The history of pop music is one of reinvention, littered with instances of people who, cut off from resources, from representation, have turned inward, mined themselves and remade culture in their own image. Musical-cum-cultural movements like hip-hop, dance music, and punk all began like that: untutored kids deconstructing the music of the time and reassembling the pieces into a world in which they could see themselves.
And so the story goes with Parisalexa, Seattle’s premiere triple hyphenate—singer-songwriter-producer—who continues to forge her own brand of R&B tinged pop with the raw materials of the past.
Born into an artistically-inclined family, Parisalexa (real name: Paris Alexa Williams) began developing almost immediately. “I started singing...when I was born” she insists, recounting a family story about her ability to hum as an infant. That preternatural humming turned into singing, then harmonizing with the radio, then writing her own songs and performing them for friends and family at the hair shop and in living rooms. Her growth was aided by the music that inundated her young life: her parents’ jazz, R&B and pop records. “My mom says she listened exclusively to Destiny’s Child when she was pregnant,” she says laughingly.
But it was an aunt that set a sixteen-year-old Paris firmly on the path to becoming a musician when she gifted her niece a BOSS RC505 looping station. Initially, the gift was a disappointment--she wanted cash--but at the last minute, Paris decided to bring the station with her on a month-long trip to Denmark, leaving the instruction manual at home. That month, in the cold and dark, she began teaching herself to use it. She learned how to record and layer her vocals and how to create beats using handclaps and pencils on tabletops. Slowly, she taught herself how to make music that sourced its materials from the traditions of her youth and reshaped them into something new.
When she returned from her trip, she began writing songs in earnest. Stints at Berklee and Grammy songwriting camps honed her instinct for song structures and helped her produce slicker, hard-hitting songs, most notably the bouncing kiss-off anthem “Like Mariah.” She also began utilizing songwriting as a way of dealing with the tumult of growing up. “There’s so much in life that I can’t seem to wrap my head around, and music helps me to come to terms with them,” she explains.
Earlier this year, Parisalexa emerged fully-formed with her debut EP Bloom, which chronicles the course of a relationship—from its genesis to its greatest heights to its end and the resulting exercise in self-love.
Now, close on Bloom’s heels, comes FLEXA, a four-track mixtape that represents a departure for Parisalexa in both sound and theme. “When I was writing Bloom, I was in a different place,” Paris says. “I was falling in love, and writing my own story, and I was referencing a lot of older, more soulful sounds.” If Bloom is about a journey—that of falling in love and discovering oneself—FLEXA is about what happens once you arrive.
Rather that utilizing the warm, downtempo arrangements that illuminated Bloom, FLEXA is all contemporary R&B gloss and trap-inflected austerity. “LV” is all lithe self-aggrandizing; “Ballin” wistfully reflects on the past and dreams of the future; “Like Me Better” is a swaggering kiss off to a former partner; and on “Hard Way,” Parisalexa oscillates between woozy and pissed off as she takes an ex to task. According to Paris, “FLEXA was written at a time where I felt like I knew what I was worth, but other people hadn’t caught up yet. I felt like people were underestimating me, so it was my version of bossing up.” She laughs, “I don’t have cars and gold chains, but I’m thankful for what I have and I’m going to let you know what that is.”