PJ Morton is Enjoying The Ride: From Making History With Disney to Africa’s Impact on New Album

As history repeats itself, so does PJ Morton’s winning streak. Fresh off the heels of his 2024 Best Traditional R&B Performance Grammy win for the song “Good Morning,” Morton has no plans to slow down. Besides being a solo artist and keyboardist for pop band Maroon 5, Morton is preparing to embark on a North American and European summer tour with his band Afro Orleans. As 2024 anticipates his new album, book, and Disney attraction, it’s clear that Morton’s creative bandwidth is more of a phenomenon than skill.

As a young boy, Morton had only two dreams—to work with Stevie Wonder and write songs for Disney. Now that he has checked everything off his minimal yet grandiose bucket list, the visionary is simply enjoying the ride. 

EBONY recently spoke with PJ Morton on his new album, creating music for Disney, and making history.

EBONY: We recently celebrated Black Music Appreciation Month. Why do you think it’s important to have an entire month dedicated to highlighting Black music and musicians?

PJ Morton: I think that for so many years, Black music has been responsible for so much yet stolen from, overlooked, misused, and abused. It’s important that we never forget to shine a light on what has built much of the music we know today. 

Let’s discuss your new album Capetown to Cairo. Talk to us about why you traveled across Africa for 30 days to create this album.

I just wanted to be inspired. I’ve made music in so many different ways and collaborated with some of my favorite [artists]. For my last album, I had Stevie Wonder and Nas on the same song. So, with Capetown to Cairo, I wanted to give myself real stakes, less time, and really experience where my ancestors are from. It was important for me to express what I was feeling in that moment while I was on the continent. I didn’t really want to write [new music] before I got there or after [I left] because I wanted to be present.

How do you want people to feel after listening to the album?

[Feeling] joy is always something that is top of mind. Honestly, I want people to feel what I was feeling, which was freedom. I was discovering [myself], but also [felt] pure joy over there. There’s two songs on the album called ‘Thank you’ and ‘Count On Me’ because I was feeling a lot of gratitude.

For me, it was just realizing how much we’re all connected and how much we all need each other. I just felt so blessed to just be there, having the opportunity to do this as an independent musician and come all the way to Africa to create something new. I was just really grateful [and] want people to feel that gratitude and [unity]. We make music to bring people together, and I hope that comes true.

During your 30-day journey across the continent, what did you learn about yourself?

[During] the process of creating that way and with [the 30-day time frame], the discovery was trusting my instincts. I believed that whatever [came out] naturally and organically was okay and needed to be put out without overthinking. [The trip] confirmed and affirmed a lot of things for me, like just seeing a Black person on the money. [I saw] Black people helping everywhere and doing everything. I was seeing myself in everyone. One big discovery for me, which translated to the album, was the lineage and the connection between where I’m from, New Orleans and Africa. I kept tasting food and saying, “Oh, this is where it originates.” When I was listening to music in Lagos with the horn players, all I could hear was New Orleans. We’re connected and that was a big discovery for me. 

PJ Morton
PJ Morton. Image courtesy of PJ Morton.

You created the original soundtrack and theme song for Disney World’s newest and highly anticipated attraction, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Can you discuss how you were approached for this and the overall process?

Someone I knew reached out to me. It was kind of cryptic at first. He [said], there’s a secret project and it involves New Orleans and Disney. And I [said], “Man, you’ve got to tell me more,” and they explained the vision. 

The process was just amazing. It’s been almost a three-year process doing this [project]. It started out with just throwing ideas. The idea was that Tiana’s story would continue after [The Princess and The Frog]. Now, she’s married, has her own restaurant in New Orleans and she’s thriving. What does a song sound like for Tiana right now? She’s trying to put a band together for this big party. 

As a songwriter and a creative, it’s just inspiring to be able to figure it out. I wrote three different songs initially, and we narrowed them down to the one that was special. I’ve wanted to write for Disney since I was a kid, since The Little Mermaid. It was truly a dream come true. I was super honored and I rode it with my family. My 11-year-old daughter got to [witness] the first Black composer to write an original song for the first Black Disney princess.

Later this year, your memoir is set to be released on Saturday night and Sunday morning. What can people expect to learn about you after reading this book?

[People will learn] mainly how I got here. I don’t talk about things much because I’m just always working. It’s always been important to me to speak through the art [and] music. People have been asking me questions now for years. I’ve gotten five Grammys, and I’m an independent artist. They see me in Maroon 5. But, they don’t know how I got there after 14 years.

I think it was finally time to just bring people in—to let them understand my story and see how I got here and all the things I went through. I’m here, and it’s a beautiful story. It’s inspiring even to me because I really only had two dreams—to work with Stevie Wonder and write songs for Disney.

 And I’m literally living inside of my dream right now. There’s not one path to this because I didn’t take the traditional path. I was turned down by every major label and I still found my way. I just wanted to tell that story and help to inspire, while I’m being inspired myself.

PJ Morton
PJ Morton. Image courtesy of PJ Morton.

Recently, Apple Music released a list of their 100 Best Albums. Everyone has their own soundtrack to their lives, so I wanted to know what PJ Morton’s 5 Best Albums are?

Wow. My top five albums of all time. That’s a big question right now. Let me start with Stevie [Wonder]. I’ll say Inner Visions. [Also] Purple Rain, Off The Wall, D’Angelo’s Voodoo. And I will put The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill there.

You continue to make history, literally, every single year. Is this something that you have ever gotten used to, or are you continuously surprised?

I plan to never get used to it. I’m a kid when it comes to this [and] don’t want to grow up. I’ve done some amazing things, but every time something happens, I’m still amazed, because I’ve been on the other side. I’ve won five Grammys [and] I’ve been nominated for 20, so I lost 15 times. When you’ve been through that, when you’ve had that rejection and all, you just stay [grateful]. I’m always amazed that I get these calls and these opportunities, and I’m going to remain that way.

Updated: July 8, 2024 — 12:02 pm