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Soul music has been the foundation for so many different genres of music for years and one of today’s most talented R&B voices is bringing some musical flavor to 2017 with his latest project.

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Teetering between the vibes of a modern-day Stevie Wonder and a unique sound all his own, 2017 ESSENCE Festival performer PJ Morton’s latest effort takes listeners on a journey through the highs of love, the complexities of self-discovery and the moments of unwavering strength that exudes from our communities even in the toughest of times.

Appropriately titled Gumbo, PJ’s profound ear for music combines variations of soul, funk and jazz to make the album a body of work from beginning to end.

“I’ve always listened to a lot and my world has kind of brought me to a lot of different places,” PJ told ESSENCE of the history behind his eclectic musical taste.  “I’m a preacher’s kid, I was born in church and I learned how to play and sing and everything in church. Then, I was a church kid who wanted to write R&B songs, so I moved to Atlanta for school and eventually linked up with a lot of Atlanta producers and started doing R&B music when I was in college at Morehouse.” 

While he’s found solace, success and even a certain level of comfort in penning songs about love and relationships, the NOLA native welcomed the opportunity to explore more socially conscious topics that reflect the state of today’s society with Gumbo.

Prior to my new album, my work has heavily been on love and relationships. But this time around, I was feeling guilty just writing about those topics when there’s so much going on,” PJ says. “It’s cool to write a love song but it’s even better to write a song like “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” which is empowering and letting people know that things are going to get better even in the midst of all of this.

Even a song like “Claustrophobic,” which is advocating for the creative freedom of artists. The reason that I called the album Gumbo is, number one, it’s first one I made at home in New orleans, but also because there’s so many different subject matters. For me, that was me being “woke.” I didn’t want to just do something that’s commercially acceptable. Of course I want it to sell but more importantly, I want people to know that there’s a difference between entertainment and art. Entertainment is what you want but, sometimes, art is what you need.”

An established musician and songwriter years before he went solo, PJ’s current resume is a mile long and includes names everyone from Maroon 5, to India.Arie, to Jermaine Dupri, to Lil Wayne.

“My first placement was actually on India.Arie’s second album, where I wrote this song called “Interested” during my junior year of college,” he says. “After that I graduated Morehouse, I went on tour with [Erykah] Badu for a while and then I started working for Jermaine Dupri, which was a whole different world. Then, I started my solo stuff. I was influenced by like James Taylor as much as I was influenced by Stevie Wonder and then of course, I ended up joining Maroon 5. They’re pop but, they’re soulful at the same time and I’m a soulful dude who had pop sensibilities so, we found some common ground in the middle.” 

Though he’s no stranger to the ESSENCE Festival stage, PJ says the experience of performing at the Festival for the first time since he’s moved back home to New Orleans is sure to be one of a kind.

“This is my first time doing the Festival at a time when I live in New Orleans. I grew up going to the Festival as a teenager. So, I’m coming the ESSENCE as someone who has been a fan of it for years. Of course, I’ve performed there before but now…..that’s my home, my town. It’s just always a good time with beautiful people coming to town ready to hear music.”

Be sure to grab your tickets to see PJ Morton light up the state, alongside more of the biggest names in music, at the 2017 ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans this July!