PJ Morton coined the phrase “soulful pop” to describe his approach to music years ago. His explanation was as complex as it was simple. The concept of soulfulness can seamlessly span genres, yet remains tangible. By the same token, “pop” music is not genre-specific; it simply engulfs whatever is popular with a majority at a particular time. PJ’s refusal to be defined by one dimension of sound resulted in musical ingenuity. Today the keyboardist/vocalist for superstar band Maroon 5 is simultaneously the newest solo act to join Young Money Entertainment, PJ Morton found his balance, and the industry followed.
Born into the richly melodic soil of New Orleans, PJ recalls a musically inspired upbringing where his talents were eagerly nurtured. Though encompassed in a gospel environment, he was also strongly influenced by pop icons the Beatles and James Taylor, but equally moved by soulful legends Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. “The great thing about gospel is that it doesn’t sound like one thing. It crosses genres, it offered great training,” he acknowledges. These three diverse persuasions shaped PJ’s growth as a musician and propelled him to find his own artistry. Past influences are evident when he describes the dichotomy of his sound, “It’s sweet and sour. It’s chicken and waffles. It’s a hip-hop bass line meshed with symphonies of stringed instruments, synthetic sounds intermingling with real instrumentation,” he explains.
It was nothing short of kismat years later when PJ found himself juxtaposed behind the keyboards of the group that many would classify as a new millennium version of the Beatles and the burgeoning new solo act on a hip-hop imprint with a consecutive chokehold on the Billboard charts. PJ’s first musical experiment was a band entitled Freestyle Nation. Ironically the band made its debut at the same time as Maroon 5. “In Maroon 5 I witnessed that blend of soulful music with a pop/rock vibe and I remember wanting my band to be signed to the same label because it was evident they understood the sound.” Freestyle Nation went on to achieve nominal success, but PJ would be validated by the industry as a highly-celebrated songwriter/producer. After nabbing a Grammy for his songwriting and production of India Arie’s “Interested,” PJ went on to win Dove and Stellar Awards. His collaboration with gospel crooner DeWayne Woods resulted in a huge career high. The testimony PJ articulated in “Let Go, Let God,” catapulted up the charts for a record 70 weeks and garnered numerous awards and accolades, most importantly bringing PJ’s early influences full circle.
Synergy continues to connect PJ with key people that are able to offer even more diversity to his personal roster. The Grammy, Stellar and Dove Award-winning songwriter/producer caught the attention of internationally recognized, Oscar Award-winning composer AR Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire). AR tapped PJ to contribute “Sajna” to the soundtrack for the movie Couples Retreat, the Vince Vaughn comedy, further broadening PJ’s mainstream appeal.
PJ’s friendship with Adam Blackstone, Maroon 5’s music director, landed him an audition for a keyboardist/vocalist when the group was looking to expand their sound. PJ was the first to audition and left an indelible mark on the group. Days later he received word that he was the newest member of the band. Another relationship that bore fruit was a childhood friendship with Young Money Entertainment President, Mack Maine. Maine became a champion of PJ’s music at Young Money playing several tracks for Cash Money Record’s Co-CEOs Ronald “Slim” Williams and Bryan “Birdman” Williams who immediately saw PJ’s vision and insisted PJ’s version of soulful pop or ‘real music’ was a missing ingredient from the label. Months later, Young Money captain Lil Wayne heard PJ’s music and readily agreed. “I was excited from the start about the opportunity with Young Money, because they are about the only label that is about creativity and individuality. There have a star roster but every act is creatively unique. They are the only ones doing it like labels did it back in the old days when you had Marvin Gaye doing something worlds apart from Stevie Wonder, who was doing something worlds apart from Donny Hathaway, yet it was all celebrated; all successful.”
With starting positions on two championship teams and a host of awards under his belt, PJ Morton’s musical potential is limitless. PJ released his free debut solo EP entitled Following My First Mind in early 2012, which received critical acclaim and featured guest spots from Adam Levine, Lil Wayne and Jazmine Sullivan. “The title has become my personal mantra. It reminds me and every other creative soul to listen to that first instinct that comes from within. That’s where your gift lies. Don’t second guess it. It’s important to follow that voice,” PJ says. In May 2012 PJ wrapped a successful headlining Spring tour, which included a stop at NBC Studios to sit in with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On August 7th, 2012, he will release the lead single “Lover” featuring Lil Wayne via iTunes off his forthcoming full-length debut album. While he is looking forward to the eventual album release, PJ’s primary goal is and has always been to put out his music for public consumption, no matter what the form. The “soulful pop” ingénue insists his truth lies solely in being a vessel for the gift. “If I gave music away, I would be happy. I enjoy what it gives back.”