He doesn’t want to be Drake’s sidekick and he’d like you to stop kidnapping his puppy Boo.
Last Friday, the morning PartyNextDoor released his album PARTYNEXTDOOR 3 (P3), the R&B hit-maker sat in a windowless room on the 24th floor of One World Trade, talking about his kidnapped puppy.
“My assistant took my puppy next door,” says Party. “You know how girls always say, ‘Can I have it? Can I have it?’ But you’re joking. It’s like: You’re not going to steal my dog. It’s like my child. These girls really ran out of the house with it. We have footage of the girls running out with my puppy named Boo. And I wish I could put it on Instagram but literally it was the timing of everything. And everyone would’ve been like, ‘Really, Party? This is what the fuck you give a fuck about?’”
The “everything” he refers to is the reason why you may be familiar with Party if not by his new album, his collaborations with OVO grand master and “big bro” Drake (“Come and See Me”, “With You”), or Rihanna’s smash hit “Work” that he wrote. It’s the hiccup that’s followed him everywhere since: an Instagram of singer Kehlani in Party’s bed, which led to a very public love triangle involving the two artists and NBA player Kyrie Irving, who Kehlani had been romantically linked to not long before. Trial by Twitter deemed Kyrie the victim, Kehlani the cheater, and Party the antagonist.
“I was the bad guy to everybody. Even my mom, who didn’t understand,” he says now, more than four months later. “People don’t even understand. Certain things aren’t even related. Different timings. But again, it was a series of events that matched up…”
He trails off.
“It’s so far that it’s like not worth explaining, because it would throw other people under the bus. And I would rather just take it on my back. Like, if I’m the bad guy, let me play that part. And hopefully people see through that.”
Party rarely lets people in, preferring to talk through music rather than through interviews, and though that’s a tired cliché of musicians, it may not make it any less true. In person, he’s warm and quick to laugh, and seems to genuinely want to let you in. (He actually says to me, “I want to be super honest with you.”) But he struggles, stopping sentences short or trailing off, wary of words not mediated by pen, paper, and production filters, lacking the confidence his music possesses. He knows that his words can get spun out, that he can become material for the public’s verses. He’s a private 23-year-old still adjusting to a 2016 public life where a Twitter firestorm over a lost love prevents Instagram retribution for a stolen puppy.
“I don’t really want to answer questions but here’s just enough so that you guys know that I’m not…” He stops before starting over, trying to articulate the relief he feels in releasing this album, in quieting some of the noise that’s been made. “I don’t think you could walk away from this album—maybe if you get to know me and see how passionate I am, like, I’m not a bad person and maybe this whole year that could have been the perception to some people who are caught up in social media.”
Jahron Brathwaite from Mississauga, Ontario nicknamed himself PartyNextDoor and says Jimmy Iovine heard his self-written, self-produced sound and said, “I’m flying you out and I want you to be the kid.” He became the first recording artist to sign with OVO in 2013 (“This is before ‘Started from the Bottom,’” he says, “when it was like BOOM, the whole crew’s here. The posse, OVO.”). And since then, fans have been trying to find out just who Party is, the reality of the man hiding behind the veil of our perception.
This is a fascination that makes Party uncomfortable. “I don’t know how to interact with fans, man,” he says, with a hint of resignation. “I’m not the type of person who’s like caught up in it or believes it or, like, I don’t know what it means.”
What do you mean you don’t it?
“It sounds weird. Like, I don’t know…” he wanders, before clarifying. “I love music but I never went to a concert in my life. The first time I went to a concert I performed on a stage with Drake.”
He’s a lover of music, but maybe not the invasive public gaze that follows the celebrities that make it—including, it seems, that of the woman he says is his world, the one he does everything for: his mother. “She’s so new to this. She hasn’t even met Drake yet. I don’t even want to bring her around Drake, cause she’s the type to touch Drake’s face, like, ‘Oh!’” he jokes.
And if Party won’t indulge fans’ curiosity about him, then they’ll just have to settle for the messages in his music. He says the tracks on the two earlier albums were to prove a point: “That I’m here. I could be here. I’m not Drake’s sidekick.” They showcase Party’s unique talent to write, rap, sing, and produce, but they are also the result of a kid from nowhere brushing up against fame. Many of Party’s songs said: Look at all my shit. Only when Party got all that—“Money; a huge house in the Hills; girls.”—by his own admission, “It just didn’t end up fun. It didn’t feel right.”
His newest work is masterfully produced and endlessly listenable, a rolling landscape of mood swings: there are Caribbean-influenced dancehall hits, music’s current vibe du jour (“Not Nice,” “Only U”); slower, more brooding strokes of a late night in a dark room (“High Hopes,” “Problems & Selfless”); other varying meditations set against a piano (“Joy”), a guitar (“Spiteful”), and something that sounds like a Satanic marimba (“Brown Skin”). And though it’s no surprise that there are similarities in sound to a Drake album—Party has had a hand in helping create some of Drake’s more recent music, and Noah “40” Shebib, Drake’s longtime collaborator, has production credits on this Party album—it’s a valid criticism against an artist who probably, eventually, will want to be known outside of his role as a face in the OVO hierarchy.
The content of this album is a pivot—but not quite a turn—from the precocious kid he once was, leaning more toward the man he’s become. If past tracks were about never-ending, intoxicating nights of love-making, his newest ones are about the mornings too, all the intimacy, hurt, and vulnerability that follows when the sun rises and the smoke clears. It’s the difference between an album telling your friends how cool your life is and an album about having a cool life, and being aware of all the insecurities that don't go away just because you do.
“I’m still in a place where I’m looking for joy,” he says. “That’s the theme: looking for happiness.”
Have you found it?
“Releasing this is on the way,” says Party. “I want people to understand why I’m not P1 or P2. This year, it wasn’t the prettiest. There were great moments! But those weren’t my songs. ‘Work’ wasn’t my song. This is my project. This is my okay, now I get to see if I can find joy after this.”