The Heart of a Songwriter: PartyNextDoor
The OVO singer/songwriter should one day be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame
This week, Berry Gordy, Jay Z, and James “Jimmy Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They will join immortals such as Little Richard, Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Dolly Parton, Nile Rodgers, Jerry Garcia, Marvin Gaye, Cyndi Lauper and more. This week The Undefeated celebrates future Songwriters Hall of Famers — the ones who make the whole world sing and bop, and even milly rock.
Room full of beautiful women, but I want one/ Room full of women and they notice me/ Now all they wanna listen to is Jodeci
— PartyNextDoor from “Freak In You”
PartyNextDoor turns 24 next month. And despite an ever-evolving catalog of hit records, he maintains a semblance of anonymity in a genre where very little is secret. But the young Mississauga, Ontario, native already boasts songwriting credits with two of the biggest pop stars in the world: Rihanna and Beyoncé. The towering responsibility of penning lyrics, which almost immediately become worldwide calling cards, for the biggest names in music isn’t so much a challenge for the former church choirboy as an escape. “It’s the same process [as when I write for myself],” he said, “but I can go into imagination with other people. You know, go into a different bag.”
Born Jahron Brathwaite, OVO’s enigmatic pen has secured writing credits on Rihanna’s magnum opus, Anti — in particular, last year’s smash “Sex With Me” and the No. 1 pop hit “Work” featuring OVO honcho Drake. And moments after the conclusion of the 2017 Grammys, DJ Khaled unleashed the first of what should be a string of massive hits from Beyoncé and Jay Z with their “Shining”; PND wrote for Beyoncé on the track: Money don’t make me happy/ And a fella can’t make me fancy/ We smilin’ for a whole ’nother reason/ It’s all smiles through all four seasons. PartyNextDoor has also already established himself as a solo artist in his own right. He released his third full studio album, P3, last summer, led by the hit singles “Not Nice” and “Come and See Me.”
It’s said solo work that requires a different level of self-realization. A level he wasn’t always totally comfortable with. Credit marijuana for the breakthrough. “I was so against smoking weed ’cause I always wanted to be in control, but my friend convinced me to smoke weed one day,” he told The FADER in 2015. “And as soon as I smoked weed, that’s when I started writing like that.”
Writing like what? Writing like what you would say in a DM and you knew no one was ever going to take a screen shot. It’s PND’s desire to tell truths that led him to release his recent five-song Colours 2 EP. Recorded entirely over production from longtime collaborator G.Ry (who also scored production credits on Drake’s More Life), the project sticks to the script of Party’s vibe. It’s mysterious, yet honest in its intentions. It’s melodic, yet enigmatic to the point where Party’s fantasy could be just that — or reflections of an idea simply yet to become reality. And his music is sexual — yet vulnerable. No record on the project encompasses the ROYGBIV spectrum of emotions than the subtle cover of Jodeci’s 1995 ode, “Freek’n You.”
His version is called “Freak In You” and is more of a question than action. Room full of beautiful women, but I want one/ Room full of women and they notice me/ Now all they wanna do is listen to Jodeci. It’s this type of moody ambiance that defines OVO’s most sluggish yet savagely romantic records, so many of which flow from the pen of PND. Old-fashioned ideas of “love” aren’t the driving emotions. Love is often a revolving door at October’s Very Own. Love is the desire for companionship, however temporary. This is your time, PND croons, I need to know if you’re down/ ‘Cause if not, I know there’s more around. Reality.
Much of the allure from the songwriter arises from the picturesque yet flexible vibe his music emits. “Freak” plays on words — If you want it/ Burnin’ rubber (skrrt)/ Burnin’ through these rubbers is exhausting/ Drop, drop, hot/ Baby girl, it’s Crossfit. But the lyrics are also clear in their intentions, a characteristic that came to define Jodeci’s music, a la 1991’s “Come and Talk To Me” and 1993’s “Feenin’ ” — Ain’t no peer pressure, sings PND. Girl, it’s what you wanna do/ So what kind of mood you in?/ You know what I wanna do/ You see what I see.
“Freak In You” falls in line with erotic PND songs such as “Persian Rugs,” “Break From Toronto” and “Recognize.” It’s easy to imagine lips touching lips. G.Ry’s dark yet carnal backdrop makes it easy to imagine the daylong text sessions leading up to the night’s main event. And it’s easy to understand why so many of his songs aren’t safe for work. So pretty, girl, you belong in a gallery / What’s your fantasy? (Your fantasy?) / Say something you ain’t never did (ain’t never did). What PartyNextDoor is trying to do is be the soundtrack for our memories. Even if you can never speak on them.