For more than 15 years, singer and songwriter Priscilla Renea – best known as Muni Long – has written hit songs for artists, including this year’s Big Game Halftime performer Rihanna, as well as Ariana Grande, H.E.R., Mariah Carey and more. Throughout her career, she’s released several critically-acclaimed projects as a solo artist, but it’s her recent studio effort, Public Displays of Affection: The Album, that solidified her as a star.
Long’s full-length album features the platinum-selling Billboard R&B chart-topper “Hrs & Hrs,” and garnered her three Grammy nominations at this year’s ceremony (including one for Best New Artist and Best R&B Song). The 34-year-old Florida native took home the award for Best R&B Performance then unofficially declared Valentine’s Day as “Hrs & Hrs Day” – as a marker of success for the song and for her legion of beloved fans.
Fresh off the heels of celebrating her first Grammy win, ESSENCE sat down with Long to discuss her industry experience, her rise to stardom and her definition of Black Girl Magic.
What have you noticed that’s changed within the professional and cultural landscape of music since you first became an artist?
MUNI LONG (ML): So much has changed. I’ve been doing music for 17 years and I definitely will say that the evolved version of social media that exists today (and just the real-time connection that you get to have between yourself and your supporters), is unmatched. I think the benefit for me with “Hrs” and also with “Time Machine,” is that I didn’t have to go through the layers of getting approval from an A&R or the president of a label, which traditionally is unheard of because you’d have to check all these boxes before your art or creativity would reach the people. Also, I was told that I was too dark and nobody wanted to see a tall, big-butt, big-nosed Black girl in the mainstream. So, I became my own CEO and started my own label. I love my skin color, and I actually would like to be darker. And I decided for my music that I like it, and if I like it, there’s a high probability that somebody else is going to like it too.
For those who may not know the backstory behind your moniker “Muni Long,” what aspects of Priscilla Renea still live within the Muni persona?
ML: About three years ago, I was researching (along with doing my daily studies of meditation and spiritual growth), and I came across the biography of an ancient sage named Muni [pronounced moo-nee]. There was a story about him meditating for weeks and how he reached nirvana, and I loved the spelling of his name and thought the story was really cool. I Googled to see if anyone else had that type of name and there was nothing that came up (no artist had existed with that stage name). I showed it to my husband and he said, “you should pronounce it like money,” and then my team said, “Muni needs a last name.” So, one day I was randomly listening to 2 Chainz’s song “I’m Different,” and when he sang the phrase “hair long, money long,” that was it right there – Muni Long! I believe heavily in the power of one’s words, hence, “money long” is sort of like an affirmation for me.
As an artist, you’ve been adamant about the importance of R&B music. Where does that passion stem from?
ML: I just love R&B – the chord changes, the storytelling, the passion, the feeling and that emotion – I think it’s incredible! There was a time when I was watching 106 & Park and the MTV TRL countdowns, and R&B music was pop music! Artists like Aaliyah, Chris Brown, Ashanti, Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé and other R&B artists dominated back then. I remember when Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” came out and that’s all everybody was singing on the playground trying to mimic that song. Even artists today like Jazmine Sullivan, H.E.R., Kehlani and Summer Walker – who all kind of paved the way for me to come along with “Hrs and Hrs” – prove that R&B is a special thing.
How does it feel to have won your first Grammy award this year, and what do you think helped mentally and spiritually prepare you for that big moment?
ML: It means the world to me. Having support from my family, my friends, my team and my peers make winning a Grammy even more special. The weeks leading into the Grammys were very chaotic but being able to center myself in those moments allowed me to be calm and present on Grammy day.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Grey Goose and how that came about?
ML: With Grey Goose being the official spirits partner for the Grammys again this year, I was able to be a part of their Sound Sessions series that leads up to the biggest night in music. It was really fun, and I’m really grateful and happy to be involved with them because now I finally have a moment to partner with two iconic brands such as the Grammys and Grey Goose. It’s mind-blowing because I really don’t think I’ve had the opportunity to process everything that’s happening.
How would you describe your personal style and your approach to getting dressed for red carpets and music video visuals?
ML: I’m super into fashion, and I always like to make sure that I stay authentic and bring ‘me’ to the runway. I would say that my personal style is clean and classy, and I also work with the amazing celebrity stylist Jason Rembert and his team. Even when I’m doing things that are a little more avant-garde or edgy, I’m always thinking about the balance. If I’m wearing a really crazy piece, my hair is going to be simple and my makeup is going to be simple. And if I’m wearing something that’s more about the tailoring and the structure of the fabric, then I’ll go a little more adventurous with the hair – maybe throw in a bunch of jewelry, or my grills and big hoops. It’s not just about the music and your performance, it’s also about how you present yourself and how you show up, and I love seeing people’s faces light up when they see me in a piece that looks stunning!
What does ‘Black Girl Magic’ mean to you, and what advice would you give to young women aspiring to follow in your footsteps?
ML: Black Girl Magic, to me, is the ability to decide what’s cool to you without any outside influence, because that’s one thing that I feel like we don’t get enough credit for. We latch on to something and then boom – just like that – it’s the newest trend. We see this on TikTok a lot with the “clean girl aesthetic,” Mielle hair drops and slugging trends. Just like so many other things that we do out of creativity or just having fun and being ourselves, it becomes pop culture. We do things because we love it, versus something being the hottest new trend. When I was growing up, I would see my older cousins getting doobie wraps, wearing crop tops and tight jeans with flip flops and toes done, and super long fingernails, and I just wanted to be like them. So, to me, that’s what Black Girl Magic is – that aura, radiating confidence, but also still being down to earth and super cool. And I just want to inspire young girls to try different things, and don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something.
What can fans expect next from the world of Muni Long?
ML: So many things are coming up! I’ve got merch, I’ve got new music, some amazing features and videos. Some live performances and some really awesome brand collaborations including skin care. I’m just expanding in so many ways right now. But first things first, I’m gonna take a two-week vacation, and then I’ll be back – okay!