Originals

Muni Long Was a Pop Songwriter – Then She Bet on Herself as a Solo R&B Act

“We’ve seen viral moments where the song is huge for a couple of weeks and then it disappears, this is different in that, people are feeling like it’s a resurgence of R&B, and because it’s the R&B that everybody has been missing,” Muni Long said about her viral hit “Hrs and Hrs.”

After two years at Capitol Records, singer Muni Long realized her shelf life was expiring. Under the moniker Priscilla Renea, she went from recording YouTube videos in her mother’s living room that would go viral to doing radio promo tours. “I was just existing,” she said. “I got signed in 2008 and by 2010 I realized I’m only going to have one song and one album. They’re not really paying attention to me.”

So she decided to pivot. She started doing more songwriting, penning songs for acts like Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and Ariana Grande. Originally from Gifford, Florida — a small town near Vero Beach — Long admits her Southern upbringing provided barriers throughout her career. She often felt she shrunk into the background during writing sessions.

But even with these insecurities, she continued juggling songwriting with working on her own music. She felt an urge to bet on herself during a studio songwriting session in 2019 with Ariana while she was also carving out her solo project Black Like This. “I had ended up putting some of [my] melodies and rhythms in her songs,” she said. From then on she understood that she had enough of putting energy and effort solely into projects that weren’t hers. “I just was over it.”

So, in 2020, Muni Long was born. And this began a new chapter in her life. And one of the biggest changes is the platforms she’s embracing. 

During the early years of her career, she utilized YouTube as a platform to reach her fans. Now, as the founder of the independent label Supergiant Records, she interacts with her fans mostly on TikTok, a platform she feels has helped her grow her fanbase. She has a tone of genuineness when she speaks of interacting with her followers individually on TikTok, she believes it’s easy to respond quickly to others within the platform. Long adds the algorithm allows for trending videos to spread across communities. 

It’s clear her interactions with her fans have paid off. The single “Hrs and Hrs”, off of her 2021 EP Public Displays of Affection, has taken off. It’s a sultry R&B track that became a hit due to TikTok users, you can now listen to the song on the charts of Spotify, Apple, and more. Muni’s first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 came a few weeks ago, this was no small feat. 

We recently caught up with Muni Long to talk about her background as a songwriter, her success on TikTok, working on “Hrs and Hrs” and more. 

Can you walk me through the idea of pivoting from writing for other artists to really centering yourself and your work?

Muni Long: I think a lot of times there might be a little bit of a negative connotation like, “I’ve been treated poorly.” Songwriters don’t get treated fairly at all, but I think then the simple answer for me was that, “I just was over it.” I wanted to say what I wanted to say and express the way I wanted to express, so I was like, “Yeah, you know what? I’m done right now.” And when I feel like going back, if I ever do, it’s got to be fun again because it did start to feel a little bit like work.

Why did you change your name to Muni Long?

I think it’s just like when people feel like they know you already. You go back home from wherever you’ve gone off to as an adult, you come home and those people want to sort of remind you of who you used to be. That can be frustrating just even on a human level. So especially as an artist, when you want to present in a new way. I knew that I wanted to have a fair chance with no resistance or as little resistance as possible for my music. I wanted to make this music and have people listen to it first without judgment.

What was it like working on “Hrs and Hrs”?

I wrote the song in my kitchen, I was washing dishes and I was trying to pass time. So I played some beats and that was the third one I found on YouTube. And I just immediately started freestyling. In about 20 minutes I had the song, and then a couple [of] days later I booked the studio, went in there, and laid down the demo.

[‘Hrs and Hrs’] wasn’t going to go on the project, I didn’t think that it really fit. And then at the last minute, I was like, “You know what, I think I want to go and cut this with [Kuk Harrell.]” So, we set up the day and we go in, and he really was like, “Let’s just sing it softer. What you’re singing about is very sexy, so let’s just clean up your performance there.” And he just really let me do me, but he just kind of drew the boundary and helped me stay inside of it.

Did you have any idea that this song was going to become a social media phenomenon?

No. I mean, I still probably don’t even really have a good gauge on just how impactful the song is. Although it’s very interesting to me, I’m looking at this from more like an analytical, like observational perspective like, “Wow, little kids love it, grown folks love it, old folks love it.” It’s not just one demographic like, “Black people love it.” It’s crossing over. I mean, if you go look at my story today, people from Russia, different parts of Asia, people don’t even speak English and they’re singing the song and I’m just like, “Wow.” It’s really just amazing to watch. 

@munilong

This is why I wrote Hrs and Hrs 🥺🤍 love is so beautiful @BRE-Z #HrsandHrsChallenge #fyp #relationships #hrsandhrs #foryoupage #givingszn

♬ Hrs and Hrs – Muni Long

In your own words, how did “Hrs and Hrs” start blowing up on TikTok?

With “Hrs and Hrs,” the people just decided, “This is the song, we like this one.” I saw the transition. So it started off with my friend Bre-Z and her wife. Bre-Z plays Cooper on All American. And I’ve been friends with her for some years now. Her wife actually did my makeup for the album cover for Public Display of Affection. They were supposed to come to the album release party and they couldn’t make it because she was filming something.

She listened to it the next day on live on Instagram, and they loved “Hrs and Hrs” so much that the next day they made a video, I think it was Chris, Bre-Z’s wife, posted a video of them. It was original, the first “Hrs and Hrs” challenge, but it wasn’t a challenge, it was them just kind of sharing their intimate moments as a couple. So I posted it on my page and everybody thought it was me, they thought it was that I was Chris.

But apparently, lesbian TikTok just decided that I was [a] lesbian, I was one of them, and they embraced it and started making their own videos [and]  they made it a challenge. They turned it into the “Hrs and Hrs” challenge, but because they thought it said, “Hers and Hers.” So that’s how it started, it just sort of kept morphing into other things.

How did it feel when you saw this snowball effect with this specific song?

There was a sense of expectation throughout my team is that we knew the quality of work. This is just the song that bursts the door wide open, but I know that I put out two quality projects before this one. And this project, I’m really proud of from top to bottom, everything is just really well done. The songs are all amazing, the production is all incredible, the tracklisting, I really worked on making sure that you would listen from start to finish without skipping.

We’ve seen viral moments where the song is huge for a couple of weeks and then it disappears, this is different in that, people are feeling like it’s a resurgence of R&B, and because it’s the R&B that everybody has been missing. For the last few years people keep saying, “R&B is dead. It’s not the same.” They’ve been listening to nothing but ’90s R&B. I think “Hrs and Hrs” sort of bridges the gap between yesterday and today.

Robyn Mowatt

Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind on Twitter at @robyn_mowatt.

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