North Carolina-born, Atlanta-raised music-preneur PJ didn’t start singing and songwriting at birth. While she had a knack for dabbling with a note or two here and there, (especially during the Myspace era), it wasn’t until she attended college outside of Nashville, TN that she discovered there was something more to her interest in music.
Suddenly, PJ had gone from creating music as a hobby and wholly in the dark about the songwriting industry to getting a label deal with Atlantic Records via Shawn Barron – currently the VP of Urban A&R at Atlantic Records – to writing records in the studio with Usher, referring to Akon as her “big brother” and gearing up to release her second EP, Rare.
PJ opened up to The BoomBox – while grinding on a hot New York day – about her career-building path, using her music to champion the “underdog” and why her sound is so rare.
The BoomBox: Before you started singing, you were writing songs at school and eventually for artists like Meek Mill, Ty Dolla $ign and R. Kelly. When and how did you start songwriting?
PJ: I didn’t really know what songwriting was when I was in high school. I got into to songwriting first off when I went to school. When Myspace was poppin’, I started remaking songs…it’s just I like to make music. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a songwriter. It’s something that I just started doing, and then I found out that there was an industry for it.
So once you realized there was an industry for it, how did you move towards writing for big artists?
I just wanted to be an artist, first and foremost, so it’s just something that came in handy. When I met my manager, I just started working on it, and then once I got my publishing deal I started writing for people. I wrote for Meek Mill, right before he went to jail. It’s a song called, “I Don’t Know.” And then from there, I started getting things here and there.
What were you originally going to school for?
What was your long-term goal there?
I really thought I wanted to be a song plugger. which is basically another word for A&R for publishing. So you basically play and pitch songs.
We know you linked with Meek Mill, but who’s been your favorite person to write for so far?
I like everybody to be honest. I like working with Ty [Dolla $ign] – that’s the homie. I like working with Usher. We started working [together] last year. We have a song that I co-wrote with him and Future and a dude named Carlos that I’m really excited about. And the Wiz song [TK SONG HERE], I was super excited about that. And then B.o.B and Trey Songz. And Akon, he’s like my big brother.
As fans get to know you away from the songwriting, they’ll hear there’s no real category for your voice or your talent–you’re genre-bending. How are you able to develop so many different sounds?
I feel like I make a sound type for underdogs; it’s like a sound for the come up. It’s not really a genre blend for me, it’s just the message. And, I don’t think they should categorize me by how hard the bass is like this is pop or this is hip-hop. I have a lot of influences but most people are like that. Most people know who Britney Spears is; and most people know who [any popular rapper you can think of] is. That’s why my album is called Rare because you don’t really hear it anywhere else.
You’ve set yourself up pretty nicely for a career as an artist now that you’ve established yourself as a songwriter. Tell us about your new single, “Gangster.” It’s definitely a song for the underdogs.
Everyday…it’s just nobody cares how care how I feel. I’m like the good guy, and they good guy always says, “please” and “thank you,” and then people kinda play you left field. And people really push your buttons sometimes. I really wanna tell you how I feel and I really wanna react, but it’s not in my nature.
It makes sense. Do you hate being the nice guy sometimes.
Sometimes I do just because I feel like this industry is not really the best environment for nice guys. I feel like being the nice guy is like being the minority: the minority in the business is the nice guy.
Have you been able to find your balance between being the nice guy and being a gangster? Or is that something you’re still working on?
Nah, I’m still working on it. For me, pushing somebody over to get to the door is f-ed up. In this game not everybody is going to play by the same rules, and then once you understand that you’re like “Okay,” but I’m still going to be me. I was going through a time where I was kind of like, ‘Do I need to find it?’ But It’s like, nah, it’s not worth it.
Who would you say has been the best person to teach you how to walk the line?
I feel like my managers, and then Akon. Akon taught me the way that the games goes is people f-ck other people over. But if you don’t f-ck people over, you’ll be around longer. ‘Cause whenever you f-ck somebody over, you are cutting off a lane, like you can no longer go that way. But it’s like, [just] always treat people right.
Where you are now, what would you say is your long term goal for this business?
I want to be an amazing performer. And i know this is cliché, but I just want to touch people too. I just want to be an amazing entertainer, and I want to like catalog amazing songs of mine. You know how like people say, you don’t know nothing about this music, I want people to do that with my music.