by Dom Jones
7th semester Mayah Dyson is already pretty well known on and off campus, due to her stint on Kelly Rowland’s “Chasing Destiny,” as well as her featured performance at this past summer’s Essence Festival in New Orleans. Though she wasn’t ultimately chosen to be a part of Rowland’s final girl group, she’s had several opportunities since then, including being chosen for Berklee’s exclusive Berklee Popular Music Institute (after which, she performed at Essence Fest), plus singing background for Solange Knowles on Saturday Night Live. She’s also been in a few Berklee videos performing her music, which you can check out on that YouTube channel. Just in time for her final few months at Berklee, Dyson has released her debut EP entitled “Elevation,” and the noise surrounding it on campus is palpable.
The first track on the EP, the title track, falls somewhere in the middle of the totem pole for songs that I dig on the project. It’s not Mayah’s best song, but it does drive home the message that I believe she’s trying to convey through the song and the EP in general. While one should always be striving for more, the last year of college is a time to emerge, a time to set one’s self up for success, a time to, well, elevate. The production on the track is solid, and the vocals sit nicely on top of it. “Don’t Cry” is one of the standout tracks, and could stand next to any of the contemporary R&B out now. The hook is what holds it up, and where both the production and Mayah shine the most. Though it’s mid-tempo, it has the most upbeat feel on the project, another reason that it stands out.
I found the 1 minute 42 second “Ready” interlude more intriguing than the full song that followed it, and kind of wish that the interlude had been turned into a full song. “Ready For You,” featuring Leroyal Smith relies a lot, in my opinion, on ethereal vocals and really tight production, but the line clichès in the songwriting are abundant, and leave much to be desired, lyrically. It sounds great, melodically, and if I weren’t paying attention to the lyrics, I might like it more, but ultimately, I find myself returning to the interlude and imagining what the rest of that track would sound like.
“No Strings Attached” dips its toe into international influence, with the cadence in the verses, and what sounds like some sort of mallet instrument in the production, but doesn’t fully go there. While there’s clearly a heavy trap influence throughout the entire EP, if this song had fully gone in that direction, who knows how much more it may have been elevated? Nonetheless, it’s a super catchy hook, and an enjoyable song overall.
The final and best song on “Elevation” features one of Mayah’s close friends, Xenia. The production is simple, but thorough and hard-hitting, and Mayah and Xenia make a great pair as song-mates. Again, it’s the hook that really holds this song high, as it really pulls the listener in, and ultimately, that’s the gold of “Elevation.” The hook game and production game is strong, so from a strategic vantage point, it’s a very strong effort. I also think that the order of songs is smart. Even the ones that I didn’t like as much as another still kept me interested enough to listen for the through line of the entire project. You know those albums where you like two or three songs, so you program your listening to only play those songs? This isn’t one of those. In Mayah’s case, the whole is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts. Each track works together to make the listener curious about Dyson’s next level.