours persisted that the couple were already married. Offset even referred to Cardi as his wife. But Cardi only confirmed the reports after a copy of their marriage certificate was posted online.
“There are so many moments I share with the world,” Cardi stated. “But getting married was a moment I wanted to keep for myself.
“We just woke up on September 20 and decided to get married. There was no wedding dress, no makeup, and no ring. We found someone to marry us and my cousin was the only witness.
“The proposal in Philadelphia came about because there hadn’t been a proper proposal. My husband wanted me to have that special moment when he got down on one knee and put the engagement ring on my finger.”
Cardi is currently expecting with the couple’s first child, a baby girl. She is due to give birth this month.
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