ESSENCE.com’s “New and Next” column spotlights the brightest new talents we think you should know. This week we meet rising “soulful pop” singer and producer, PJ Morton.
Who is PJ Morton?
The son of gospel singer Bishop Paul S. Morton, PJ has written for gospel stars like Fred Hammond, Trin-i-tee 5:7 and DeWayne Woods. And though the church and gospel were his foundation, the New Orleans native also found inspiration in the likes of The Beatles, James Taylor and Prince. “I said I’ll write gospel music, produce it for people, but just as an artist I never felt like that was supposed to be my voice,” PJ tells ESSENCE.com. “I never wanted to limit myself to just sacred music. I always wanted to talk about other things.”
A quick Google search of PJ’s name, and you’ll see he’s been quietly building an arsenal of musical accolades. He won a Grammy for writing India.Arie’s song, “Interested,” in 2002 followed by Dove and Stellar Awards in 2008 for the song “Let Go,” performed by Woods. He has released four albums, all mixtapes, making a bit hard to call his latest offering Following My First Mind a debut, though it is the marker of his leap to the majors.
He’s also been the keyboardist and vocalist for pop band Maroon 5 for the past year. Joining the band was a calculated decision he made after so many years of being an indie artist. “As far as indie was concerned, I had kind of hit a ceiling, so the Maroon 5 call came at an amazing time in my life,” he says. The singer was also experiencing a positive “when it rains, it pours moment.” Just weeks before the call from Maroon 5, he’d met with Young Money Cash Money president, Mack Mane, to discuss joining the label. Within weeks he went from reaching a ceiling to signing with one of the top bands and one of the industry’s hottest labels.
“It’s crazy the way things went work out,” he says with hints of amazement and relief in his voice.
Following My First Mind features Maroon 5 fellow band member Adam Levine and Morton’s Young Money Cash Money label mate Lil’ Wayne. “I did a lot of jumping around on this EP letting people see every side of me because I’m new to a lot of people,” he says.
PJ is now in full Maroon 5 mode. The band’s 11th album was released June 26th amid their Latin American tour. He plans to record his solo album while on the road and release it on the Young Money imprint by the end of this year. “We definitely have our hands full, he says, “but that’s a good problem to have.”
Watch PJ’s latest video, “Don’t Break My Heart,” and let us know what you think: