PARTY NEXT DOOR
MEET THE OVO SOUND R&B IMPRESARIO 905 PUTTING THE ON THE CHARTS
PARTYNEXTDOOR at Rebel (11 Polson), Thursday and Friday (November 24 and 25), 9 pm, all ages. $45-$75. rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com, ticketmaster.ca.
Three Canadian albums topped the Billboard R&B/hiphop album chart in the U.S. in the last year, but only one begins with a shout-out to the 905.
“The 5 made me,” sings rising R&B star PARTYNEXTDOOR on High Hopes, the opener on his second studio album, PARTYNEXTDOOR 3 (or P3). “905 made me.” The lyric is easy to miss, but it’s significant. The cities that make up the Greater Toronto Area have historically been maligned as sleepy cultural wastelands designed around highways, big-box shopping and uncontrolled sprawl. But a new generation of hip-hop producers and artists is coming of age in the burbs, and rather than claim Toronto as their de facto hometown, they’re keeping Mississauga and Brampton in the bio.
Of those, PARTYNEXTDOOR, aka 23-year-old Jahron Brathwaite, is the most successful.
“All I knew was Mississauga – Mississauga friends and Mississauga attitude. I was never in Toronto unless I was going to see my father,” he says over the phone from Miami. “I visited those other places and saw that they talk differently. Toronto slang is a little bit harsher. In Brampton, it’s also different.
“There’s a difference wherever you go in Canada, Ontario and the GTA. People don’t fully grasp that yet. Hopefully more artists continue to rep exactly where they’re from so it shows that people do sound a little different.”
Like Drake’s Views and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness, P3 shot to the top of Billboard’s R&B/hiphop album chart upon its release in August. It also hit number three on the Billboard 200 album chart, making PARTYNEXTDOOR the most commercially popular act signed to Drake’s OVO Sound label.
Party writes, produces, sings and engineers his music. His success comes at the end of an eventful year that saw him pen a number-one hit for Rihanna, push his own music in more personal and experimental directions on P3, and set off a social media storm that demonstrated the perils of getting personal online.
Growing up in the neighbourhoods around Mississuaga shopping mecca Square One, Party fostered his love of music at home. His mother sang in a church choir and played all manner of R&B, hip-hop, soul and reggae in the house.
“I was one of those guys who was, I guess, socially popular in school,” he says with some hesitancy. “However popular you can get in fuckin’ Mississauga in high school.”
The message he heard from teachers was “Learn a trade,” but all he wanted to do was hang out with his homies and make music. Everyone knew music was his thing, but paid no mind. In ’sauga, a viable music career seemed a distant dream.
“Nobody really cared because it wasn’t a real thing to make it,” he says. “There was only Kardinal Offishall to look up to. Drake was only just bubbling.”
He connected with a manager via MySpace, which led to opportunities to meet with record execs in Los Angeles including Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine. With his mother’s permission, he quit school with three credits left to graduate at age 17 and moved to L.A. At 18, he had a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell.
“I’m like the young hot boy of OVO: stubborn, very step-out-on-his-own and do-his-own-thing. I might wanna do pop. I would call myself the Pharrell of OVO. There are no rules for me.”
“I’m very happy and grateful that my mom took that risk,” he says, but cautions others against dropping out of school. “I wouldn’t suggest that to anybody. It was very much circumstantial. I felt like if I did not get on that plane I would miss my opportunity.”
In 2013, Party became the first act signed to OVO Sound after Drake producer Boi-1da sent his music to label head Oliver El-Khatib. When he met the OVO camp and played his already completed self-titled (and selfproduced) debut mixtape, its GTA references instantly resonated.
The signing was appropriate, given that he’d named himself PARTYNEXTDOOR after a Fruity Loops production filter that reminded him of OVO producer Noah “40” Shebib’s sound.
Unashamedly boastful and bass-heavy, that debut tape nodded to ’sauga through the filter of Southern rap sonics and strip-club culture – Miami, Atlanta, Houston – that had also captivated Drake. He was also living in Miami at the time, but has since moved back to L.A.
“Toronto is so small, as you know,” he says. “After the first year of being an artist, everyone pulls you left and right. You’ve been to every club. You’ve popped every bottle. It’s cool, but I almost feel played out even showing up.”
Last year, Party took a break from solo work to concentrate on pop songwriting. Still new to the music industry, he wanted to prove he could do more than write freestyle verses over experimental beats. The gambit paid off.
Drawing on his Caribbean heritage, he penned Work for Rihanna and Drake. The song spent nine consecutive weeks at number one in the U.S. (He also wrote RiRi b-side and fan favourite Sex With Me.)
