Muni Long’s long and winding road to R&B stardom



Muni Long is putting love at the forefront.

“I think toxicity is what people respond to,” says the R&B singer and songwriter. “So that’s what people are making. But there’s a movement of people responding to love. I honestly feel like that’s why ‘Hrs and Hrs’ did so well.”

Long, led by her breakthrough hit “Hrs and Hrs,” is a top contender for a best new artist Grammy nomination in November, an unlikely “overnight” turn of events that the 34-year-old has been working toward since at least 2009, when, as Priscilla Renea, she released a blink-and-miss-it album on Capitol Records. (Her real name is Priscilla Renea Hamilton). Throughout the 2010s, she would toggle between co-writing hit songs for established stars — Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Pitbull and even Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert — and recording her own country-tinged music.

But it wasn’t until 2020, when she released her first single as Muni Long (pronounced “money long”), that she really found her groove, as an R&B singer chronicling the heartbreak and ecstasy of sex and romance. On “Hrs and Hrs,” she pines for an endless love session over stripped-down production and a patient drum groove. Now she’s doubling down on those relationship-driven themes for her newly released debut album, “Public Displays of Affection: The Album.”

The project combines her 2021 EP “Public Displays of Affection” and 2022 EP “Public Displays of Affection Too,” while adding five new tracks. The PDA is real, but it isn’t always rosy — look to “Ain’t Easy” for the struggles of maintaining a long-term relationship, while “Time Machine” sees her trying to rewrite history to avoid the subsequent heartbreak.

“I did ‘Ain’t Easy’ and ‘IMU’ on the same day,” said Long. “That was the first time I had ever cried in the studio, because I normally don’t get too personal. Very emotional day. Like you’ll have a small disagreement and ‘it’s over,’ breaking up over stupid s—.”

On this pleasant September afternoon, she’s sitting in the backyard of her home in the midst of the Fairfax district, staring out at the two small waterfalls that cascade into her pool across the grass. There’s a spread of pastries and juices on the table in front of her, too high for the frenetic poodle darting through the house to reach.

It would be an idyllic L.A. home for many, but Long is sure to note it’s not her dream house.

“It’s just the stepping stone,” she said. “I need to be by the water. I’m a Florida girl, I like tropical stuff. More space.”

Long grew up on a farm in Vero Beach, Fla. As a child, her family was outnumbered by the chickens, geese and other farm animals that surrounded them. Her favorite was a young hog named Powder, who met his demise earlier than she would have liked.

“I used to talk to him after school,” she said of the hog. “I came home one day, and said, ‘Granddad, where’s Powder?’ He pointed across the field, and Powder was roasting on a spit.”

From a young age she was always singing — her mother says she started at 2 years old.

“I just thought it was something everybody could do,” Long said. “It wasn’t until middle school or high school that I became aware of ‘Oh, this is different.’”

Almost as soon as the platform was created, she began uploading karaoke videos onto YouTube, without a clue the site would develop into the behemoth it is today. After she’d built an online following, Capitol signed her to a record deal — and then told her to abandon YouTube, a thought that makes her blood boil in hindsight.

“They were like, ‘Oh, you don’t need that,’” she said. “So I let it go, and I hate that I did that. Now, labels look for those numbers. Things would have been so different.”

Soon after it started, it was clear the partnership was doomed to fail. Refusing to return to Florida, she found work as a songwriter, lending her pen in as many as five sessions each day.

The success came early — she scored her first placement on the electro-pop single “Promise This” with British singer Cheryl Cole, which went to No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart.

“In the music business, no one really cared about UK artists,” she said. “But to me it was like, ‘This is real. You can really make money being a writer.’”

She doubled down on her writing, crafting songs with hitmakers from Rihanna to Madonna. She landed a global No. 1 hit when she co-wrote “Timber” by Pitbull and Kesha, which topped the Billboard Hot 100.

Her time as a songwriter came with its blessings, but the desire to fly her own ship remained lodged in her mind. After a few false starts, she made a clean break from songwriting in 2019, launching her independent label Supergiant Records and formalizing the birth of Muni Long.

“I realized you can’t go back and forth. You have to establish ‘this is the end of that. I have to put my focus here,’” she said.

“Hrs and Hrs,” which eventually reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, brought her to the front door of Def Jam Records. Long had known then-incoming CEO Tunji Balogun for years, and he was able to quell her reservations about jumping back into the major label system after her first run-through.

“Her personality hasn’t changed much, but I think she’s more confident,” Balogun said of her evolution from Priscilla Renea to Muni Long. “She was always extremely bright and someone who knew herself. I just don’t know if she put it all out into the world until this era.”

As a songwriter, she’s been attached to Grammy-nominated songs and winning albums, but it’s hard for her to count those as her own, especially since she received only a certificate, not a trophy.

“The Grammys is such an amazing part of being an artist,” she said. “I think a lot of us are lying to ourselves saying we don’t want to be a part of it.

“Damn right, I want to win a Grammy,” she continued. “I want to be on TV, I want to travel the world, I want the jets, the houses, the boats. Why wouldn’t I want that?”



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