Blending multiple genres is a recurring theme among the artists featured on Sonic Selects. Our latest featured artist, Atlantic Records, singer-songwriter, PJ is no different.
She describes her sound as a “musical cupcake”, a hybrid of R&B, Pop, and Hip-Hop. Her musical journey began writing songs for some of the biggest artists in Hip-Hop including, Meek Mill, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco, and Ty Dolla $ign. Now she is primed to make a name for herself with the release of her new 11-track project Rare. The first single, “Gangster” (Featured on the Graffiti Sounds II Playlist) is a hard-hitting melodic song that will immediately give you a feeling of self-empowerment, a theme that can be heard throughout PJ’s growing catalog.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with PJ on the first night opening for K. Michelle on the Hello Kimberly tour to discuss the influence Disney movies had on her sound, overcoming hardships, and the creative process for her new project Rare. After seeing PJ perform live you can see an artist that truly wants to have an impact on everyone who listens to her music. The interview below will give you a deeper context into PJ’s artistry.
Sonic Selects (SS): Let’s start from the beginning, how big of a role did music play in your life growing up?
PJ: It played a huge role. My mom used to dance in the living room. I remember her blasting music super loud so you couldn’t talk, so you had to listen. My mom was young so she would listen to Lauryn Hill, Nas, 2Pac, basically whatever was on the radio.
Even though I got a guitar growing up, I never had any lessons. I would just pick it up and play it. Play a couple bad notes and put it down.
SS: When did you first discover your voice?
PJ: I always liked to sing. There was one time my mom walked in on me singing the Lion King and she wanted me to sing in front of her friends but I said, ‘no’ because I was shy growing up.
SS: What influence do the Disney Movies have on your sound?
PJ: Disney had a huge influence on me melodically and storytelling. You know Disney Movies were basically like Broadway in a cartoon. I feel like the story and fantasy type vibe from the Disney, I tried to put that on Rare as much as I could.
SS: Was there a specific moment you had that you realized you wanted to pursue music full-time? When did you decide you want to break out of being a songwriter and be your own artist?
PJ: I knew I didn’t want to work anymore after I started songwriting. I was like this is what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be my own artist because I wanted to have my own voice. Nobody can tell your story better than you. Sometimes you want to get the chance to tell the world how you saw it.
SS: When you first started songwriting, what was your source of inspiration?
PJ: I take my inspiration from my life experiences. When I’m writing sometimes, it’s the angrier side of me that comes through. It’s the “me” that I kinda keep locked away, so there’s more attitude coming through than how I am in normal life.
SS: What is the difference when you’re writing for yourself versus writing for another artist?
PJ: It was more different in the past than it is now. When I’m writing for a rapper, I write something that I normally wouldn’t say. Like for [“Bitches & Marijuana”], I would never say that because I don’t think like that. It’s like putting a mask on. Oh, I get to be a rapper or I’m a guy right now, ‘What would they say?’
I like it because I hear about guys writing for females all the time and I don’t hear it the other way around that often. It makes feel cooler that I can write for guys.
SS: Who was the first rapper you wrote for?
PJ: The first song was for Meek Mill. The song was called “I Don’t Know” with Paloma Ford and the second song I wrote was about three months later for Wiz Khalifa called “True Colors” featuring Nicki Minaj.
SS: There’s a favorite song of my that you wrote the hook for by B.o.B. and Trey Songs, called “Not for Long”. Can you talk about how you wrote that record?
Well my boyfriend and me had got into an argument. This was before we were boyfriend and girlfriend. I was super upset because we were basically together but he was acting like we weren’t for some reason.
I was in the studio for eight hours and beat was last one they played. I went in, recorded and “You will be mine // Not for long” just came out.
SS: You’ve working with a Sonic Selects favorite, Ty Dolla $ign on his album Free TC and he’s featured on your new album. How is working with him?
PJ: He is crazy talented. I feel like people don’t even know how talented he is. You just need to sit down and watch him. He can play bass, he can play anything and just go off. It’s cool working with someone like that because every time you work with him you learn something.
SS: What was your creative process for Rare? How did you go about choosing the beats?
PJ: There are only three beats that were made before I started working on the project. The rest of the beat were made from scratch. I love making songs from scratch because it’s like no one else can have it. We built off emotions.
When I first heard the beat for “Always Wanted”, I think it was a beat produced by Jake One, it was a beat that was meant for Lupe [Fiasco], they just had it in the hard drives for Lupe and there was just something about it. It took me an hour or two to write it.
SS: Going back to your EP Walking Around Pools, you were going through some hardships. Can you describe what you were going through?
PJ: Yes, very much so. I was working as a bagger at Ralph’s [Grocery Store]. I was super disappointed with the whole situation because I moved to LA and all my dreams were supposed to come true and things weren’t working.
SS: When did things start to turn around for you?
PJ: Things started to turn around when I started talking about getting a deal with Atlantic. Even though I was writing, I was still waiting for other people to approve of me being an artist.
It started to turn around for me when I told myself just to go for it. That’s the meaning behind the song “Nickels and Dimes”.
SS: The beat for “Nickel and Dimes” crazy too!
PJ: That was a beat originally meant for Lupe too. I wrote the hook for it and it just never made his album. So I took it and just wrote verses to it.
When I’m making a song, it’s kinda like freestyling. I go in the booth and close my eyes and stuff just comes out. There are other times where I write it down but for most of the time, it’s freestyling.
SS: What do you do when you get a creative block? Do you listen to anything different?
PJ: When I have a mental block, I try to listen to things that I do like. When I was working on Rare, there would be some days when I listen to John Mayer, Born & Raised, other days it’s the Goofy Movie. It’s really random. Whatever at the time that makes me feel good. Sampha’s “Indecision” is also amazing.
SS: You’ve lived in two major cities for music, LA, and Nashville. How have both environments influenced you musically?
PJ: Both have influenced me a lot, especially Nashville. I feel like I wouldn’t write the way I do write if I didn’t live in Nashville. I remember seeing Jeff Steele, he performed a song that he wrote for Rascal Flatts that was crazy. Chris Stapleton came to my writing class before he blew up too. The whole song writing culture in Nashville is amazing to me.
SS: Do you feel like you’ve learned something from every artist you’ve worked with?
PJ: Yeah, I think I do that with everybody. When I went to Sweden to work with Akon on his album. Working with the writers and producers there, Max Martin, who did all of Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys, you know, albums I had, so it was crazy going over and seeing the Millennium album.
They focus on the melody. They don’t do anything except the melody first. There will be no lyrics at all and they’ll record it and plug in the words afterwards. That was very interesting.
It’s art. You’re gonna learn something different from everybody. Making sure you’re learning from different people is going to help your sound progress.
The whole thing with Rare it’s in the middle of Pop, R&B, and Hip-Hop. Pop and Hip-Hop are very close to my heart so I think it’s unfair to choose one or the other.
I feel like every project I want to do a better job at blending genres together.
SS: Finally, someone hearing you for the first time, how would you describe your sound?
PJ: A musical cupcake of everything I like. R&B, Hip-Hop, storytelling. I’m a little random. I’m Rare. I’m a hybrid. I’m just PJ.