Rb Hip Hop

PartyNextDoor Opens Up About Drake, Ye & Why He's 'Not Worried About The Fame'

The Toronto singer, songwriter and producer helped make some of the last decade's biggest hits. His path to solo stardom has been less direct.

PartyNextDoor photographed by Erica Hernández on February 13, 2024 in Los Angeles. Styling by Markus Davis. Hair by Jasmin Thomas at Locafella Loc Studio. Barbering by Dominique Laing. Grooming by Amadora Biscette. On-site production by Jennifer Laski. Versace hat, shirt, jacket and pants.

PartyNextDoor photographed by Erica Hernández on February 13, 2024 in Los Angeles. Styling by Markus Davis. Hair by Jasmin Thomas at Locafella Loc Studio. Barbering by Dominique Laing. Grooming by Amadora Biscette. On-site production by Jennifer Laski. Versace hat, shirt, jacket and pants.

"Good! Lovin’! Feel so! Numb!”

It had been seven years since PartyNextDoor had performed in The 6. But one Thursday night last May, approximately 2,500 fans at History — the Toronto venue Drake, Party’s OVO label boss, opened in partnership with Live Nation in 2021 — welcomed him home to the city, feverishly chanting the lyrics to his beloved hits like “Wus Good/Curious.”

SiriusXM Canada had tapped the singer, songwriter and producer to headline the free, sold-out PartyNextDoor & Friends concert to celebrate its new 24/7 hip-hop and R&B channel, Mixtape: North, which highlights homegrown Canadian talent. And what better way to fete the country’s brightest stars than by transforming History into a full-fledged OVO Fest? Nearly all of the influential label’s roster took the stage, and even Drake himself made a surprise appearance to perform his and Party’s mid-2010s collaborations “Recognize” and “Come and See Me.”


“I don’t mean to put you on the spot or anything. I know you hate this the most,” Drake said, chuckling, his arm wrapped around his introverted labelmate. “I’m so grateful for you. I would not be the artist I am if it wasn’t for you.” Then, turning to the audience: “This is really my favourite artist in the world.”

Over the last decade, Party, 30, established himself as an alternative R&B auteur who seduced listeners — and shaped his genre — with hazy, hypnotic Auto-Tuned vocal melodies, nocturnal trap production and carnal yet cognitive lyricism about what pleasures (and problems) the wee hours sometimes bring. And while that often added up to a late-night, hedonistic vibe, his authentic, limber patois and dancehall-infused rhythms also gave his music an irresistible Caribbean flavor.

Meanwhile, he established himself as one of pop music’s most sought-out hit-makers, working in various roles behind the scenes with artists including Kanye West, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Post Malone and Rihanna, the lattermost of whom he has made two Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits with: the nine-week No. 1 “Work,” featuring Drake (which he co-wrote and sang backup on), and DJ Khaled’s seven-week No. 2 “Wild Thoughts” (which he co-wrote and produced), featuring Bryson Tiller. Some fans and critics have argued that his leaked reference tracks for those songs — where Party himself sings them — sound better than their final star-powered versions.


“He has written some of the biggest songs of our time,” says his longtime manager and Range Media managing partner, Tyler Henry. “He has contributed to [work by] some of the greatest artists. He’s an artist himself. He’s truly one of one.” Henry first met Party in 2013 when he was the assistant road and tour manager for Drake, who had picked his latest OVO signee to support his Would You Like a Tour? trek. Henry started managing him the following year, and Party remains a key part of the manager’s roster, along with WondaGurl, HARV, Loshendrix and more.

Gucci shirt and Jacque Marie Mage eyewear. Erica Hernández

Yet even with his impressive résumé, Party hasn’t achieved the level of stardom many R&B fans expected him to when he helped record some of the defining pop hits of the 2010s, excelling behind the scenes but failing to fully step out from Drake’s shadow. When asked about the pressure of being signed by such a colossal artist and ensuring his body of work can stand on its own, Party trails off. Despite previously expressing superstar ambitions, it seems like he has had to recalibrate his career goals.


