After a hot summer’s day and a quick nine holes of disc golf I was given the opportunity to speak with Paris Jones, who you might know better as PJ. The Atlantic Records artist was given her start as a songwriter and has contributed to the work of artists like Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill, Usher and R. Kelly to name a few. Our call was pleasant as PJ came off honest, smart, and charming while on the road from Detroit as she and her crew headed towards Nashville for the next stop on her tour with with K. Michelle. Her debut album Rare was released on July 15th and welcomed in a warm reception from fans. Rare is basked in a Lauryn Hill-esque vibe, summer in a bottle, and a fairytale.
PJ has been enjoying the response from fans on tour so far. “It seems like everybody likes it. Most of the songs people like are the ones I liked from the beginning so that’s exciting.” While still adjusting to tour life, PJ has enjoyed every bit of traveling with K. Michelle. “It’s been great. She’s super dope, super warm and supportive. I’m just getting used to the sleep schedule thing. Other than that I like it more than regular life for sure.” Even when she finishes her set, PJ still likes to try and interact with fans. “After I get done performing I like to walk around the crowd a little bit and try to meet people. They’re really the only thing that matters.”
The album has a fairytale-bedtime story concept that reminded me a lot of Nicki Minaj’s intro on Kanye West’s “Dark Fantasy” off of MBDTF, except with far more positivity and joy. PJ was able to make a special connection that helped form her artistic vision. “When I got the art from Killamari and saw how cool I looked, and animated, I was like man this could be a story or its own comic book thing. I really wanted to make a story so I took a lot from the artwork Killamari made so it definitely helped.” PJ actually stumbled upon Killamari while randomly browsing through Instagram, and once he caught her eye she went through his whole page liking pictures then proceeded to hit him up. The cover really captures the character of Rare and PJ herself. It’s almost as if the pairing was destiny.
Putting out an album is no easy task. It takes a lot of work, and so many people will judge it. PJ got very personal on her big debut which she admits she had a few nerves before releasing. “I actually did. Right before the album came out I was being told that like only two of the song were hard. So it’s crazy to put it out and see that I wasn’t completely out of my mind and that the songs I liked were the good ones. I was super nervous before but I’m pretty excited now.” As an artist you try to express yourself through the music while still leaving it relatable for the listener. PJ understands this natural harmony. “With art you’re writing about your experiences; exposing your life story or whatever. It kind of goes hand in hand. I don’t think you can have art without expression.”
Writing and recording Rare was an eight month long process. PJ describes her studio sessions as “chill” and pretty “lowkey” with not a whole lot of traffic coming in and out. For the most part she keeps it at herself and the producers, with her manager coming by every now and then. As far as influence goes, she takes a lot of inspiration from Kanye West’s early albums where what he was coming out with juxtaposed the popular gangster rap of the time. PJ’s favorite cut off the album happens to be what the album is named after, and the very first track she wrote for the project, “Rare.” This track is what initially helped form the album the way it is now. “It gave me the title for everything. It was like the kickoff for the whole album.” Taking the time to listen to “Rare” is quite a treat, as its beauty and stillness portrays the essence of the album in under four minutes.
When I listen to Rare, for me, it expresses a freedom for not just female artists, but women in every aspect of life. This seems to be a subconscious effect of the album. “I’m glad it is, I wasn’t just trying to empower females in general, I was just telling my story. At the same time people go through the same things; female or male. I guess there’s a certain thing I’m trying to prove. I don’t look like everybody else and I’m okay with that. Whether or not it’s mainstream, my music is the thing that should matter.” While she wasn’t intending Rare to come off this way, PJ is happy it did. “It’s such a universal feeling. I think it applies to different people.”
As an artist on the verge of hitting her big breakthrough, PJ knows what it takes to try and become the artist you want to be. “Find out what your sound is above everything. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just do you and stick to your gut. The only thing you can really control is what you create. You can’t control the BS around what you create, but you can control the song that you wrote.” Even as she states how finding your sound is crucial, PJ herself is always evolving and trying to break out of boxes. “I’m still figuring it out to be honest. It’s kind of annoying cause I’m not trying to write pop, I’m not trying to write R&B or whatever. I just take whatever comes out that day. I love R&B, but no matter what I make I’m always gonna be categorized as R&B, which is dope but that’s not everything. That’s just a piece of it. I have songs that are like full-on pop ballads but I can’t really release them.” For some this can be frustrating, but PJ is rolling with the punches. “I’m fine with it. I don’t even care what they call it. I don’t care that they call me R&B soul, I don’t care what they call my album. It doesn’t bother me.”
PJ embraces her individuality and stays true to that on the album. However, The concept of being “rare” isn’t only for PJ. She wants everyone to realize what they have inside themselves. “Being yourself. Owning up to the things that make you different. Understanding the things [about yourself] that other people don’t, aren’t really flaws at all. It’s just you.”
Stream PJ’s album Rare below and stay tuned to True Too for all things hip-hop.