Ella Mai is the first Brit to top the US R&B chart since 1992

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

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For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, a British singer has topped the US R&B chart.

Ella Mai, a 23-year-old from south London, is currently at number one with Boo'd Up, a soulful infatuation anthem she first released last year.

It makes her the first Brit to reach the summit since Lisa Stansfield hit number one with All Woman in 1992.

"1992, before I was born," she tweeted after being told the news. "First in my lifetime. INSANE!"

Fellow Brits Charli XCX, Paul McCartney and Kyla have recently appeared as featured artists on US R&B number ones, but Ella Mai is the first to reach the peak as a lead artist for 26 years.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Boo'd Up, which originally featured on Ella Mai's six-song Ready EP last February, has had a slow rise to the top - receiving a recent boost when Nicki Minaj and Quavo jumped on a remix.

But its success really started in San Francisco last December, when someone asked Bay Area DJ Big Von to play it in a club set.

He hadn't heard the song before, but downloaded it and cued it up. What happened next took him by surprise.

"I've never seen a reaction like this," he later told Rolling Stone. "When I played it, the whole place went, 'Woo!'

"I saw a fat dude do a cartwheel - a solid cartwheel, he didn't even fall."

The next day, Big Von played the song five times on his radio show, and it took off from there. It first reached number one in May, and returns for a second run at the top this week.

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The singer is set to release her debut album later this year

Ella Mai wasn't prepared for Boo'd Up's success, but says she understands why people latched on to it.

"It has quite nostalgic feel to it," she told The Fader. "There's no cursing, it's super innocent, and everyone's been through that puppy-love sort of thing."

However, the song, which recalls the smooth 1990s R&B of Mariah Carey, SWV and Erykah Badu, has not found similar success in the singer's home country.

It's currently at number 62 in the official charts, prompting Vice to publish an article headlined: "The UK is sleeping on Ella Mai and it's embarrassing".

"I think R&B is way bigger in America. It's not really that mainstream in the UK," the singer explained to Newsbeat last month.

"It's on the up here and I think we'll get there eventually. I'm proud to be from England and doing so well in America so I can fly the flag."

X Factor reject

Although Mai isn't a star in the UK just yet, eagle-eyed fans might recognise her as a member of girl group Arize, who auditioned for The X Factor in 2014.

After being kicked out of the competition, the band broke up and Ella Mai began posting cover versions on Instagram.

Her version of Tupac's Keep Your Head Up caught the attention of US producer DJ Mustard (Rihanna, Cardi B, Ty Dolla $ign), who signed her to his label.

Since then, she's released three EPs, toured with US R&B star Kehlani and is currently finishing her debut album.

UK fans will get to see her when she plays 1Xtra Live alongside Chance The Rapper, Jorja Smith and Pusha T at the O2 Arena in London on 22 September.

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