It’s not often that one song can be so convincing, but Mapei’s “Don’t Wait” is a special case. It’s a song that—if you’re not careful—you can easily become obsessed with (like we clearly have), but while it’s many people’s introduction to the Rhode Island-born, Sweden-based artist, it’s not her first track. She’s been making music since she was 12 and started getting attention with her Cocoa Butter Diaries EP a few years ago. But unlike the rap-centric EP, “Don’t Wait” has Mapei soulfully singing a catchy melody over minimal production. It’s a new direction that makes her future unclear. With an album in the works and set to be released on Downtown Records in 2014, we sat down with Mapei and tried to figure out how she got to this point and, more importantly, what’s next.
Why does so much good music come from Sweden?
Because it’s dark and depressing. It gets dark at like three in the afternoon and there’s really nothing to do and nobody wants to go out so you need to make yourself have fun. That’s it basically.
A lot of the music coming from there is poppy and upbeat.
Exactly because you sort of want an outlet. You want to make yourself happy.
Were you into music at an early age?
Yeah I’ve always been singing, but I was too shy to sing in front of people because I used to go to the choir and I didn’t have a typical choir voice so I was too scared to sing. And since I was American, there were a lot of people that liked hip-hop so I was like… People thought that I was a rapper just because I was American and black. [Laughs] So I sort of fell into that and started rapping.
What music did you grow up listening to?
Like Madonna, hip-hop, Radiohead, Nirvana, euro techno.
When did you first start making your own music?
I started in sixth grade when I made the song “Come As You Are” with a group. There are so many free studios in Stockholm, so that’s when I made my first song and then when I was 18 I made this song with these two rappers—they have a group called Up High. And since then I’ve been doing random songs everywhere, but it really started when I was 12.
It’s interesting to hear your old stuff after only knowing “Don’t Wait.” It’s a lot of rapping. Is there going to be more rapping on the album, or are you sticking more with the style of “Don’t Wait”?
Yeah, there’s a lot of spoken word. I have some poetry in there.
So you’re not giving up on the rapping?
Are you proud of your older work? Cocoa Butter Diaries is so different than “Don’t Wait.”
I’m proud of it because it has social commentary, but I want to do a mixture of things. I want to sing about love and simple things in life as well. So I’m more proud of “Don’t Wait.” I feel as though I’ve developed.
With “Don’t Wait” were you trying to move in a new direction, or was it just natural?
No, it was natural. I read on my cousin’s Twitter—he wrote, “Old friend indeed.” So I wanted to make a minimalistic song with singing over it. I had heard this mixtape of remixes, like hip-hop beats with singing over it, so I wanted to do something like that. So I went to my producer like, “Yo, we need to do a song like this, like a hip-hop beat with some nice singing over it.” So I took that line, then I put together the song.
Who is the producer?
Is he the one doing a lot of work on your new album?
Yeah, we’re working together.
He’s the only producer you’re working with?
How did the Kingdom remix come about?
Well I met Kingdom here in New York in 2008 and he gave me a mixtape. So when they suggested it at the label it just felt natural to do it with him because I know him from before and I really like his stuff.
You used to live with Lykke Li, right?
Yeah. She stayed in my apartment. We were friends in Sweden, we were in the same scene, and she wanted to stay in New York and I had an apartment so she rented a room there.
Are you guys doing any music together?
No, we did a song together but it hasn’t come out. We’re cool friends, I spoked to her a couple weeks ago. But the song’s not finished, it’s from a long time ago.
Who are your major influences right now? Or who are you into right now?
Kendrick Lamar. I really like his album, it’s really soulful.
Is it mostly rap that you’re listening to right now?
Whatever I get my hands on. But lately there aren’t a lot of new songs I like. Everything is so repetitive, so I go back to old music.
What are the main differences between the music scenes in New York and Sweden?
Well here in New York it’s so much more organic and real. Subcultures just grow organically here. There it’s like, we wanna be like New York or something. Sweden still needs the affirmation from America for it to be popular there.
Is there a local scene there that doesn’t make it here?
There are some artists, like rappers who rap in Swedish—they’re never gonna make it here.
“Don’t Wait” is really unique and it’s different, but it’s also very accessible. If you had the choice to blow up and have “Don’t Wait” all over the radio would you do that, or keep it more indie?
I would choose to be somewhere in the middle. Being a huge pop star would be fun, but I don’t know what I’d have to do in order to do that. I don’t know what my schedule would be like if I was a huge pop star. I still want freedom.
What can you tell us about the album?
It’s gonna be really eclectic, uplifting, and a lot of new sounds. A lot of singing, a lot of pop tunes.