Muni Long On the State of R&B, the Mistreatment of Songwriters, and Going Viral

With “Made for Me” going viral online, Muni Long talks about the making of the song, trying to revive the “feeling” of R&B, and advocating for songwriters.

Photo by Tony Bowen

Muni Long is trying to restore the feeling in R&B.

The Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, actress, and occasional chef is honest about how the genre needs to improve—specifically when it comes to delivering more timeless records and bringing back the warm embrace of songs like Usher’s “Superstar” or Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together.” “I just feel like that is an element of what is missing [in R&B today],” she says. “It's that closeness and intimacy when you're listening to a song.”

Fortunately, Muni finds herself in the position to do something about it. “You can only demand what you can deliver, and I know what I can do,” she tells me matter-of-factly while sitting in Complex’s New York studio. 

Born Priscella Renea, the Florida native has lived several professional lives before reaching her latest incarnation as a Grammy Award–winning singer and songwriter. Muni began her career as a teenager, landing her first viral moment when she posted a pixelated video of herself singing words in the dictionary and posting it to YouTube in 2007, which now has over 1 million views. She went by her real name back then, and would continue to do so as she pivoted into songwriting, working with the likes of Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez, and Rihanna. 

Muni Long knew that she didn’t want to be seen as solely a songwriter forever, so she adopted the stage name Muni Long in 2019 and began to fully invest in her singing career. If she hadn’t done this, Muni says she probably would have “pivoted out of the industry” completely because of the lack of equity and fair treatment that songwriters have.

“Songwriters get beat up a lot,” she explains. “They take a lot of L’s in order to deliver this incredible product, which is really like the genesis of all the other things that come.” Because of the challenges that she’s experienced in her journey as a songwriter, Muni has made it a point to advocate for other writers in the space, even going to Washington, DC and speaking to congresspeople to lobby for more songwriter rights. And she’ll continue to do so, even as she focuses more time on her solo career. 


Muni Long reveals the biggest misconception about her. Our interview with #munilong is on Complex now

♬ original sound - Complex

After years of helping write award-winning records for other artists, Long finally landed her own when her 2022 track “Hrs and Hrs” won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. Now she has another hit track on her hands with her 2023 song “Made for Me.” She released it in September, but it caught fire on TikTok’s algorithm months later thanks to a network of social media creators who made viral videos to it, causing it to spread like wildfire.

Whether you found her in a past life as Priscella Renea the songwriter, a young YouTube phenom, or a star vocalist in her own right, Muni Long is here to stay. Complex caught up with her for a conversation about her latest viral song, “Made for Me,” the state of R&B, songwriters' rights, possibly working on Beyoncé’s country album, and more. The interview, lightly condensed for clarity, is below.

How are you? How was performing on Fallon?
It was amazing. Jimmy's so incredibly sweet, and the crew was very welcoming to me. I think I did a great job. I was definitely paying homage to the late ’90s and early 2000s R&B with the note choices and my outfit, and a little nod to the blue pajama girl on TikTok. So it was good.

You have a background in songwriting. What’s more difficult, writing a hit song or taking care of livestock on a farm every day? 
I think there is a freedom in growing up on a farm. You wake up, bare feet, just go outside, grab an orange off the tree, and bite the top off of it—fresh orange juice right there. Climb trees, go chop some sugar cane in the backyard. I had an amazing time on that farm. Then you come out of that, and now you're in all these fancy studios with all these amazing people, and it's just like, “Wow.” There's definitely effort and skill required, but both of them were extremely incredible experiences to have.

Early in your career, you wrote on Rihanna’s “California King Bed.” How did you two get connected?
When you're starting out, and you're still trying to sink your teeth in, a lot of times you're still on the perimeter. You work with the people who work with the people. I was in Miami at the time for “California King Bed,” working out of We The Best studio, and I was actually working with Jermaine [Jackson] from The Runners. They had the chords and everything. I listened, I went back into the room, and they gave me the file.

At the time I was planning to move to L.A. I was actually online looking for furniture when Maine comes in the room, and he's like, “What you got?” I didn’t have anything, because I had been messing around, and I looked at my computer. I was like, “Oh, I got a title.” I said “California King Bed,” and he said, “OK,” and then he left. So I was like, “Oh, now I gotta write that.”

I wrote the song in like 10 minutes. I was like, “Turn it up, let me get this done real quick,” so I could go back to looking for my furniture. Originally, they were trying to pitch it to Kelly Clarkson. Then I came back two months later, and my publisher Ryan Press said that they were going to cut it for Rihanna. I was super excited. She was on tour at the time, but she cut the song, and the rest is history. You wouldn't think that she would do something like that. What that did for the trajectory of my career as a creative was massive. After that, I did work with her in the studio many times, but that was my first entry point into my journey with Rih.

