Okayplayer spoke with singer PJ about her hiatus from making music, her roots in North Carolina, and her forthcoming EP.
Twenty-nine-year-old singer PJ grew up in Atlanta listening to hip-hop artists like Young Jeezy and T.I. She believes the distinct styles of these rappers were instrumental in the creation of her sound which is a mixture of R&B, hints of soul, and a dash of no bullshit. “I like talking shit,” PJ said. “And I feel like that comes from listening to rap music.”
PJ, whose birth name is Paris Jones, started her long journey in the music industry roughly six years ago. She attended Middle Tennessee State University. Equipped with ambitions to be a songwriter she studied music business rather than pursuing a solo career. During this time, while attending a songwriter’s convention, she connected with a manager and then started working at Nashville studios. She later attempted to sign publishing deals, which eventually went sour. She later signed to BMG and moved to L.A.
At this point, PJ was consistently writing yet none of her songs were getting placements. A year and a half went by with no placements, and she was feeling disappointed. Her advancement would dry up before she wrote a hook for Meek Mill’s 2014 single “I Don’t Know.” This led to her securing a deal with Atlantic Records where she went on to contribute to singles for artists like Fantasia, B.O.B. and Wiz Khalifa.
In 2015 she decided to head to a studio for herself which led to the creation of Walking Around Pools, an R&B and pop-inspired EP. One track, “Nickels & Dimes,” alludes to the fact that things don’t always pan out how we’d like them to, but sticking true to your inner compass is important. Another song that speaks to PJ’s come-up story is “These Lines;” the lyrics point to crossing boundaries and pushing past preconceived notions.
Rare, another EP, which dropped in 2016, continues PJ’s artistry. With tracks like “Gangster,” “Can’t Stop,” and “Benjamin” she made it clear that she would continue writing songs millennials can relate to. Her tracks on Rare are mainly about working hard and the bifurcated feelings that come with non-stop hustling. The sound of this project is experimental, but it also captures the authenticity of PJ. Rare emphasizes how eager she was for success during this period of her life.
This year, after taking a bit of a hiatus, PJ unveiled two new singles: “One Missed Call” and “My Best Life.” The former is a break-up song with an easygoing chorus. It tells a story of knowing your beau is doing you wrong, but you keep calling because that’s what you’re used to doing. “My Best Life” is a triumphant track about powering through what life throws your way no matter what. This single also touches on her losing friends and overcoming issues over time.
Speaking on her hiatus from music, she shared: “I focused on my songwriting during that time and wrote songs for Usher, Charlie Puth, Fantasia, and others. It gave me the time to become more sure of myself and be more honest in my writing. Even though I was writing for other artists, I looked at it as my downtime and it gave me the chance to learn a lot about life.”
PJ is currently putting the finishing touches on an upcoming project. The project, which is currently untitled, will dig deeper into her creative journey and relationships. She expands by sharing that the EP will come with a few features that she’d like to keep a surprise.
Ahead of the release of her new EP we were able to chat with PJ about her origins in the music industry, her time as a songwriter and more. We are also premiering her new single “Run For Your Money. ” Listen to it below.
How exactly did you get your start in the music industry?
I was a songwriter first so I was writing hooks and stuff for rappers actually. Even though I was a female songwriter, I didn’t really get a lot of [singing] songs, everything was hooks. My first placement was Meek Mill, it was a song called “I Don’t Know.”
Can you touch on your journey as a songwriter?
I definitely feel like it wasn’t a tough transition, but [there were] a lot of ups and downs. Because once you put a product into the world [people] are like ‘oh this is what this product is known for.’ So I tried to put a new filter on it, like I’m not just a writer. It’s interesting because the industry knows me as a writer but the world is still getting to know me.
Your current sound is a bit of a twist on R&B, how did you define yourself?
I feel like my sound is influenced by pop, folk and country. The thing is when you’re black you’re always categorized as R&B no matter what. I feel like [my sound] is alternative. The roots of black music as a whole defines pop music in general. They place boxes around the original creators of the space. [My music] is like a cupcake of a lot of different things, a musical cupcake. But it’s “come up” music at the end of the day, I make a lot of stuff about inspiration and pushing yourself. “One Missed Call” is probably the most relationship-focused song that I’ve ever put out. Everything else has been about grinding.
Is there a story behind your last single “My Best Life?”
Yeah, we were in Miami, we did a bunch of other stuff like “One Missed Call” and I heard the beat and it was super fun. The song is really about me wanting to know where I’m going and giving myself credit because I feel like people don’t give themselves enough credit to be where they are currently. [The song] is about understanding that you have flaws and embracing the fact that you’re not perfect. I pretty much freestyled the first verse. I closed my eyes and kind of freestyled with a rapper’s approach.
Can you speak a bit about the video and the overall theme of it?
I’m getting into directing a little bit. I had a treatment and I was in an orchestra too. I wanted to play with the contrast of life having both dark and light moments with the silhouettes. I really thought it was important to have a black female orchestra because I’d never seen that. I feel like it’s important for the world to see black people in things that aren’t really traditional but I know so many black people that were in orchestras.
What are your biggest inspirations that you look to when you’re in the studio?
I still listen to Kanye [West], like College Dropout and Late Registration. I love John Mayer and I love Mary J. Blige, too. I’m [also] inspired by where I want to go in the future I want my project to be the best project. I’m a writer too and sometimes writers feel like they can create an entire thing themselves but I’m opening myself up to collaborating with other people because I want different types of vibes. Some of my favorite artists, either they didn’t write [songs] or they collaborated with other people but the songs are amazing.
How do North Carolina and Atlanta influence your music and overall sound?
I moved from North Carolina when I was like 13, [People tell me] a lot of times I sound like Fantasia in different songs. She’s from High Point and I’m from Greensboro which is literally 15 minutes apart. I think every location has its own coordinates of soul in a way. In Atlanta, I grew up listening to hip-hop like Young Jeezy and T.I., I missed the TLC moment and all that. I feel like that’s where the aggressiveness in me [comes from] and it’s really cool because T.I. is also signed to Atlantic.
Do you feel as though Atlanta and the South are experiencing a moment right now in the entertainment industry?
I feel as though the South is the epicenter of everything, the culture is embedded there.[Also] when you have such a concentration of black people, and the culture and entrepreneurs it’s going to explode. The ecosystem is good there, there’s so many ideas floating around. Just like OutKast said back in the day, “The South got something to say.” I think everyone is looking at Atlanta. Look at the Migos and LVRN. I feel like everyone is paying attention, especially executives are looking at Atlanta. When you let the culture have a hand in marketing things it’s just always going to be different.
In your upcoming project, what type of sound can fans expect to hear?
I’m working on it, putting some finishing touches on it, and I’m hoping it’ll be out during this [latter] part of the year. It’s going to be more “come-up” music and it’s definitely going to be about my journey and relationships. I have some features and I’d rather them be a surprise. The last time I put out a project was  so I’m just trying to make it the best thing possible, it’s already fire. It’s probably going to be an EP that will sound like an album.
Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind @robyn_mowatt.