Jozzy Takes Us into the Writing Session for "Old Town Road (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus)" [ANATOMY OF A SONG]
It seems that Jocelyn Donald, better known as Jozzy, was born to be a songwriter. Raised in Memphis to a musical family, she made a name for herself locally as an R&B songwriter, which led to the opportunity to work with Timbaland. A fortunate series of events later, she found herself under Missy Elliott's wing, which eventually sent her songwriting career into orbit.
Jozzy has worked with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Usher, Chris Brown and Lil Wayne, in addition to contributing to the 2018 FIFA World Cup theme and movie soundtracks. Her most recent work has taken the world by storm, pioneering a blend of hip hop and country by writing Billy Ray Cyrus's verse on Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road Remix." Surpassing 100 million streams with ease, the remix delighted audiences and forged a path for unlikely collaborations within the hip hop and country sphere, proving that old and new can be a golden combination.
We caught up with the rising songwriter to get the scoop on working with Billy Ray, the power of southern charm, and stepping into her own artistry.
OTW: Let's talk about your songwriting journey before we dive into this specific song. How did you get your start?
Jozzy: Since I was a kid, music has been important to me and my family. I sang in my church and wrote my first song at 11 years old. I started out in a little studio in Memphis that I lovingly refer to as the Trap House. I would get the Brown Paper Bag Money, rappers would come in and give me cash under the table to write their hooks. Then the studio got raided by the police, and it wasn’t really functioning anymore. A producer from Memphis then put me in touch with Timbaland protege Wizz Dumb, and I went down to Miami to write and record. I was only supposed to be there for a week but I ended up staying for five years. I’ve worked with Coldplay, Pharrell, 21 Savage, Jacquees, Chris Brown and Usher. I’m moving into the artist space as well; my song which features Lil Wayne will come out on May 17.
BRAIN: The Thought Process
OTW: So diving into "Old Town Road," we are so curious about how this session went. Who was there? What was the vibe?
Jozzy: The vibe was one of the most memorable vibes I have ever had in a session. It was me, Billy Ray, his wonderful wife Tish, and the engineer. Billy was like an open book, he was so cool and was excited to be part of this song. It felt stress free. I wanted the new generation to get to know Billy and wanted Billy to be as cool as Lil Nas X, because he is! They’re both dope. They let me freestyle a melody and then we wrote it down.
OTW: What was your role in writing the remix?
Jozzy: My sole purpose was to help Billy with his verse. I added a few vocals, but really my role was to make sure Billy had the best verse for Old Town Road. Lil Nas X had killed it with the song, so we wanted the remix to be insane.
OTW: The song is just under two minutes. Did you consider making the remix longer?
Jozzy: I don’t think we thought about length. Lil Nas X made a great song - it's not too short, it's not too long. For the remix, we just thought about what felt right and what worked for Billy.
HEART: The Core Emotion
OTW: How did you and Billy Ray connect during the session?
Jozzy: I connected with Billy Ray because he reminded me of my dad. Billy was loud and funny with Southern Charm and Tish was so chill. We are all Southern so we had the South to bridge us. They felt like family to me.
OTW: What emotion was at the core of the song in your opinion?
Jozzy: I wasn’t trying to convey any emotion, but was more trying to go for a Beverly Hillbillies sort of vibe. Like I wanted to take this quintessential Nashville guy and put him into Beverly Hills. Make him a city boy but with that country swag. I think we really conveyed that.
OTW: The country sphere has historically been dominated by white men. How was your experience working with an established country star like Billy Ray Cyrus on such an offbeat song? Was is what you expected?
Jozzy: Well back in the day, country music didn’t always accept Billy. So I think we all were doing something unique, and it was even better than I expected. Here was a young black man making this great hit song that can work with many genres, including country, and then came along me, a black woman, doing the remix. Billy has a lot of experience and has worked in Nashville for a long time and his cosign really made a difference. I feel that sometimes it takes a figure who people recognize, from a certain genre or world, to cosign something that might be otherwise unfamiliar to a separate demographic. There were people who didn’t want to give Lil Nas X a chance, and then Billy Ray stepped up and people paid attention. In 2019, we have advanced in technology and how we listen to music, but country still feels pretty white, and now it feels like the door is being opened for people of color to get to experiment with country music and experience country music.
LEGS: The Means to Take Off
OTW: Did you anticipate it being such a hit when you were writing it?
Jozzy: "Old Town Road" was hot, and it just keeps getting hotter. When I was asked to work with Billy on the remix, I did not expect it to be this big, I’m not even going to front. I’m proud that people love the song and the remix and that both are doing so well.
OTW: How has your life changed since the massive success of the song?
Jozzy: This has been a great year! I’ve signed with Columbia Records and my song, which features Lil Wayne, comes out in May. I am stepping into my artistry and will be working not only as a writer but also as an artist.
OTW: What specifically about the song do you think people resonate with?
Jozzy: I think it's different, and people have been waiting for a song that this is youth friendly but grown ups can feel cool singing it too. We needed a song for everybody and this is it.
OTW: What are the challenges that come with blending hip hop and country?
Jozzy: The challenge is acceptance. Rappers are lyrical and big on emotion, and country music is totally based on emotions so it can be done, and it can work well together. It just has to be accepted, and the country world has to be open to rap artists tapping into this world.
HANDS: Advice for Songwriters Who Need a Lift
OTW: What advice do you have for up and coming songwriters who are trying to get their break?
Jozzy: My advice is just don’t let anyone put a limit on your dopeness and tell you what you can and can’t write. Don’t put a limit on your dopeness. Write a lot of songs, be open, you never know what song could change your life. Don’t be too attached to your songs, and don’t be afraid to step out of the box and don’t let anyone put you in a box.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?