I think of songwriting as a thankless job. What do you think is a misconception about songwriters?
There are many. Songwriters get beat up a lot. Like, they take a lot of L’s in order to deliver this incredible product, which is really the genesis of all the other things that come. For example, “California King Bed,” through that song, Rih was able to get an endorsement with Nivea—a very lucrative one—to where she could go on tour and have all these things. I don't know the intricacies of her business, so let’s not misconstrue that, but a very small portion of that actually makes it to the songwriter. 

There's all these business people involved who get a piece, and then you have your co-writers and your producers. And then sometimes they don't even feed you. You're in this room for eight hours; you're hungry. A lot of times you have to choose between gas to get there or a meal. I used to take toilet paper from the studio because I didn't have any money. I used to empty the fruit bowl in my backpack, like grocery shopping. 

A lot of people are like, “With songwriting, you make so much money.” But you have to understand there is a pipeline. I might write a song today, and I won't see a dollar for two years. What job do you know that you work on spec like that for that long? Imagine going to work and you don't get your first check for two years after your first day. That's crazy.

And we're not even getting to the public part. We're just talking about the day-to-day of it all while you are being kicked in the teeth every day and you have to get up and continue. You have to have a certain level of crazy to get up and keep doing that. It’s just insane, honestly, the stuff that I went through as a songwriter, and I'm on the high side of the spectrum where I'm getting cuts, and I have people who know my track record, and I'm still getting murdered. 


Muni Long talks about the mistreatment of songwriters #munilong

♬ original sound - ComplexMusic

Can songwriters unionize?
We’re not allowed to unionize; it’s against the law. Ask the government—they did it. I've been to [Washington] DC to campaign and speak to the congresspeople about changing the laws, and there has been a lot of movement and shift in that area. It was just announced that there's over $400 million in back pay for songwriters from when the DSPs—Spotify specifically—challenged the royalty rate. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't wanna say things incorrectly, but if you know, you know, in that world. So there have been a lot of great wins as of late. But yeah, it's not easy to do what we're doing to bring this music to the world. By no means are we doing any heavy manual labor—it’s just music—but I don’t think a lot of people understand the [relative struggle], and they’ll just see the 30 seconds of the glitz and the glam. They don’t see everything that led up to it.

There's a lot of conversation right now just around songwriters' rights and people using their influence or positions of power to oppress others. I definitely am one who likes to shift the paradigm, and I would love to be able to be an artist that's setting a new precedent. I don't take publishing when I don't write. I don't care if I've been offered it many times. And I'm also very adamant about not giving [it] just because somebody has a name. A lot of artists have tried, and I said no thank you. I don't believe in that. You stay in your lane and I stay in my lane. Don't come over here trying to eat the little crumbs that I'm getting.

What do you think your career would have looked like if you’d never pivoted away from songwriting?
I probably would have pivoted out of the industry, period. I would have done something else—fashion, culinary design, the hair and beauty space. I have a lot of different things that I'm able to do. I can do my own makeup, my own hair, and do my own nails. I know how to sew. I know how to cook and all these things that just help me to be able to express how I'm feeling. Because you could express your love on a plate, with the way that you plate it and the flavors that you put in there. I probably would have just exited completely, but I love music so much and honestly couldn't see myself really giving 1,000% to anything else.

What made you stop going by your real name and adopt your stage name Muni Long? Why didn’t Melrose stick?
I was still trying to figure it out. That was in the beginning of my country journey, and I was trying to do what I did for Muni Long in the country space, because I had to depart from the character that people know me as: the songwriter. I was trying to do that with Melrose, and there was so much that I didn't know. What's funny is I actually got the idea for that name from Iggy Azalea. She came up with her name from—I think she said it was her dog and her street name. I remember I used to live on 6220 Melrose Avenue, and so I was like, “Oh, let's try Melrose. That might be cool.” It could have been something, but I just wasn't very sure of myself at that time.

J. Cole’s manager Ib Hamad recently tweeted that your song “Made for Me” feels “like one of those timeless R&B songs that’s gonna ring off in those R&B parties for some years.” What are your thoughts on that?
That's incredible. He manages one of the most incredible lyricists and talented artists and visionaries, who similarly got it out of the mud. So I think having people like that, who understand what it takes, who have seen the recipe unfold to the level that he has with his client, it's just an amazing pat on the back. Like, “Oh, keep going.” I appreciate that. If there is any validation that I would be interested in receiving, it would be from people like that.

Is there potential for a collaboration with Cole? I feel like that would work well.
Maybe we have to—I would love to. Do you remember the era when it was the rapper and the singer? The Ashanti of it all, I would love to bring that back. Can we bring that back, please?