“I’m just keeping the main ting the main ting,” Party says. “The only thing that’s important, that has changed my life, is dropping music. I’m not worried about the fame.” Speaking today in Los Angeles, wearing a simple, textured black hoodie, matching sweats and white Nike Air Force 1s, he certainly doesn’t seem like an attention-seeker. But he does sport one flashy accessory: a silver pendant chain with a cartoon rendering of a girl sticking her tongue out — a gift from Drake celebrating their “Members Only” collaboration from his latest Billboard 200-topping album, For All the Dogs. “Drake has the same one,” Party says proudly.


The rap titan’s co-sign increased awareness (and with that, scrutiny) of Party. But his frequent absences from the public eye — he has only put out three solo albums, in 2014, 2016 and 2020 — have also made it hard for fans to stay engaged with his releases or know what he’s up to. If he’s put in front of a laptop, Party says, “I’ll make a full album.” If it’s that easy, then why does he disappear for years in between each one? “I get into relationships and then music becomes second,” he admits matter-of-factly. “I think I’m going to take a break from relationships, a long break, and just get back to making music.” Of course, those same relationships often ensure Party has plenty of songwriting material to work with when he makes his way back to the studio.

“After you and a girl break up, does she know she’ll eventually become the subject of a PartyNextDoor song?” I ask.

“I think everyone knows that,” he responds smugly.

Relationships, frivolous or serious, are the common thread throughout Party’s music. He says he approaches his songs from a “me and her” perspective, creating the intimacy that’s also required for the prime PartyNextDoor listening experience. His solitary music resonated especially during the pandemic, and in October 2020, Party and his team appealed to lonely fans finding comfort in catalog music by dropping PartyPack, a set of seven fan-favorite deep cuts that hadn’t previously been available on digital service providers. Sometimes fans have unearthed his old songs themselves: Thanks to a dance challenge, the sped-up version of “Her Way” from his 2014 debut album, PartyNextDoor Two, blew up on TikTok in 2023, becoming the year’s most popular TikTok song in Canada and third-most popular in the United States.


And while he has continued to find new fans with the success of his older music — Party’s song catalog increased from 645.8 million on-demand U.S. streams (including user-generated content) in 2022 to 1.1 billion streams in 2023, according to Luminate — most successful artists can’t sit back, relax and rely on their fans to run up their catalog. Outside of the PartyNextDoor & Friends Toronto show, Party has only performed at a handful of festivals (like Las Vegas’ Lovers & Friends) and college shows since the pandemic’s live-music pause ended. But, as Henry explains it, those were just the prelude to Party’s next act. “We like to do a few each year to make sure we’re fresh and in front of people’s minds,” he says. “It keeps us sharp for when a moment like this album comes.”


That album is his upcoming fourth full-length, PartyNextDoor 4P4 for short. And while there’s no release date set, Party promises it’s his most focused project yet. “This is the hardest I’ve ever worked on an album. This is the proudest I’ve felt,” he says. “I’m excited to grind even more for the next [one]. I’m in love with how hard you should work for it.”

Growing up in the “moody” Toronto suburb of Mississauga, the artist born Jahron Anthony Brathwaite imagined himself as Ahmal, the student who sings “Oh Happy Day” in 1993’s Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Following in the footsteps of his Jamaican mother, Party joined his church’s choir and eventually moved up to a more advanced singing group within the church. “I had a solo coming up, and I was so nervous. I was going to get my sh-t off just like that Sister Act movie. I was going to get my moment. But they just cut it,” he says with a shrug.

Instead of dwelling on the defeat, he dove deeper into his newfound passion. He soon became fascinated with boy bands like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. But “once I understood who I am in the world as a Black man, I started really getting into Black music,” he says, citing Jodeci and 112 as inspirations. “I think Slim from 112 is part of the reason why I pitched up my music, because he sounded so young when he was getting older.”

Party questioned if being a “dread-headed” Jamaican guy from the Toronto suburbs meant he could be a “real” R&B singer. “Real R&B is pretty. It’s six-pack, it’s shaven head, low fade,” he says. But at 16 he tried his luck, dropping out of school and moving to Los Angeles, after posting his first songs to MySpace under the name “Jahron B.” They included cheeky, upbeat tracks like “Monica Follow Me Back” — which he made to persuade a girl named Monica to follow him back on Twitter (he succeeded) — as well as somber, piano-driven ballads like “Daughters,” describing how a drug-fueled hookup led to an accidental pregnancy.

