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Phillip Johnson Richardson

Source: handout / Phillip Johnson Richardson

Cassius got the opportunity to chat with rising star Phillip Johnson Richardson ahead of his Broadway debut in THE WIZ revival and the release of his debut EP.

When it comes to channeling one’s energy to shine through, Phillip Johnson Richardson is becoming one of the newest examples of how to do it. The Charlotte, North Carolina native has parlayed his talents, honed at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, into a burgeoning career. It began as he joined the Chicago company of the award-winning musical Hamilton and several television appearances including TBS’ The Last O.G. and being a series regular on Apple TV’s Little Voices in addition to appearing in A24’s Sharper.

For Richardson, the horizon is growing as he’s now set to release his Hurt People Squared EP this summer and will make his Broadway debut as The Tin Man in the highly anticipated revival of THE WIZ beginning at the end of March. Cassius had a chance to talk with Richardson ahead of his show at the Mercury Lounge in New York City.

Cassius: How are you feeling on the eve of basically dropping a new album? And you’re also about to appear on Broadway – let’s tackle your upcoming Broadway debut first, how are you feeling?

Richardson: To keep it real with you right now, because we just got off the tour – I’m just sitting here in my hometown for a little bit. I feel very rested but I feel like I need more rest. Tired. We were on tour for six months. It was a lot of energy, it was a lot of a lot. A lot of traveling. A lot of doing all this stuff on the side. I do like a lot of shows, I’m playing in a show in March. It’s been a lot, but I do feel great. I feel very grateful for everything, I feel very ready for everything that’s coming my way as well. I feel like I’ve worked very hard for the past… I don’t even want to put a time limit on it, but I’ve worked very hard for these for some years now. And I feel like everything is kind of coming to fruition in a sense that like, everything may not like hit at the same time. But I do feel like all the things are starting to align with each other. Everything is starting to make sense to me as an artist, as a human, as a performer, everything. So I feel very blessed. And I feel very grateful for everything. And I’m just ready to seize the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Cassius: What was the original idea or concept behind Hurt People Squared?

Richardson: Well, to be honest with you, I’ve had trouble with relationships, and one in particular. I mean, I’m in my 20s and I would say I have a pretty decent awareness of myself and the things that I’ve been through at this point. With this one relationship that I had – she’s an artist, and it was kind of like an on-and-off thing for about two or three years. I met her when I was super young, she’s a little older than me. It kind of started after she had just broken up with somebody and then she would always talk about her ex. To the point, I’m like, “Bro. I cannot hear anymore. I’m actually over it.” (Laughs). And then, I feel like there were some things that she had to go through. And I remember there was one time she essentially just told me –  it was during the pandemic so we were like kind of like living with each other, we were the only people that we had contact with me, her and my friend and roommate that I was living with – and she goes “I’m not over my ex” and then just like leaves.

Goes home for like a month and figures her s— out.

And then I didn’t see her for a few months. I started dating somebody else and then she came back to New York in August 2020. Then we started hanging out again but I just couldn’t get over it, the kind of…I don’t want to say trauma because I don’t like that word, but it was hard for me to get over what she did. So essentially I have like a compilation of songs that I had been writing through that experience, good and bad. Some of them are love songs and the other ones are like, “You hurt my heart, look what you done, put me through the wringer”. I also say “hurt people squared” because people say, “Hurt people hurt people” and I just thought that was a clever way to say that.

Phillip Johnson Richardson Hurt People Squared EP

Source: handout / Phillip Johnson Richardson

Cassius: For you getting into music at a young age, coming up from Charlotte at that time, what were the key influences for you guiding you along that path initially?

Richardson: To be honest with you man, music was never, never anything that I even thought was possible because coming from Charlotte, there’s only like a few people that were ever sort of in the limelight to succeed in Charlotte, like Anthony Hamilton. And the other person who was just from North Carolina period that I knew about, was Petey Pablo. Like, other than that, I don’t know too many artists around the time that I was growing up that like, “We’re from Charlotte.” 

So the kind of way that I found music was through theater.  And it was around the time that Chance [The Rapper] had dropped his album. Chance and that year of 2016 had a really big influence on me to where I said, “Oh, I can write music.” I was going to school for musical theater, and I started not to like it because I was around a bunch of white people, to be honest with you. It was a combination of several things. Then I fell into writing. And then I started to act. Then I started song-making, and then when you do that you meet other people who do it. I met hella people who were artists at my school. Some of the people who I rap with still to this day are my homies who are from Greensboro. I just kind of started to write and I started to really take it seriously on my own. And now I’m here doing my thing.

Cassius: Going forward, what would you envision yourself doing after this EP drops and you go through this run with the Wiz? What would you want to undertake next, in either path?

Richardson: Big, big goals. And I’m not really a person that has goals. I just kind of work really hard. But if I had to put something down?  I’m going to do movies, I’ve done a few already. I meet with casting directors and casting agents. I know I’ve got the talent.  And then when I do those movies, I’ll go “Hey, by the way, I make music” and work to write a song for the soundtrack. So I continue to elevate in both aspects. And then also, I would love to do a tour. like I want to tour with artists. I want to continue to work on my live stuff because I love doing live shows. That’s where I feel like you’ll really understand me as an artist. So just stuff like that, continuing to just elevate. 

I always go back and forth on if I would want to sign with a label. I think if I ever did sign with a label, it would have to be an independent vibe. I don’t know how I feel about just being on the majors because essentially, there’s just no money that comes with that. It’s like recognition, “fame”. I mean, there are obviously different stories and different views of that. I like to have creative control of all my stuff. The goal is to continue to just elevate on everything.

Cassius: And I’ll end it off with this since you mentioned, you know, you know, cuz, you know, pretty much doing live shows is like, your favorite thing to do, like, what’s your best live show experience that you had to date? You know, in terms of reception vibe, you know, man.

Richardson: When I was on tour and we came to my hometown, Charlotte. That show was crazy. I don’t even know how I did this. We just planned a show in Charlotte at this venue that stands out to me just because I used to always pass by when I was a kid. It’s called The Evening News. And I did a show there and I remember I was so worried, because the big part about doing live shows, especially as independent artists is just getting people to show up. I’m very confident in my talent, and in what I can do on stage, but it’s just the mere fact that getting people to show up and being at home was crazy. 

I had people who are from my hometown come, from Atlanta come to see me. Understand, some of my homies and people I haven’t seen since middle school come and see me in a show. And it ended up being sold out of it. Like we had to turn people away. Because we were at capacity. I walked in and I was like, “Oh s—t.”, And I had local acts come on before me. It was just like a, really, really, really dope moment. So that was kind of my biggest thing to date, I would say.

Phillip Johnson Richardson

Source: handout / Phillip Johnson Richardson