If there were any question as to whether or not Paris Jones, otherwise known as PJ, has grown comfortable in her own skin, it would be answered simply by the way she is currently seated. With her legs crossed, both feet under her and pressed into the couch of a studio lobby, her demeanor is a cross between someone that is tired, maybe reserved, but certainly not uncomfortable. Sporting shoulder length dreads, shredded black pants, and multicolored jacket, she has made the stop to chat before rehearsal. Only days away from the debut of her LP, Rare, she is also gearing up for the road as she will be touring with K. Michelle to coincide with the album’s release.
There is a sensibility about PJ that resembles someone who is ready to take on whatever the world has to dish, as it seems she is already used to doing so. “I feel like it’s been a journey because…I just feel like an underdog,” PJ starts, while describing her fight to establish herself as an artist. “Like, even with Atlantic [Records], they didn’t really want to sign me until Interscope wanted to sign me. So, I feel like I’ve always had to do things…I’ve always gotten things the hard way. I’ve never gotten a hand out.”
Flash back to a little over three years ago. While pursuing her degree in Music Business at Middle Tennessee University, the singer/songwriter had clear goals of working in the industry, but suddenly had to adjust after not landing a coveted internship. “I was getting ready to graduate and I went to school about 30 minutes outside of Nashville, and I thought I was going to be a ‘song plugger’…the person that plays the songs for publishers. I couldn’t really get an internship and I started panicking…like, what am I gonna do?” It was at that point that PJ decided to attend an ASCAP Expo in Los Angeles, where she met some industry contacts that would eventually become her managers. After sending them numerous songs, she eventually began working with the likes of Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj, ultimately landing her biggest song, “Not For Long,” for B.O.B and Trey Songz.
“This album, I just really want it to touch people and I want them to feel like wherever you are, if they’re calling you weird, if they’re calling you different, lame, whatever it is, it’s perfectly fine.”
Though the accomplishments demonstrated progress, PJ still longed for her own career, even if it wasn’t as obvious to everyone else. “I feel like I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but I was very shy and I was kind of waiting for someone to approve me to be [one]. There was this song I called, “Make Believe” that I wrote, and I was basically just upset because I just felt like I wasn’t getting a shot. Based off [the idea that] I didn’t look like a star or I didn’t fit whatever mold they were trying to push. And it was just like, all of my anger gave me a sound, it just made it so distinct that people really couldn’t ignore it anymore.”
All of her determination has led her to the debut of “Rare,” a refreshingly positive release with songs that closely parallel PJ’s growth as an artist and as a person. The album conceptually starts off as a grandmother telling a fairytale through the series of songs to her grandkids (PJ acknowledges that she was very much inspired by Disney stories as a child). Starting with the first track “Something Special,” she immediately paints the picture of an artist that is tired of waiting for acknowledgement, and will stop at nothing to let her star shine. This notion seems to be the prevailing theme on Rare: almost every song speaks to having unshakeable faith and not conforming to meet a preconceived standard. PJ’s greatest gift on the album is her ability to convey feelings of disappointment or frustration in a way that doesn’t sound bitter or self-loathing, but rather, with hope, confidence, and optimism.
Whether describing the age old dilemma of how “nice guys finish last” on the single “Gangster,” or embracing her own quirkiness on the title track, “Rare,” PJ’s songs almost seem cathartic, as if writing those songs was an exercise in positive self-talk. While exploring the subject matter of her music, PJ alludes to battling her own self-esteem issues, and how long it has taken to get to a place of comfort. “It’s still something I’m working on, but I feel [during] my whole life, I felt like something was wrong. Whether it was my weight, or how people would tell me all the time, ‘oh, you’re weird.’ I’m proud of that now, but the upsetting thing to me is, had I known then what I know now, I could have lived my high school years happy, and not be ashamed, or depressed, or whatever it was.”
When asked what I thought of the album, I gave my personal take, and revealed that though I could never pretend to know the emotions of a 13-year-old girl struggling with being accepted or fitting in, I could imagine them listening to her music and being inspired, empowered, and confident. In closing, I asked PJ her final thoughts, and she echoed the same sentiment: “This album, I just really want it to touch people and I want them to feel like wherever you are, if they’re calling you weird, if they’re calling you different, lame, whatever it is, it’s perfectly fine. You are special…you are important.”
Words by: Mark Anthony Jenkins
Photo Credit: Connor Detko