Don’t Wait for Mapei

The Swedish singer is ready for the global stage

Photography by Taea Thale

“Don’t Wait,” a devilishly crafted piece of pop perfection by the Stockholm-based singer Mapei, was posted on Soundcloud at the beginning of October. Less than a week later, it was the most blogged-about new music on the Internet. With its heartbeat thump, doo-wop finger snaps, and soaring vocals, “Don’t Wait” steamrolls any initial skepticism with sheer, indefatigable catchiness. (It led me to inquire of Google, “how do you put soundcloud on repeat.”) “My mission is to make epic pop songs,” said Mapei a few days ago in New York. The previously unknown pop star-in-waiting had just arrived from Sweden, and seemed either jetlagged or a little dumbstruck by the instant viral success of her single. You may have known of Jacqueline Mapei Cummings circa 2008, when she was at the heart of an underground hip-hop moment in Stockholm. (“Yeah, I started that whole scene,” she said casually.) Even during her run as a rapper, she was obsessed with the pop anthems she yearned to make. But the Swedish indie rock sound was dominant, and called for a more traditional belter than Cummings. “I was just too scared to sing at the time,” she recalled. Still, she was a talented enough hip-hop lyricist to get signed by Downtown Records, home to Santigold and Gnarls Barkley. But she continued to feel the itch to sing, and it stalled her process. “I was just out there freestyling without writing any songs,” she said. Raised in both Providence, Rhode Island (where her father is from), and in Stockholm (where her Liberian mother moved with her stepfather), Cummings’ natural response to artistic stagnation was to add some more stamps to her passport. “I needed to find some inspiration,” she said. She went to live in Tunisia, Portugal, and, most formatively, in Brazil. “They do a lot of voodoo in Brazil,” she said. “I got into that a little bit.” Mostly though, she got more comfortable with herself. “I felt a sense of calm there,” she said. Revived, she returned to the recording studio in Stockholm, where she began working with producer Magnus Lidehall, who has wrung pop magic out of Sky Ferreira and Britney Spears. Together, they unleashed “Don’t Wait,” and are hard at work on a full-length album to be released next year on Downtown. As is the case with many debut albums, it will be a highly personal aural account of her life so far: there are earmarks of Swedish electro-dance, Brazilian Baile funk, and spoken word passages that recall Cummings’ years living in Brooklyn during the mid-aughts. It even has a gospel sound, which she recently rediscovered in the church basements of Providence. In fact, she’s planning on moving back to Rhode Island in January. “I’ve lived everywhere,” Cummings, 29, said. “It’ll probably take a lifetime to figure out all those influences. But I found what I want right now—and sometimes what you want is to just stay home, be cozy, and drink tea.”