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Mahalia Is Stronger Than Ever On IRL

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Mahalia has always been the real deal. She writes, she sings, she acts, and she’s one hell of a grafter. In her teens, she would perform up and down the country with her guitar and organically built a loyal following through a number of support tours and her own headline shows. Early material such as “Back up Plan” and “Rollercoaster” from her very first project, 2016’s Diary of Me, instantly captivated audiences and had them hanging around for more.

Her official debut album, LOVE AND COMPROMISE, wouldn’t arrive until September 2019 but features some of her most noteworthy tracks to date. Hits such as “Simmer” with Nigerian-giant Burna Boy, “What You Did” with fellow R&B babe Ella Mai, and “I Wish I Missed My Ex” as well as the album cuts “Consistency,” “Square 1,” and “He’s Mine” still go as hard today as they did when they first dropped. Truth be told, LOVE AND COMPROMISE is a modern-day British classic that is slept on by the commercial audience. 

Nearly four years later and Mahalia, now 25 years old, is back with her highly-anticipated sophomore LP, IRL. With a much larger audience and more people taking an interest in her craft, Mahalia doesn’t seem to be affected or pressured by the so-called “sophomore slump.” In fact, she is stronger than ever.

Reflecting on her career, the album’s opener, “Ready,” feels like a tribute to the early days from when her songs were incredibly raw and confessional. You thought I was finished / You thought time was up, secretly I did too (Yeah) / Two years I been missin’ / Left you with an album, now look at this, I made two,” she sings in the first verse. On the lead single “Terms And Conditions,” Mahalia makes things clear by laying down the rules for the new man in her life, declaring, If you tell me lies, you get three strikes / There’s no coming back, boy, please (Please) / If you look at her, consider bridges burned (Yeah) / You could call it petty, but see / If you want the position, these are my terms and conditions.”

IRL features five collaborations, all of which feel like they’ve been hand-picked to benefit the songs as opposed to increasing her chances of securing more streams and spots on playlists. Essentially, that’s the way it should always be. However, in this digital age, we know that’s not always the case.

Fiery anthem with JoJo, “Cheat,” (which features a y2k-inspired music video) hears the sassy duo take charge and prove they are not here for any fuck-boy behavior while “In My Head,” with rising singer Joyce Wrice, is a melodic breakup joint with a dreamy production reminiscent of Drake’s Take Care album. The record takes a romantic turn halfway through with the ballad “November,” a tender love song where Mahalia and Stormzy gush over their special ones. I just wanna see you shine / I’ll love you ’til the end of time,” they both sing in the pre-chorus. Perfectly titled after an autumn month, you can easily picture the scene for a music video; cuddling by the fireplace all wrapped up. 

Mahalia’s track record on more than one occasion has shown that she knows the benefits of using a sample correctly. On “Wassup,” with regular collaborator Kojey Radical, she cleverly picked Soul For Real’s “Candy Rain” while putting her own modern-day twist on the new jack swing genre that dominated the late-1980s and 1990s. The result? A party anthem! “Goodbyes,” one of the more experimental numbers, starts off as an acoustic jam before morphing into a dark electronic record, becoming an obvious highlight. Why? Why? Why? / Is this all I am to you? Is this all I am? A goodbye? / Why? Why? Why? she asks during its sentimental chorus. 

Mahalia chooses to close IRL the way she started the record: on a reflective note. I was thirteen with a big dream / Of bein’ in a big scene, in a big city,” she sings, adding, “Momma drove me around to different crowds / Who she promised one day would sing to me.” While detailing her journey to becoming one of the UK’s most prolific R&B stars, Mahalia appears proud of her accomplishments but knows there are more to come, ending the track with a piece of advice — You better decide / Who you gonna take to the sky with you / As you go up, up / Some people gonna tug, tug, tug you down / They don’t really wanna ride with you / And we can’t afford to let them man around / They only wanna touch up, up on your crown.”

If you’ve been sleeping on Mahalia all these years, it’s time for you to fix up and delve into a catalog that is enriched in storytelling and raw talent. IRL is a great place to start. Although, be sure to go back and experience the journey from the beginning as you’re in for a treat!

From October, Mahalia will embark on a European tour to promote the album.