From his early days playing the trumpet to picking up the ukulele to impress a girl,—obviously—Paul Russell has embarked on a remarkable journey to global recognition; an unexpected come-up for even himself, fueled by self-discovery and a passion for creating feel-good moments, best described as “cookout music you listen to outside with a bunch of friends,” he says.
Before the world knew Paul Russell or could open TikTok without hearing his infectious single “Lil Boo Thang”, he had dreams that ventured beyond the realm of music. He dabbled in freelance writing, considered journalism, and even delved into the world of business. The idea of being a musician wasn’t always at the forefront of his mind. Yet, as life unfolded, he found his way into the heart of the music industry, carving a unique path for himself, making a buffet of R&B, funk, pop, and hip-hop. Paul’s transition to becoming a musician wasn’t instantaneous, even though it may seem so. In reality, the dots of his purpose connected over time. With the realization that his music had the power to touch people’s lives and provide a smile or an opportunity to dance during difficult times, he embraced it wholeheartedly.
With a growing fanbase and a heart full of purpose, he believes that his music, as a source of inspiration and connection, has the power to change the world in a way that few other things can. So, where does his journey lead next? With a substantial amount of music in the archives, Paul is poised to keep making waves in the music industry, one uplifting track at a time.
As Paul Russell keeps riding this wave of creativity, he candidly chats to me about how his single came about on a stressed-out Thursday afternoon, why Poli Sci makes for the most attractive majors, and the red and green flags he looks out for on the dating scene.
Tell me about your musical journey, from the early days of learning the trumpet to your time at Cornell.
Paul: True, trumpet was my introduction to music. Back then, it wasn’t like I wanted to be a musician, it was kind of a drag, to be honest. When I came to college, I started playing ukulele because there was a girl I liked who played ukulele. I remember meeting a guy who wanted to work in the music industry [and] to get experience, he asked if he could help me. He’d book me at little coffee shops and pizza places booking ukelele and singing. Still, back then, in my head, I wasn’t going to be a musician, it was just an outlet. Over time, I’d make more stuff to play at the coffee shops and put it on SoundCloud. Friends of mine would hear it and send it to their friends. Eventually, I did an internship in Southern California and I met some musicians who encouraged me to make it a thing and really try it. Long story short, it went from there. I started using TikTok and it’s a real, real thing.
What did you want to do before music?
Paul: It definitely changed a lot. When I first went to college, I did a lot of freelance writing and wrote for my school newspaper. I wanted to be a journalist for a while, and then Business. I was working at a tech company doing finance stuff and just quit my day job the week before the song [“Lil Boo Thang”] came out. It took a while to realize I’d be a musician because you can never plan for something like that.
Did you have a moment during this time when the dots connected for you?
Paul: Yeah! After I graduated, I started making more music and seeing people connect with it. But still, in my head, it wasn’t — I was always like, I wanna change the world, music is just fun! Hearing people tell me, “This thing you made really helped me through a difficult time,” or, “Something you posted really connected with me.” Sometimes the emotional and social stuff has the biggest impact on you. As opposed to creating a company and making a bunch of money or something. And is that really changing the world as much as making something people connect with?
I’d argue that is still very aligned with your original mission. Do we need any more goods or services? Maybe we just need something to make us feel good and believe in, and music is a great catalyst for that.
Paul: It really is. And “Lil Boo Thang” came together by accident. It came at a time when there were a lot of difficult things happening in the world. A lot of people connected with it because it was just happy. If I’m able to give somebody something that will make them more optimistic or enjoy their lives in the moment, that’s insane that I get to have that impact. That makes me not discount it at all. I definitely am doing something that I feel is meaningful and has a lot of purpose, so I’m gonna keep doing it.
How did “Lil Boo Thang” happen? I know you said you created it on a stressed-out, Thursday afternoon.
Paul: Yeah! At the time, I had been making a bunch of stuff and promoting music I’d made and was tired of doing the promo thing. I just made something for me and it was good content. At the time, it wasn’t anything that could be released, it was just fun. I sat down, got the instrumental to “Best Of My Love” and recorded just the 20-second clip. When people loved it, I was like dang, guess I got to finish the song and get the clearance!
Why “Best Of My Love”? Was it really as simple as listening to it that day?
Paul: I mean, it’s a special song because it’s so celebratory and happy. You hear it at weddings and family reunions. It has that quality to it that just makes you happy. Like I was saying, it seems like there isn’t as much music coming out now that has that feel to it. How could I use what’s there and make it my own or more modern? I’ve always liked a lot of music from that era that makes you want to move, is multi-generational, and will make you smile.
You mentioned doing TikTok promo. How do you use and leverage TikTok now? What was your reaction when you saw the response to your 20-second snippet?
Paul: Seeing the response was insane because it pretty quickly started being something people used in videos. I remember getting so many videos sent to me. It’s crazy seeing so many people you don’t know connect with something. We haven’t communicated but something I thought of in my room, they’re dancing to. It’s wild. Now, I’m trying to figure out how to take people who know the song and bring them into connecting with me. It’s a tricky thing, I don’t know necessarily how to do it. There’s attention and eyes and I want to keep doing this and make music that makes people happy.
Let’s talk about “Ms. Poli Sci”. What about Political Science makes for the most attractive majors, what does that mean?
Paul: Haha, you know, I think people who study Poli Sci tend to be — they know what they care about and know what they have a passion for. I think that’s a very attractive thing, to be so sure and confident in yourself and what you want. I was in the studio and had started making the song and hadn’t figured out what it would be about yet. I was scrolling Instagram and saw a friend of mine had just graduated and gotten a major in Political Science. For some reason, I just started singing that and there we go.
So, it’s the intelligence. Give me more green flags you see in someone.
Paul: Green flags, I would say… I like it when someone can be sarcastic with me and able to feel comfortable enough, with yourself and me, to joke around. Banter. Having something you’re really passionate about, even super small. The third green flag would be able to hang in different scenarios with different people. I’m always in very different contexts, even in music, sometimes I do a show with all Black people and sometimes it’s all suburban moms. You’d have to be able to hang out in all those contexts to roll with me.
How about red flags?
Paul: Red flags, hm. This has got me thinking. I think when people take things that clearly aren’t personal, personally. I’m someone who is often unprepared, so being too go with the flow is a red flag for me just because I know I’m like that. And the last thing is when someone is too picky of an eater. If I go to a new town, I’m going to want to try the food there and not have a grilled cheese every time. I can’t plan my schedule and restaurant choices around your very specific tastes. Dietary restrictions are different, and that’s totally fine.
That last one is felt deeply. Any insights into future projects? What are you working on right now?
Paul: I’m making a lot of music right now. I’ve been in the studio a lot. There was already a lot of music I was planning to release before “Lil Boo Thang” and I still do. A lot of new music coming.
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