Around that time, veteran A&R executive Shalik Berry showed “Daughters” to Warner Chappell Music’s Ryan Press, then-senior director of A&R (and now president of North America), who was immediately blown away by the intense storytelling. “After I heard that one song, I was like, ‘I have to sign this kid,’ ” says Press, who did so in 2012.

Louis Vuitton hat and shirt and Jason of Beverly Hills ring. Erica Hernández

In 2016, Press helped Party establish his own joint venture with Warner Chappell called JA Publishing Group, which still operates and currently houses G. Ry, Prep Bijan, Phwesh and Alex Lustig (the lattermost also has a partnership with OVO president Mr. Morgan’s publishing company, M3 Ent). “ ‘Hey, man, if you’re stepping into this side of the business, you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods,’ ” Press recalls telling the young musician. “ ‘We got to handle business properly. You got to have the same passion for them that I have for you.’ ” Party took the advice to heart. “He wanted to create an ecosystem that other great talent could thrive and be successful under,” Henry adds, noting that Party even made sure one of his signees worked on a big record before assisting him in securing “a pretty large six-figure” publishing deal. But as much as Party loved helping other creatives get their shine, he was still waiting for his turn.

Getting his singing career off the ground had been a struggle. As a preteen, he tried out for the Canadian music competition series The Next Star but was cut. He remembers gushing during one of the taped interviews for the show about how he wanted “to sing like Aubrey Graham.” The person recording him “was an actor on Degrassi. And he laughed at me. He’s like, ‘Drake, the one who makes music in my dressing room?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I think he’s the best ever.’ ”

Years later, Party would take his stage name from the FL Studio software audio filter titled “partynextdoor” — which reminded him of OVO co-founder Noah “40” Shebib’s dark, brooding production. When he first heard the effect, Party recalls, “I was just like, ‘This is me. I’m going to make all my music sound like this.’ ”

Once Party started taking meetings with labels, fellow Jamaican Canadian producer and frequent Drake collaborator Boi-1da caught wind of it and ran the artist’s name up the OVO flagpole. When Drake and 40 eventually invited Party to the studio, “we just meshed,” he says. Party became the first recording artist signed to OVO in 2013, and the label opted for a low-key yet fitting announcement: His track “Make a Mil” was posted on the OVO blog, the digital hotbed for new talent that ultimately transformed into the boutique label it is today.

Throughout OVO’s history, some have questioned the way the label supports its artists not named Drake; Drake and the OVO team declined to even be interviewed for this story. In 2016, a Noisey headline asked, “Is OVO Sound A Hip-Hop Label Or Drake’s Personal Hit Factory?” And upon joining OVO, Party did support his label boss immediately: He provided background vocals for “Own It” and “Come Thru” on Drake’s 2013 album, Nothing Was the Same, and produced and co-wrote “Legend,” “Preach” and “Wednesday Night Interlude” on 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, featuring on the latter two songs. Two months before Nothing Was the Same, Party dropped his self-titled debut EP, which earned rave reviews and yielded the Miguel-sampling classic “Break From Toronto.” The following year, PartyNextDoor Two cracked the top 20 of the Billboard 200. However, in the subsequent years, Party’s output grew less frequent and his allure dwindled.

In a 2015 PartyNextDoor Fadercover story — built around the musician’s first-ever interview — OVO co-founder and Drake manager Oliver El-Khatib said that part of OVO’s ethos was restricting access to its artists and letting the music speak for itself. But while that air of mystery maintains OVO’s cool reputation, banking on Drake’s star power to draw in new fans can keep the rest of his labelmates in his orbit at the expense of their own career growth.

While Party’s artist career hung in the balance, his songwriting vocation took off. Press says he was always in Party’s ear about possibly working with Rihanna because of their shared Caribbean heritage. When the star — who at the time was also signed to Warner Chappell — hosted a writing camp for what would become her 2016 album, ANTI, at her Malibu, Calif., home in 2015, Press called up Party to come through. Despite being in a house full of other competing songwriters and producers, Party insisted that he spend time alone with her so he could make songs that fit her vibe.

