Evan Dale // Jan 1, 2019
Music in 2018 revolved most closely around the sphere of the UK. As hip-hop, rap, grime, R&B, neo-soul, jazz, and funk coalesced into an impossible to define and unendingly diverse, transcendent spectrum of modernist grey area, Britain propelled at large the direction of music. London, as it always has, continued its tradition of brash experimentation and creative genius. But, in a surprising turn of events to likely everyone outside of the UK itself, the artist with the most influence and relevance in consideration of modern music calls home instead to Birmingham. Her name is Mahalia and she is the best artist of 2018.
To date, her sole and debut album, Diary of Me was released in 2016 and is still a foundational work of art to her greater musicianship. A younger, less well-rounded her was still very much a star on the rise. But, beginning with the explosive moves she made in 2017, that stardom came to fruition and in fact, has excelled far beyond the high expectations belayed upon her years past.
It began with Sober – Mahalia’s breakout single. At the beginning of 2017, the tale of love and loss exploded onto the popular soul and R&B scene and introduced Mahalia’s one-of-a-kind voice to the world. To date, it’s still her most popular track. In its wake, a slew of remixes and a delightful acoustic take expanded not only the realm of Sober, but also expanded her continuously growing audience’s desire for more. And more is what Mahalia delivered. Hold On featuring Compton’s lovechild, Buddy and the upliftingly positivist, No Pressure rounded out her 2017.
The table was set.
When 2018 began, neo-soul was pushing its way into the popular light, asking for a hero to bring it forth. And Mahalia, with the foundational pillars that she had constructed in 2017, was the hero we didn’t deserve. Mahalia’s 2018 started with her incredibly anthemic collaboration with fellow young UK lyricist, Little Simz, Proud of Me. The track, which rides the relatable rails of wanting her loved ones to be proud of who she is in the same manner that she is of them, breathed of Amy Winehouse influence merging with the bubbly contentment so inescapable in Mahalia’s music. It also exhibited her underrated ability to drop bars at a hip-hop cadence. Soon also came a video accompanying the track, and the greater image was rounded out. Just as the world was discovering Mahalia, she was also discovering herself.
I’m in that vulnerable place now, which is kind of the most scary. But I thrive off it…. I wanted the song to feel universal because even though the song is personal – it’s about me and my journey – me picking up my acoustic guitar at 13 and starting to write all these songs and working out the business – I wanted people to be able to sing that chorus and feel like it was anthemic – feel like they could sing ‘brothers and sisters I want to make you proud.’
Heading into such a position of international limelight and influence, Mahalia was prepared with the right state of mind to tackle the busy schedule on which she was about to embark. Next came No Reply, another tale of overcoming the difficulties if a failed relationship and another beautiful video.
In subsequence, Mahalia began a string of collaborations with a few fellow British up-and-comers. Water, one of the records of the year, came by way of British-Ghanaian multi-creative, Kojey Radical and featured a particularly socio-political verse from Mahalia. A video, which would also come to be one of the best of 2018 would come to add further to Mahalia’s diversifying 2018 catalogue. Reaching out further amongst her circle of rising UK friends, Mahalia also featured (along with Kojey Radical) on the unparalleled Jay Prince project, CHERISH. Her part on the comforting and romantic ballad, With Umade it one of the best love duets of the year.
Joint projects with acoustic artist, Joel Baker, hip-hop artist, Russ, and producer, Larix also came to define her collaborative calendar.
But at the end of the day – at the end of 2018 – Mahalia’s year was most sincerely defined by the work of herself. When I Wish I missed My Ex – also coupled with an incredibly creative music video – came out in June, her most popular release since Sober was set in motion. Uplifting even in its somber sort of thematics, Mahalia both in song and in video, in sound and in smile, is all positivity and unparalleled talent.
Finally, Mahalia’s incredible growth culminated in a 2018 project.
With Seasons, Mahalia’s approach was steadied, her vision narrowed, her sound perfected. Undoubtedly building on some of her more slow-and-steady, acoustically informed work, the EP feels like a 17-minute discussion at the end of a very defining relationship. But even in consideration of the oftentimes solemn approach and explorations of heartbreaking motifs, absolutely nothing is lost from Mahalia’s signature gumption. A ferocity, a spark, a spunk, a spirit is always present in her work, even when that work seems inspired by emotionally trying times.
In immediate standout, Seasons’ opener, One Night Only – certainly thanks to the Kojey Radical feature – is an unmissable track and is sure to become the next vibrant hit in her unmatchable canon of late. The energy of the track, more reminiscent of a certain collection of her releases, is also a few notches higher than that of the rest of the project. Again, Kojey’s presence is likely to thank, and of course, there comes with it another amazing video.
From there, the project unwinds and undresses itself at a different pace. Not quite a romantic piece because of the antithesis subject matter at hand, but certainly possessing the auditory aesthetic of the modern R&B-pop, neo-soul circuit of ballads, Seasons takes its time. And that’s a good thing. Good Reason in particular, a piano ballad driven by an uncharacteristically fragile delivery, shows a new side to Mahalia’s sonic sphere.
And in that ideology of showing a new side to her immense talent lies Mahalia’s truth as the best artist of 2018. A boundless talent, Mahalia thrives in pure creation, constantly expanding as an artist, but more importantly expanding as a young generational leader. Her leadership is defining music at a macro scale. Neo-soul, hip-hop, R&B, and a slew of other modern stylings look to her auditory aesthetic for inspiration, as do artists from each and every corner of music. Even without the release of a full-length album, Mahalia released more music and art than most this year, and not a single track or video was anything short of bold and innovative. Moving into the future, music will continue to funnel its way through her wide-ranging, incredibly gifted hands, and we can only sit back and enjoy the ride as she becomes one of the more important artists of her generation.
See our Comprehensive List of 2018's Best Artists here: