Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Ella Mai – Shot Clock

Special prize goes to the first person to read all these blurbs in under 24 seconds…


Katherine St Asaph: I know it’s a song and not an actual ultimatum in literal reality, but repeating “you’ve got 24 seconds” throughout a 3:21 track is just silly.

Ashley John: “Shot Clock” is the newest Ella Mai single taking up prime time spots in my hip hop radio station’s evening commute mixtape, and I’ve had enough. I skip to the other stations and come back after what feels like five full minutes later and “Shot Clock” is still! on! Maybe it’s my fried brain at the end of the workday or just my natural impatience, but what should be a tasteful slow burn feels instead like an overstayed welcome. 

Thomas Inskeep: I kinda love how glacial “Shot Clock” is, not to mention how smart the “shot clock” reference is; this ’90s baby does her take on ’90s R&B proud.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Deliriously fun in Mai’s sheer control over the track — she’s in Harden-esque form, putting in a commanding performance full of the kind of high-efficiency gimmicks that I’m a sucker for. She sings! She raps! She out-Drakes Drake, managing to resurface the only useful part of “Legend” into an exultant hook. And most of all, everything here feels distinctively in her style, up to and including the weirdo spoken word outro.

Julian Axelrod: The “Legend” interpolation helps situate Ella Mai in a more contemporary context, but that song works because it knows how and when to build. “Shot Clock” is so spare that it boxes her in. Ella’s voice is incredible, which we already knew. Now she just needs a producer who know how to showcase it.

Alfred Soto: So dense is “Shot Clock” that it could have ejected the Drake sample. So present is Ella Mai that she could have sung a poignant Drake cover. Then I got it: she’s reading Drake types their rights. Twenty-four seconds to take care of their shit. Her clear, rich range suggests she’s got better places to be.

Stephen Eisermann: As if the slinky melody wasn’t evocative enough, Ella Mai sings with the passion of a woman growing impatient and really sells the story in the song. Some of the word choices are a bit clunky, but Ella Mai has exceptional phrasing and sells even the bumpiest lyrics. The song could use an additional verse or a bridge, though, as the abrupt spoken word ending is extremely jarring. 

Joshua Minsoo Kim: If You’re Reading This… marked a point in Drake’s discography that proved he was, in fact, capable of rapping competently. Whether he was clearly biting other rappers’ flows or hiring ghostwriters is beside the point: an era-defining artist had, in one fell swoop, retroactively made all his previous rapping sound like complete trash to fans who weren’t already privy to it. The commercial mixtape would lead the way for a more confident-sounding Drake, one whose culture vulture-isms and manipulative crooning could thrive in a new musical landscape filled with swaths of artists who were already biting his style. As such, the brilliance of “Shot Clock” comes in how the “Legend” interpolation is a direct and knowing glare toward the cocksure, disingenuous men who need to be knocked down several pegs. Mustard includes a sound bite featuring a typical non-excuse: “Shh, I know, I know, and I’m really trying but–“. Ella Mai rebuts with an ultimatum that she knows is far too gracious, but will help bring about the obvious end in sight. She’ll give 24 seconds, but at this point …It’s Too Late.

Iris Xie: This song is a warning to endlessly well-meaning and patient lovers: it is not a virtue to exist in purgatory for those who don’t deserve you. You too can set the timer. The first time Ella Mai sings “shot clock,” she sighs, so it almost sounds like “shattered clock.” That deft styling reveals a searing, latent bitterness that exposes a weary soul that has been devoid of comfort in the status of her relationship. There is an absolutely sublime moment when her voice sparkles and dances lightly over the melody: “better know I won’t think twice (Yeah) / Better let go of your pride”. It is so lighthearted, a final exhale before launching next into her callouts. That rage! “Five years of dating, tired of being patient/ What the fuck you’re waiting for?” is so loud, so angry; a collapse of patient decorum. It’s also revealing of how those who are socialized as women, and identify as women, are expected to sacrifice their needs at the cost of the relationship, and follow the script of “be quiet, be loyal, be compliant.” So she swirls in her power, relentless and fearless, boxing in the warped, anonymous vocals that plead and make excuses “(Shhh, I know, I know and I’m really trying, but…)”, and casts away those simpering pleads. The rhythm is splendid and patient, and she leans back on it for support as she reclaims her agency away from toxic patriarchic norms of devotion; a reassuring wave of whirrs, snaps, and cooing vocals that asserts her in the right. While listening, I give thanks to her for vocalizing these truths, and lean back into my own bitterness. I make a quiet promise, to myself, to serve the shot clock the next time I find myself in this hell. No more of this bullshit.

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2 Responses to “Ella Mai – Shot Clock”

  1. I love this song but Katherine’s and Ashley’s blurbs kill me, they are so funny!

  2. I had fun writing my blurb because I tried to make it so it took 24 seconds to read it (at least for me).

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