“I remember her telling us she was drinking vodka and water at that time. I had never seen Party drink vodka until that night. I think he even smoked a cigarette because she had smoked,” Henry says of the night the two made “Work.” The song became ANTI’s biggest hit, with 1.6 billion official on-demand U.S. streams. “Seeing the way he spoke to her and the questions he asked and the way he fully submersed himself into her identity was what made the song special. And he does it with all the artists he works with. He doesn’t write these generic songs that we try to find a home for. He writes them very purposefully for that artist.”

While “Work” reigned atop the Hot 100 in March 2016, Party finally got his own breakthrough as an artist with the Drake-assisted “Come and See Me.” The song earned Party his debut Hot 100 entry as a lead artist, peaking at No. 55, and yielded his first Grammy Award nod, for best R&B song. (He was also up for album of the year for contributing to Drake’s Views.) “Come and See Me” has become the biggest streaming song from his catalog, with 854.2 million official on-demand U.S. streams.

Finally, it seemed Party the artist was stepping firmly out of Drake’s shadow — even though the rapper was featured on the track, it was unquestionably a spotlight for his signee. “Come and See Me” earned Party the recognition he craved. But solo fame turned out to be less gratifying than he’d thought it would be.

In 2017, the year before Kanye West released his eighth studio album, Ye, he invited Party to his Yeezy Studio in Calabasas, Calif., and gave him the freedom and space to create whatever he pleased — offering no indication as to what he might eventually do with it.

So Party was surprised when, as he listened to Ye along with millions of others upon its June 2018 release, he heard one of his Calabasas freestyles. The song, “Ghost Town,” had additional vocals from Kid Cudi and 070 Shake, but only credited Party as a featured artist. “I didn’t know what he was going to do with it. It’s different when I have no creative control. It is raw. ‘Someday,’ ” he sings in a similar fashion to his recorded vocals. He initially felt caught off guard, but became appreciative of West’s trust in his talent. “It wasn’t about working with PartyNextDoor. It was just about liking what I did creatively,” he says. “Ghost Town” reached No. 16 on the Hot 100 — Party’s highest-charting hit on the all-genre list.

The way West used Party’s sketch to make “Ghost Town” startled him because, when it comes to his own music, Party pays attention to every painstaking detail. “He’s the most meticulous and thorough person I’ve ever met,” Henry says. “He’ll spend six months mixing a song or fly to Toronto four times just to work with 40 to get it right.”

Erica Hernández

Party, however, admits he didn’t have that laser focus when making his last two studio albums, PartyNextDoor 3 and PartyMobile. “I was still handling that sh-t like demos,” he says, adding that he wasn’t “using everything I learned as a producer, as a writer, as an engineer.” Even though rough freestyles like 2014’s “Persian Rugs” — one of the loosies later included on PartyPack — proved he didn’t need polished records to develop a robust fan base, he vows to never “cheat” on the quality of his art again.

On P4’s forthcoming single, “Real Woman,” Party resharpens those creative tools, layering his vocals with bright, twinkling synths, trap hi-hats and a backing choir. But considering his last single, “Resentment,” debuted in the top 10 of Hot R&B Songs last July and fell off the chart after three weeks, it’s unclear how much momentum “Real Woman” will build for this album cycle.

Fortunately, he has plenty of performances in the coming months where he can perform the new material, including Rolling Loud California and, at the end of March, Souled Out, Australia’s first modern R&B and soul festival, which will be held across five cities. “I have so much anxiety before a show, but I always tell my manager, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I always forget that until I step on the stage,” he says.

Reconnecting with his fans live — and making sure the music he performs is of the highest possible quality — is, in the end, what fuels him, even if playing the part of a traditional megastar isn’t a natural fit.

“I know Drake and people always tell me, ‘Bro, you have to come out more!’ I’m an introvert, I’m shy,” he says. He’s not active on social media either because he doesn’t “have the narcissism” to believe people are personally invested in what he’s posting. And anyway, he doesn’t want to distract from what’s important: “I’m focused on making classic music.”

This story originally appeared in the March 9, 2024, issue of Billboardandonline on Billboard U.S.

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Jag Gundu Photography

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