It can be a tall order for children of parents who have a level of celebrity to outpace their long shadow. There are pressures and expectations that these juggernauts’ progenies should follow in their footsteps. Add religion to the mix, and often they’re scrutinized more critically under the microscope of judgment. Or if you’re the son of Bishop Paul S. Morton, renowned pastor, and Gospel recording artist, you’ve been blessed by your father, your music is wholly spirited, and you’ve embraced the freedom to be yourself, just PJ.
As his father’s namesake, Paul Morton, Jr, or as he’s known throughout the music industry, PJ Morton, is a creative tour de force. The multi-Grammy award-winning artist has a boast-worthy resume. As a highly sought-after producer and songwriter, singer, and a member of one Pop music’s biggest group’s, Maroon 5, he remains grounded.
One can surmise that his humility is attributed to his upbringing and the musical journey that has brought him full circle. His latest album and his first Gospel music offering, the Gospel According to PJ: From the Songbook of PJ Morton, comes just in time.
“From the Gospel music I’ve worked on for others, the R&B I’ve created for myself, and the Pop music I’m involved with Maroon 5, putting together this project, the process was no different than what I’ve worked on over the years,” PJ says. “I am the same person
who’s just writing about life in its various aspects. The only difference is that we are living in a pandemic.”
Morton began his career writing Gospel songs for other artists. He shares that he often had no control over the music if the artists’ label decided to go into another direction during the creative process. He describes his latest project as an avenue to put out the songs he’s penned reimagined and to connect them to some of his favorite artists.
Expounding that the Gospel According to PJ is a project to remind those who’ve might have questioned if he’d ever pay homage to his Gospel roots, additionally, it serves as an avenue to also share his journey. Shy of an hour, the 13-track album plays like a no holds barred anthology featuring an assortment of Gospel music royalty, legends, and contemporary powerhouse talents. From Commissioned, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, the Clark Sisters, Smokie Norful, J. Moss, Kim Burrell, Le’Andria Johnson, and Yolanda Adams, the album’s pre-production began ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic and completed via video-conferenced collaborations from Morton’s New Orleans based studio.
“I was going to wait until later to release the album, but I also felt like this was the darkest time, and the music is inspiring, so I wanted to give people inspiration and encouragement,” says Morton. He gives insight on his process of matching his all-star line up to his reimagined songs: “I began with the songs first as I knew what I wanted on the project, songs that Gospel fans would remember. Initially, I thought of putting Le’Andria Johnson on the record, ‘Here He Comes Again’ but eventually went with the Clark Sisters. I also knew J. Moss would make ‘Repay You’ his own – as a producer the entire experience was a producer’s dream come true.”
Morton, a proponent of creative freedom, has released most of his albums as an independent artist. For the Gospel According to PJ, he’s partnered with Tyscot Records, the oldest existing African-American Gospel music recording label in the world.
“What I love about Tyscot is first and foremost they’re good people. Working with them has been a smooth process, and they’ve worked with me and my vision for this album. It’s been a great partnership,” says Morton. The Gospel According to PJ includes intimately beautiful moments that include interludes with his father, Bishop Morton Sr, that highlight the beauty of their relationship – you can hear the pride beam through the elder Morton’s voice speaking to the younger Morton.
A LOOK BACK
Morton is transparent, looking back at his journey. When asked if he ever felt pressure
to conform to follow in father’s footsteps, he says,” At the beginning, being that my father is who he is and as the only son named after him, yes it was a lot of pressure.”
Additionally, aside from his own internal struggles, he also had to contend with
external pressures and judgmental religious detractors. “I remember being told that I was going to lose my God-given gift, and Biblical scriptures used out of context were hurled my way,” says Morton. Crediting his father for always being supportive, he adds, “My dad always encouraged me and reminded me that God was bigger than the box people were trying to put me in.”
By his junior year at Morehouse College, Morton expanded his reach beyond the Gospel circuit by penning “Interested” a bonus track for multi-Grammy award-winning artist India.Arie’s critically acclaimed album Voyage to India. “India’s project was my first outside of Gospel and was a turning point where I felt was one of my ‘big break’ moments,” says Morton.
“I’ve had so many big break moments, honestly. From working with Stevie Wonder on my first major-label release back in 2013, winning my first Grammy award in 2019 and another in 2020 with JoJo for “Say So,” and of course, the shows I’ve played with Maroon 5 from the Oscars to the Super Bowl,” he adds.
With a bevy of achievements, Morton confesses that he doesn’t feel any pressure to replicate past success at this point in his career. Referencing to his first major-label project, New Orleans, “I was under pressure, always in my head trying to be strategic, thinking about if this song would do well at radio? Will Maroon 5 fans like that song? It was a lot.”
“When I stopped overthinking and just decided to be true to myself and after working on what I thought would be my final album, Gumbo, I found what I consider success,” adds Morton, “At this point, I’m just having fun.”
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
With his musical roots stretching from Detroit to the Big Easy, Morton’s audible aesthetic
is well-crafted and lush and embellished with live instrumentation. It’s all apart of his
signature sound. The piano is the cornerstone of his creative process. “When I get stuck,
making a beat or writing lyrics, hitting the keys on the piano always helps me to hammer out my ideas.”
Moreover, Morton stands tall alone and equally shines when sharing musical space;
from his critically acclaimed and award-winning features to past duets. On the heels of
the Gospel According to PJ, Morton joined forces with Houston rapper and social media
viral sensation Tobe Nwigwe on the Stevie Wonder-esque single “Ashamed.” The updated
version of the record was initially entitled “You Should Be Ashamed,” penned by Morton
and featured on the Empire label’s compilation album Voices for Change, Vol. 1.
“I originally penned the song in 2016 but never released it broadly. Then in light of
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the song was sadly still relevant. I’d worked with Tobe
on my Paul album, and he was familiar with the original record. He wanted to revive it
and be featured on it. Being that I am in New Orleans and Tobe’s in Houston, I headed over to Texas, and we shot the video in Tobe’s signature green room set. It all happened
organically,” says Morton.
Extending his creative reach amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Morton launched a new
digital show this year, “The Culture Trivia Show.” When asked about his motivation for
launching it, he explains, “I’d been on tour for three years, and when COVID forced us
off the road, I was burnt out. I didn’t want to make anything music-related. I welcomed the break but still needed a creative release. I saw Steph Curry was doing online interviews and was inspired.”
The 10-episode online show initially was just going to be about R&B music and then
morphed into Black trivia, admits Morton. “I never looked at myself as a host, but I had a lot of fun doing interviews. A few of my favorite guests included Dave Hollister, Rapsody and Omari Hardwick. We are looking at making it bigger when we bring it back.”
All is not lost due to the disruption that 2020 ushered in with COVID-19. Morton is enjoying time with his family in the city that he loves, New Orleans. When asked what’s next, he tells Music Industry Quarterly, “I am going to get back into being creative, music production and songwriting; less solo artist work but working on building out my studio here in New Orleans and other artists.
With plans to do a follow up on his previously released album, Christmas With PJ Morton, Morton is delivering a deluxe edition with new music and featuring singer Sheléa (Shelea Music) just in time for the 2020 holiday season.
In the words of Morton’s father, Bishop Morton, as featured on The Gospel According to
PJ’s “Dad’s Interlude: In Closing,” “…They used to call me to say, ‘Bishop Paul Morton,
[is] that your son?’ Now they say, ‘Aren’t you PJ’s dad?’
We thank God for the gift that is PJ Morton.
by Justin O. Cooper