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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Erika Denae J

Dymond Jewell

Erika Denae J’s debut EP – "Rx Melodies" – is bursting with chilled-out, uplifting, jazzy neo-soul. When she first heard the music for her song “And Try,” she starting thinking about the circus and ran with that inspiration, writing an encouraging plea for anyone struggling with the whirlwind, circus-like feeling of being in a relationship.

Erika recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about using music as medicine, being a conduit for Black experiences, and feeling like a trapeze artist in the circus of love.

This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.

What’s your musical history up to this point?

"Rx Melodies" is my debut music project, outside of that, I’ve always sang in church & sang in my college concert choir along with a small singing group called generation worship.

How do you describe your sound?

I would best describe my sound as encouraging neo-soul with a sprinkle of jazz. It’s both chill and uplifting. Soothing and reflective.

Tell us more about the song “Two.” What inspired you to write it?

The concept & lyrics for “And Try” was inspired by the sounds used in the track. When I first listened to the track with James Johnson III; who produced the EP, my first question was “Were you thinking Circus when you made this because it’s giving circus”. He said no, but I couldn’t get that concept out of my head after that. The circus theme kept reminding me of how relationships can feel at times, playing a game, hoping to win & going around and around in circles, just chaotic at times. So, I pulled from the place of a past failed relationship, how I kept stepping right up to try at it, knowing that it wasn’t going to really lead me anywhere.

"Rx Melodies" is a very evocative title. Can you talk about what it means to you? 

"Rx Melodies" houses the songs and melodies that I used as a prescription to heal from some major things in life like depression, breakups, family issues, and just needing some reminders & encouragement during heavy times. I sang these songs over myself in some of my worst moments & they truly helped me to keep going and I hope that it helps & encourages others like it did for me.

What was the first album that really changed your life? 

Whew, that’s a really hard question, but it’s a 3-way tie between "Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol 1," "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," and "The Nu Nation Project" by Kirk Franklin.

Can you talk about what it means to be a Black artist in Pittsburgh?

For me, being a black artist in Pittsburgh means that I have an opportunity to share both the pain and pleasures of my life. I can be a conduit for black experiences to be seen, felt, and experienced through my music and my lens. I think that’s pretty powerful and can elicit major shifts in social /racial relationships, perspectives, and understanding about the black narrative.

Which Pittsburgh artist(s) do you wish more people knew about?

Anita Levels, JM the Poet, Cam Chambers, Clara Kent, James Johnson III & Carolyn Perteete, Inez, Loren and Sierra Sellers. Also, Curtis Lewis, Kenny Stockard, and Adam Murelli.

Any other super interesting things we should know about you?

I recently wrote & published an activity journal through my company Beata Beatus Co, titled "The Encouragement Guide: An Interactive journal to build Healthy Self-Esteem and Confidence for Girls." I love encouraging people through writing and music. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Dymond Jewell

Learn more about Erika Denae J:


Check out previous Pittsburgh Artists of the Week here.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.