UK Hip-Hop fans might be familiar with Mai Khalil as a feature vocalist — she’s appeared on tracks with the likes of Rewd Adams, Islam Jawed and H20, and was heavily featured on Lowkey’s most recent album — but the west London singer has now dropped a long-awaited solo offering. Citing Arabic music as an influence, Mai also fuses old-school R&B sounds with a mix of dynamic beats on her 8-track debut, In Between.
Our introduction, “Stuck In Your Fire,” is the first of a few tracks with a dubstep-inspired backdrop provided by Nutty P and gives us the first taste of Mai’s personal sound. Over a haunting beat, she showcases her effortless melodies while singing about emotional turmoil caused by a destructive relationship. A very suitable set up for the remainder of the EP.
“Boy At The Bus Stop” mellows the mood and is reminiscent of an early 90’s sound. It’s a lighthearted song about crushing and fantasizing about a mystery man, and Mai’s R&B influences shine through.
One of the album’s highlights is its production, which utilizes not-so-obvious choices like big band (“Make Up Tonight”) and double time drum beat (“Boy at the Bus Stop”) to add a unique twist to a predominantly R&B album. Mai’s harmonies are also notable, as the way in which the production showcases the different textures in her voice creates another of the EP’s highlights. This harmony is most apparent in “Drug.”
For a debut solo effort, In Between is a chance for us to see Mai’s ability to hold her own and prove she’s more than just a hook and chorus singer, and gives listeners a chance to hear her well-developed songwriting. Dabbling with a mix of sounds and switching up the vibe on “Queens Head” she even lends herself to singing to a rap tempo.
Mai’s distinct voice and the fact that she sings in her London accent is somewhat rare and refreshing, although a few more tracks to give us a more solid insight into her sound would have been welcome.
Nevertheless, this is a promising start.