For the past few years, singer-songwriter PJ, also known as Paris Alexandria Jones, has been on a tear of re-awakening. Whether it has been putting in studio time with Ty Dolla $ign or Fantasia, or helping legendary rapper Common get his “Love Star” on for Black America Again, PJ’s star continues rise while she remains true to her artistry.

“Black love means a lot to me,” the Los Angeles-based creative tells ESSENCE via e-mail. “I feel like it is important to have someone that you can relate to in all categories,[who] understands what we’ve gone through and face every day being Black. I feel that Black love is powerful.”

Songs like “One Missed Call” and “I’m Forreal” highlight just how love has called upon PJ to remain true to her purpose as a genre-bending talent. “I learned a lot from Common, but what I learned most from him is to remain positive and speak what you want into existence,” she shares. “Focus on aligning yourself with people and things that align with what you want out of life.”

With this week’s theme focusing on the power of Black love, PJ didn’t just share a few songs with us, she also imparted a few sentiments about the L-word. “The advice I would give anyone is to always be your true self at all times, don’t care about other people’s opinions, and forget them haters,”

If you have no hangups about embracing who you are, then this edition of The Playlist is just the form of expression you need.

1. D’Angelo — “How Does It Feel” (Untitled)

Up first from the wonderfully charismatic PJ is a selection that is emboldened by his recentVerzuz appearance.

“[D’Angelo’s ‘How Does It Feel’] is a top ten song for me. He is the epitome of smooth,” PJ confesses about the R&B/Soul icon. There is no better way to say “slow dance and cuddle sesh” than by playing the grooves created by this man.

2. Jon Batiste — “CRY”

“Who do you love when push comes to shove?” Grammy nominated musician and activist Jon Batiste asks this poignant question on his latest cut, “CRY,” which expresses the pain and uncertainty that comes with fighting for equality. As a fellow child of the struggle, Batiste’s lyrics zone in on the much-needed reclaiming of Black love we’ve expressed for generations in creating sounds from of our musical tradition.

3. Whitney Houston — “Exhale”

“Whitney is an undisputed legend,” PJ says. “‘Exhale’ is my favorite song by her and Babyface.” This pick, which originally appears on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, is one to keep in rotation no matter the time or place. “The movie, to me, is all about Black love of self, which is still Black love overall, and will always be recommended by me.”

4. Elhae — “Separated”

Following in line with PJ’s Whitney vibes, this new number by North Dakota-born and Georgia-raised Elhae is another look at Black love that cannot be ignored. Trying to hold on to a particular union might be tough, especially during a panorama (pandemic), but this song highlights the reality that sometimes it’s better for both lovers to be apart. It is a raw and emotionally dynamic song which Elhae makes painfully clear with his vivid vocals.

5. Brent Faiyaz — “F*ck The World”

There are many levels of Black love, but what doesn’t get addressed much is the level of “no consequences” that exists. No one does that better than the Maryland crooner and architect behind many dope R&B vibes, Brent Faiyaz. “On [‘F*ck The World’], Faiyaz is — how can I say this? Hmm, well, what I can say is that you gotta have a certain dash of toxicity [laughs],” PJ confesses. If you listen to the dreamy soul stylings of Brent long enough, you realize that even in love you have to keep your heart on a swivel.

6. Mahalia — “Jealous” (ft. Rico Nasty)

Women everywhere are tired of people telling them how to speak for themselves and what they want. Thankfully, Mahalia and Rico Nasty aren’t the ones to bring that bull malarkey. On “Jealous,” a head-bop-inducing track produced by Cadenza and Miraa May, they both challenge the idea of what love and support looks like. It is an exciting cut that promises big things to come from the Leicestershire lyricist. Add it to your rotation quick, fast, and in a hurry.

7. Jazmin Sullivan — “Girl Like Me” (ft. H.E.R.)

For the record, Jazmine and H.E.R. need to come out with an album full of bangers together — ASAP! “I resonate with this song,” PJ says about “Girl Like Me,” a standout track from Heaux Tales (arguably one of the best records of 2021 so far). “The hoes are definitely winning [out here] and I still don’t understand [why]? What H.E.R. and Jaz did vocally on here was fire, and every time they sing it it’s dope. This song feels like a hug to me.”

8. Joyce Wrice & Lucky Daye — “Falling In Love”

Getting into the groove of a new relationship and enjoying the ride is an appreciated wave, if I must say. For my second-to-last pick, this is another goodie from friends-in-my-mind Joyce Wrice and Lucky Daye. This velvety duet called “Falling In Love” was originally written with Mary J. Blige in mind, but appears on both Table For Two and Wrice’s new album, Overgrown.

9. SZA — “Good Days”

The B-side to SZA’s “Hit Different” follows suit as PJ’s last pick for The Playlist. “She always comes through with the honesty,” explains PJ. “Good Days” is exactly what Dr. SZA prescribes for those chasing summer, i.e. looking forward to the future instead of staying stuck in negativity. Like Sister Solana, JustPeej is also focused on shining a light on love in her own unique way. If their work isn’t being shared with others in need, can you really say that you practice self-love?

10. Kem — “Live Out Your Love”

In ultra-romantic, “For Lover’s Only,” play this record when the house is empty-type vibes, Kem’s latest single promises big surprises in the song and in your own love life. Re-discover the gift of what it means to express your perspective of amoré alongside Kem’s classic coos and clever lines. As someone who still believes in Black love, “Live Out Your Love” is an uplifting number to play for that special someone who makes your heart dance.

Catch new editions of ESSENCE’s The Playlist on Fridays and follow us @ESSENCE and @KevitoClark on socials to stay in tune with us online.


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