If you ask Jessie Murph to pinpoint the moment she first realized a career as an artist was a possibility, she’ll tell you it happened right after cheer practice one night. “I started on TikTok with covers, and then slowly but surely started putting my own stuff on there,” Murph says over the phone. “I’ll never forget when I got out of cheer practice, I opened TikTok and the video had blown up. I remember freaking out and running around my kitchen screaming, it was so crazy. Because it made me realize if that was possible, I could blow up other songs, too.”
Just 19 years old, Murph now has several global hits, a couple of tours and multiple festival appearances to her name—plus a deal with Columbia Records. Murph’s initial success building a following on TikTok with covers led her to start posting original material, and by 2021 she’d translated social media popularity into a record deal and her first Hot 100 entry, “Always Been You.” The song peaked at No. 95 and eventually went platinum by the end of the year. She released two other singles, “Pray” and “How Could You,” in 2022, then kicked off 2023 with a mixtape called Drowning. And mixtape is the appropriate title for her early work, as Murph’s sound splits the difference between rap, pop, and country with immaculate precision, in a way that’s proven difficult for other artists to emulate.
Born in Athens, Alabama, and currently based in Nashville, Murph is from a generation that knows and loves rappers like 6lack and Lil Baby just as well as the catalogs of Adele and Amy Winehouse. Plus, she can namecheck the Jason Aldean duet that influenced her most from the country side of things (“Don’t You Wanna Stay,” with Kelly Clarkson) without missing a beat. Steeped in the importance of country music’s place in southern culture, and raised by a father who was an aspiring country star himself, Murph can seamlessly blend her love of every genre of music, and her powerhouse voice—with a bit of twang and down-home sound—carries them with ease.
Yes, her ability to channel love, pain, and the whole damn thing through lyrics is a factor too, but Murph has one of those voices that would make the alphabet song itself sound sexy and fragile. “I think I’ve kind of always sounded similar to what I do now, it was never something I was conscious of,” she says. “I just knew that I loved singing, and there was always music in my household. For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a musician, it’s always been my passion.”
Interestingly enough, it’s been the support of other artists who work at the crossroads of hip-hop and country that have been responsible for some of the other massive moments in Murph’s early career. Following the release of her mixtape, a couple of superstar collaborations helped push this young musician onto an even bigger stage, including a feature on one of the singles off Diplo’s new album, Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley, Chapter 2: Swamp Savant. Released last July, the track, which also features rapper Polo G, was the result of an ongoing conversation about working together between Murph and the producer.
“That song was a long, drawn-out process,” she says of the “Heartbroken” collaboration. “I’d known Diplo for a while, I think he was like the first famous person that ever reached out to me. Before I signed he was like ‘I love your music, we should do something.’ Of course, I was freaking out, but we never really got around to it, and a couple of years later this song happened. It’s something that had come to fruition, and then when Polo G got on it I was like ‘Oh my God!’”
The song peaked at No. 64 on the Hot 100 last year and helped open up a lane for Murph as a vocalist who was not only interested in working with hip-hop producers and rappers, but loves and understands that side of the industry as well. “Hip-hop will always be part of my sound, and it’s something I’m super passionate about,” she says. “It’s just one of the ways music comes out of me. I love it. Now more than ever, genres are just gone. I do have the capability to rap, and I do have the capability to sing, and I think it’s cool that I can use them both at the same time.”
Her next big collaboration was a similar mashup of sounds when she worked with Texan rapper Jelly Roll, another artist who blends the southern sounds of country and rap. Jason Bradley DeFord, aka Jelly Roll, is something of a personal hero for Murph, and the pair recently collaborated on a song called “Wild Ones.” Originally, Murph had written the track as just a solo song, but after Jelly Roll invited her to perform at one of his recent shows, and heard the unreleased track, he wanted to add a verse. It’s currently Murph’s biggest song to date and is still sitting pretty high on the chart at No. 41.
“I made ‘Wild Ones’ not thinking it was a collab at all,” she says. “Then Jelly Roll invited me to come sing a cover with him at his show. We sang ‘Simple Man’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was my first time going out in an arena, it was insane. And then, he heard ‘Wild Ones’ and wanted to get on it. I was in the studio with him when he made his verse and it was crazy. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met in my life. Great dude. ”
Currently touring behind her mixtape, Drowning, and buoyed by recent chart success, Murph is still thrilled and exhilarated to be onstage every night, and see the reaction of her fans, and is even more ready to release new music in 2024. “The tour was crazy and surreal for me,” she says. “It was eye-opening because I saw a lot of pain in the crowd, I saw a lot of people who were hurting, but I also saw a lot of people who were healing. I don’t put this stuff out for nothing. Overall, I’m grateful for that tour and later in 2024, I’m looking forward to putting out a very true-to-me project that encompasses female rage well. I’m so fucking excited about it.”