+Fresh Finds: Papa Leo A.K.A Justin Paul

Writer, Quentin Gayfield sat down with Arkansas R&B singer, Papa Leo.

I always like to ask the big question first. Why do you do what you do?

It would be too cliché if I just said “Oh it’s just what’s in me, or it’s how I’m feeling at the time.” This or that, me, me, me, right? I’m not even doing this for me. I’m doing this for everybody else. So, a lot of the stories that are told in the music, it’s not necessarily things that I’ve been through, but it’s things that I think people can relate to. So my reason for doing this isn’t necessarily for me. Because the music for me, everybody else won’t love. I’m doing it for them; I’m doing it for the listener.

As a local artist, it’s difficult to penetrate your own market sometimes. So if you could, describe yourself and your music to someone who’s never heard of you.

A peculiar note, ya know? A peculiar tune. It’s almost something just like something you’ve heard before, but not quite. It’s appropriated for you as a listener, as opposed to me just doing my own thing and telling my own story. It’s actually made just for you, as opposed to me.

When it’s time to make the music, how do you work?

My process always starts with the notes first. If it feels good for me to play, and it sounds good, okay, let’s write. With the note, it’s like “What would somebody want to hear on this canvas? What feels good to them?” And that’s the way I process it. Occasionally, it’s me going through my own thing, but for the most part, it’s about what the people would want to hear. What would make them feel optimistic about themselves and about life?

So you mentioned that your music sounds like something you’ve almost heard. That being said, who are some of your influences?

Paul Simon, Lauryn Hill… Of course, Michael Jackson, but that’s cliché again, so let’s go somewhere else with it. P.M. Dodd and Babyface have been a musical influence for me. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Prince, Morris Day & the Time, Mike and the Mechanics, Chicago, all of the sorts of guys. That’s just what’s in my record player right now. It’s not really Bryson Tiller, Kodak Black, Meek Mill. All these guys are hot, but those aren’t the guys that I’m playing. I’m playing those guys from the early 80’s, Rod Stewart and those sorts of cats. That’s quintessential music for the people. Everybody now is going through their thing, but I think in the 70’s and 80’s was when people were making music for someone other than themselves. That’s what I want to tap into and channel.

What is the message you want your music to tell?

Most importantly, my message in your music is “Life is so much better. And it’s right in your backyard. Every day you wake up, it’s all on how you feel about life.” It’s a glass half full concept. Life is good, man. It actually is, regardless if you making $4 to $14 an hour or $400 or $4000 a week. Who cares? Because there are people whose lives are really good and they take it for granted. Appreciate where you are, appreciate WHO you are, appreciate who God made you.

So based on your background and everything you’ve gone through up to this point, what has been a pivotal experience in your journey?

The one experience that molded me as an artist was the first time I ever got up to sing. When I got up and sang, I was a kid, around 8 or 9, but I also thought, “I can sing this the way I heard it on the record, or I could sing it to where it’s put toward the people.” I could sing it one of two ways, plain or I could do it for the listener. And that was literally the pivot, it just told me to this for someone other than myself. We live with music every day. It’s a gift for us. It’s a present that God gave us, free of charge. So I felt like I should give it somebody else and let them enjoy it.

What’s next for Papa Leo?

Start with Arkansas, and then the world. I let my family hear it tonight, so next we’re going to let the rest of the world hear it.

Papa Leo’s Magnificent Seven

Red or Blue? Blue

Prince or Michael? Michael

LeBron or Kobe? LeBron, The King.

Tupac or Biggie? Tupac

Ford or Chevy? Ford. All Day.

Nike or Adidas? C’mon, man. Nike.

Did OJ do it? You know what? He did not, fuck that! LOL

Listen to Papa Leo’s new single “Angel”:

Papa Leo’s new single “Angel” is now available on iTunes, Amazon Music, and other major music sites. For booking info, contact Jason Williams at

Listen to Papa Leo’s single “Crazy World”:

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