Mahalia's Long-Awaited Love and Compromise is all She was Missing
Evan Dale // Sep 11, 2019
When concerning debut albums, there are few that feel more polished and veteran than UK sensation Mahalia’s Love and Compromise. Maybe it’s because she’s been around. Perhaps it’s because she’s put in the work. Her debut EP, Never Change was released in 2015. But through a half-decade of singles, short projects, and features, 2019’s Mahalia is a very different artist now than she once was. The beginning of her career was all about growth. Blessed with a knack for just about anything and everything musical, she’s always had the foundation. Acoustic guitar, uniquely soulful vocals, relatable songwriting ability. But today, she’s worked her way into a refined version of that background, unearthing a perfectly one-of-a-kind vocal range that finds itself somewhere between the spectrums of Amy Winehouse and Solange. She’s coupled it with an ability to at times fluctuate her cadence from something classically R&B to something else modernly hip-hop, making her the ultimate guest artist across the widest of stylistic reaches. She’s honed her writing skills, marking each and every track with an unparalleled amount of emotionality and the necessary ambiguous relatability to shine at the largest of pop scales. She’s emerged from that long and tangled road the front-running heiress of the UK-centered Neo-Soul movement where the vocal tenants of R&B merge with the instrumentally-forward production of classic soul. She’s ready to take over.
Through the all-too-often forgotten path of artistic self-searching and refinement, Love and Compromise is more than just a thesis on Mahalia’s journey; it’s a tale of what’s to come in the future of the styling she’s designing. And that future is one defined thematically by emotion, love, loss, and self-empowerment.
From the beginning, Love and Compromise delineates itself a project unapologetically mocking the very ideals of compromise altogether. Sampling the famed 1982 recording of Eartha Kitt’s documentary, ‘compromising for what reason,’ opens Love and Compromise on an expectedly strong foot of femininity. After all, through single after single – No Pressure, No Reply, I Wish I Missed My Ex, Surprise Me, and Do Not Disturb – the road to Mahalia’s debut has perhaps been defined most fervently by the ideals of self-sufficient womanhood, so it’s comforting to see that thematic discourse leading off her first full-length project.
If a lack of compromise and its tether to feminism and the modern woman define one spectrum of Love and Compromise, the struggles of relationships and finding a balance in modern love rightfully define another. Mahalia has always been a keen writer for the modern love song, and her reign over that realm has only strengthened en route to her debut’s release. Where Simmer featuring king of the West African Cultural Renaissance, Burna Boy shines as a complex, up-tempo exploration of separating love from lust, Square 1 thrives on the opposite end of the stylistic and thematic sphere, maneuvering overtop a jazzy beat with brokenhearted tales of never quite getting a relationship right. In discussing love, lust, and loss – In utilizing jazz, hip-hop, soul, and the pillars of West African production – Mahalia never missteps. Instead, Love and Compromise is a study on the societal boundlessness of the modern woman and the stylistic boundlessness of the modern musician. She refuses to compromise underneath either umbrella.
As a bold and balanced rendition of that modern musicianship, Love and Compromise makes a somewhat surprising attempt to float between pop and Neo-Soul. Mahalia has long appealed to a wide audience and has been an unendingly important figure in bringing Neo-Soul to the mainstream, so tracks like He’s Mine, Consistency, and Terrace Martin produced Good Company are experimental for Mahalia who has rarely before edged so close to directly unapologetic pop music. It’s not a bad thing, and all three are quality additions to Love and Compromise guaranteed to bring her a wider audience, but it is somewhat jarring and unexpected for her neo-soul-favoring longtime fanbase.
That being said, Love and Compromise is a work of pop-adjacent Neo-Soul long before it’s a work of soul-adjacent pop. In discussing new additions to her canon, Karma is an immediate standout. Resting atop a jazzy set of keystrokes, Mahalia embarks on a path of raw, soulful range and penmanship outlining ever more honest and straightforward thought. In discussing leading singles, What You Did featuring fellow UK soulstress already exploded into global limelight, Ella Mai is another undeniable hit defining of a Neo-Soul scene still very much taking shape. Coupled with a particularly drawing set of visuals, the track has a definite chance at becoming Mahalia’s biggest hit to date.
Through it all, Love and Compromise is wide-ranging and influential just as it is unexpected and experimental. And for an artist that has made a career releasing a prolific amount if tracks all delineated by the same set of adjectives, it’s a beautiful thing. Mahalia has been one of the most exciting artists in music for a while, leading a generation of Neo-Soul artists on a path towards what is now one of the most explosive stylistic realms. And with her debut album finally out in the open, she joins the ranks of artists like Snoh Aalegra, Raveena, and of course Ella Mai utilizing their new sound to soundtrack a new era of feminine empowerment, love, and emotive ballad.