What do you think was the last timeless R&B song before this?
I would have to give you multiple. Mary J. Blige, The Breakthrough, that album was a classic, with classic records off there. Confessions. Usher had multiple bangers, and then I would even say Aaliyah, the self-titled with the red cover. That’s the one with “Rock the Boat” on it? I believe. That's my favorite Aaliyah song. I would love to go into the Mariah [Carey] of it all, but I feel like she's so massive, it leans into pop. She’d probably hate that I said that. But she's just so masterful in that way that even her vocal delivery and the word choices. The Emancipation of Mimi was incredible as well. And Destiny's Child, Destiny Fulfilled.

What sticks out to you immediately when you hear a timeless R&B record? Is it the lyrics, the vocals, the chords?
I feel like there's something that hits you immediately when you can feel the intention. It just hits you immediately. It enters your ear and into this warm energy, like you’re wrapping me in a warm towel. I feel like that is an element of what is missing. It's that closeness and intimacy when you're listening to a song. I think that's what “Hrs and Hrs” has. As soon as it comes on, it hits you in the chest. All of those records that I named, I think they do that. Even Mariah’s “We Belong Together,” you already know that it's about to be something. So I think we could do a little better in the R&B space. Make me feel something.

That reminds me of that Instagram Reel you made where you were like, “Day 1,060 of saving R&B.”
I got a lot of flack for that [laughs]. A lot of people were like, “Hold your horses, girl. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

Can you tell a Grammy Award–winning artist to hold their horses, though?
You know, people be feeling like you got a big head. I say this all the time when people ask me, “How do you advocate for yourself?” I say, “You can only demand what you can deliver.” I know what I'm capable of. So I’m not going to say something that won’t age well.

Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox both helped produce “Made for Me,” so it makes sense that it evokes that timeless feeling. How did you connect with them?
I have been trying to get in with them for years, and it was just kind of like, “Yeah, OK, who is this little girl?” But everything happens in divine timing. Jermaine [Dupri], Johntá Austin, and Bryan [Michael Cox] came over from Vegas. I think they were over there with Usher. We did two or three days in the studio, and we had written this other song that was just a little bit too forward for me. Just things that I wouldn't want be putting out there in the universe, because you know I don't like that whole “I'm creeping with your man” kind of stuff. That kind of stuff gets you hurt.

There are things that certain artists can pull off, and I can't pull that off. But I played him “Made for Me.” It was just the piano and the vocal, and they seemed like they were interested. We left, came back a couple of weeks later, and they sent us a version. And I honestly had the demo for so long. I've had demo-itis, and it took for management to come in and be like, “This is hot—you’re tripping.” So they finished it, and we put it out the day after my birthday—Sept. 15 of last year—and TikTok just did its thing.

Have you connected with any of the original creators who helped make “Made for Me” blow up on TikTok? Like the blue pajama girl?
It's tricky because there was another creator named Reubenj. He did a parody of my Soul Train performance where he put a wig on and had his hair blowing and put on a suit. He had toilet paper hanging like what I had, and he did it like 50 times. He was out in the snow and making music videos. So he did it first, and he's the one who got people to start doing the little walking thing. 

Then the young lady Marie, she did it in the [pajamas]. So people kept tagging me like, “You need to tag her—you need to give her her props.” And she even said she got it from another creator named Cupid. So she got it from him, and she put a little thug energy, and that's why people gravitated towards the dance she did. And it just took off from there. I always like to give props to all of the people who helped make it what it is. Definitely, blue pajamas took it over the edge, and she gave us something to connect it to in the real world. Shoutout to you guys. I really appreciate it.

I didn’t even realize there was a whole family tree of people that helped it go viral.
If it's truly organic, it's never just gonna be one person, and that's the true essence of what it means to go viral. It's not just one creator, so I think people get that misconstrued. I try my best to stay connected with people and really have my own authentic closeness with them. But I think as my brand and my reach continue to grow, it's a lot harder to do that because there are all these unrealistic expectations that people put on me. There's just one of me, and there's so many of y'all. But I have a great relationship with Reuben. I went on [Instagram] Live with him, and he was just like living. And I love it when I can give people those intimate moments with me.

Do you think artists hunt for that viral TikTok moment to the point where it becomes inorganic and forced?
Let's be clear: Everybody's doing that. It's not just artists. Everybody’s got their camera at the ready. It could be an emergency, and instead of using your phone to dial 9-1-1, you hit record. That's crazy. I think that artists catch a lot of flak for it because there is an unrealistic expectation that if you are an artist, you should have a budget behind you, and so why are you out here doing what the rest of us are doing? You know, trying to catch views and get traction by making comedy sketches or whatever it is you're doing. And it's no shade to however anybody gets their rocks off, but I refuse. I'm partnered with Def Jam up there at the label. They'll be like, “Can you just stitch this?” I'll be like, “That's corny. I'm not doing that,” and I'm glad that I stick to my guns because when it does happen organically, there's nothing I could have done to make that happen. I don't ever want anything to feel contrived, because you can always tell. I think humans, we have this little sensor that we can tell when somebody is just doing a little bit too much, and I'm too cool for that.