He’s proud of the song – his Jamaican mom even more so – but has shifted his focus back to “writing songs for myself and keeping the songs about me, for me,” he says.
Still, he’s constantly in the studio with others, particularly Drake.
He’s left his melodic mark on Drizzy’s catalogue via Preach and Wednesday Night Interlude, off 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape, and With You, off this year’s smash hit Views LP.
“I competitively want to produce just as many records for Drake as Kanye West did for Jay Z,” he says. “I want to write just as much as Kanye may have for whomever Kanye has written for. I want to do as much as I can do while I’m young.”
He also wants to release a joint project, Late Night Party, with Chicago R&B singer Jeremih. The two are co-headlining their Summer’s Over tour – though Jeremih recently dropped off the Toronto shows – and plan on hitting the studio in Party’s tour bus.
“We’ve made a lot of music together, but music has been leaked that wasn’t officially arranged right,” Party explains. “So we’re letting that cool out and we’ll hopefully put together an official project for the people after this tour.”
In Jeremih, he sees another R&B singer/ producer ignoring industry rules by producing and releasing music online quickly. The press has framed PARTYNEXTDOOR as part of a new wave of artists who blur boundaries between singing and rapping while taking a more auteurist approach to slow-jam atmospherics.
Like Drake and The Weeknd, Party often pares down productions to skeletal beatand-voice, and layers in the emotions via vocals and textures.
“When I first came out, something me and Drake were always saying was ‘wave gods’ – the new way of riding now,” he explains. “The new rush of young R&B singers who have no rules.”
P3 is his most ambitious effort in that regard, with opener High Hopes clocking in at over seven minutes. It’s full of sometimes caustic introspection and unexpected tangents. Ostensibly, his music is the stuff of babymaking, but reimagined with irregular rhythms and overlapping melodies that suggest undercurrents of anxiety.
He also gets super-specific, incorporating Caribbean influences and patois on Not Nice and Don’t Know How. On Don’t Run, he name-checks Pickering, Drake’s restaurant Fring’s and Caribana.
Meanwhile, the gold-certified single Come And See Me is a straight-up R&B slow jam that takes on the subject of relationship giveand-take with a deceptive simplicity. It inspired one of the genre’s greats, Erykah Badu, to a cut a remix, and he’s flattered “the queen” (“That’s what I call her when I text her”) took notice.
Asked about song inspirations, he keeps it simple: “Women.” The answer is a bit deceptive. Although his image is the mysterious Lothario, and the gossip press has romantically linked him to reality star Kylie Jenner, he makes his love life out to be less glamorous.
“I’m getting so busy, like, I literally have to get someone to tell me, ‘Jahron, you can have fun,’” he explains. “I know I said it all comes from women, but being by yourself also gives you a great imagination.”
The question leads him to muse about negotiating private and public life. On the one hand, Party has done only a handful of interviews – this is his first Canadian one – and is frequently characterized as a loner producer type. On the other, with P3 he entered the realm of confessional Mary J. Bligestyle R&B that echoes personal dramas chronicled in the press.
To that end, he views the tour with Jeremih as “a huge interview.”
“I definitely feel I owe people an explanation on certain things, and maybe this is the time to do that,” he posits.
Despite his reticence to speak publicly, his love life blew up in a big way earlier this year when he posted an Instagram photo of himself lounging in bed with his ex, R&B singer Kehlani.
“After all her shenanigans, still got the R&B singer back in my bed,” he wrote.
As Kehlani later explained, she had just split with NBA player Kyrie Irving – but the public didn’t know that. Social media users inundated her with sexist vitriol and branded her a cheater. Days later she was hospitalized following an apparent suicide attempt.
Is that situation something he feels he owes an explanation for?
“Not at all,” he replies, chalking up the backlash to misperception. “I’ve learned the only way I can be happy is by people knowing me.
“They probably think I’m such a serious person. I’m not always being serious. Don’t hang me for everything I say,” he continues. “I’m not just going to jump in front cameras and act a fool, but I definitely want to show more of myself.”
And he’s confident he can keep delivering – in whatever genre or style he wants.
“I even said this on the phone with the label yesterday. I think everyone has their roles, and in my opinion, I’m like the young hot boy of OVO: stubborn, very step-out-onhis-own and do-his-own-thing. I might wanna do pop. I would call myself the Pharrell of OVO. There are no rules for me.”
“I competitively want to produce just as many records for Drake as Kanye West did for Jay Z. I want to do as much as I can while I’m young.”