You’ve been in music for a long time now, but haven’t really worked with any massive R&B artists on the same track as vocalists. What’s your wishlist of features? Who do you think you’d sound best with?
Of course I want to work with so many people, but the thing is, the energy has to be reciprocal. We have to be aligned. If there are people out there who want to work with me, I'm here waiting with open arms, please. Let's make that happen. I love SZA. Love Summer Walker. Love Teyana Taylor—that's my girl. Jhené Aiko. Kehlani, obviously. Victoria Monét. I adore her so much. Even over to the UK, there are just so many people. Males too. Giveon, I love the space that he's carved out. Brent Faiyaz is super cool. Luke James, he was in my video “Made for Me.” 

One of the delusional dreams that I have is that I could sort of revive this entire space. It takes teamwork. There's managers and labels, and all these things that have to happen to make that come together. And I also have to make it known that I'm open to that. So if I'm going to write for other people, I would want to start in this space to really start uplifting [people]. Like, “Summer, let's get you some hits, some bangers. SZA, let's get you something that's just going [to] just F the game up.” Because I do have that sensibility and capability to make R&B records but take them pop, because I started in the pop space. So call me if you want to reach me.

You have a professional and personal background in country music, including a No. 1 country song with Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. What are your thoughts on Beyoncé re-entering the space and making a country album? Is there any potential of you appearing on it as either a vocalist or songwriter?
Beyoncé, is there any possibility or chance that I could write on or participate in act two of your album? I was just saying that “16 Carriages” Maxwell remake lives rent-free in my head.

What’s it like seeing an artist like Victoria Monét, someone who has been in the industry around the same time as you, winning a Grammy this year in a similar fashion to how you did last year? 
I don't know how other people are perceiving it, but I've known Vicki for so long. I think what I gravitate towards most with her is her spirit and her energy. She is such a ball of sunshine, and I'm always inspired by how she stays so sweet and happy. I mean, people say I'm sweet; that girl is saccharine. She is just so squishy, and I feel like sometimes she may even be weirded out by just how much I adore her. But there aren't very many people that I genuinely feel that way towards, definitely girl-crush energy. I aspire to be more like her in that way, not even like we're two different artists. She's so incredibly talented onstage and as an engineer and musician. She knows what she's doing. I think everybody has their own individual journey, though, and there are a lot of similarities, maybe from what other people see, but for me, I resonate with her spirit.

What’s the biggest misconception about you?
I think people think that I'm just like this, like, ding dong super sweet… And really, it ain't giving none of that like. In this R&B shit, I'm a thug. I think when people get around me, I've heard many times that I give like Whitney Houston energy. You know, Bobby and Whitney, Whitney. And I say that all the time—like, if I'm Whitney, I'm Bobby and Whitney, Whitney. But I haven't had many opportunities to showcase my personality, and I also haven't been as comfortable as I am now just being myself in front of people. I used to always just be quiet, little fly on the wall, and speak when spoken to. And so I think it's time. I think it's time to let people into Muni’s world, so they could see how I get down what I be doing.

Are there any rising R&B acts that have been exciting you lately?
I think Honey Bxby is going to do something, I really do. She has a beautiful personality. She's beautiful in person. And then funny enough, there's so many artists in the neo-soul space that are coming up on TikTok. I love Cleo Sol as well. She just kind of makes you feel safe, Sade vibes. There's so many. I think R&B is having a strong resurgence.

What’s your prediction for R&B in 2024?
We coming. I think that there was a time when R&B was pop culture. It was mainstream, in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I think that's about to happen again. And I am really proud to be on the forefront and precipice of that. Artists, I'm here if you need me; if you need any advice, if you need some songs, if you want me to do your project, for a small fee, I got you.

What’s next for you? What are you excited about this year?
We got the album coming in 2024. It is incredible, executive produced by Tricky Stewart. I have a couple of songs on there that I didn't even write fully. I just came in and did my little tweaks. Theron Thomas just won Songwriter of the Year at the Grammys this year, he's on there, and I did one with The-Dream as well, so that was an honor to work with him. He's amazing. It's just straight-up R&B, pop, good structure. The music is incredible. The mixes sound amazing. I told an incredible story from top to bottom, and I knew I was finished when I felt like I didn't have anything else to say on the album. I'm really proud of it. I just can't wait to shoot these visuals, and I’m getting ready to do that. Go on tour. I got some live performances coming for y'all. So stay on the lookout for that.

Latest in Music