Jords on the catharsis of Black Lives Matter-supporting track ‘Black & Ready’
Jords is a triple threat. The singer, songwriter and rapper born Jordan Edwards-Wilks first began turning heads in 2016 with his debut mixtape ‘Means To An Ends’, a project that at times felt rooted in spoken word. Jords’ approach to the mic has certainly evolved in the years since, opting now for a more conventional rap-tinged sound with vocal layering in places that recalls J. Cole, Stormzy or Drake. Even in his cadence, Jords is now more assertive and all-knowing in regards to his warts’n’all representation of London, while his motivational and sometimes harrowing realism is a key feature of his latest gripping project ‘Almost An Adult’.
The 10-track collection, which came out in May, explores romance, growing pains — such as battling with peer pressure— and the loss of Jords’ grandmother, which he says almost led him into depression. Thematically, ‘Almost An Adult’ is a bold examination of nuance in emotions and is unapologetic in its portrayal of vulnerability in Black men. As the project title suggests, Jords also debuts a newfound sense of maturity which especially comes to the fore in the eight-minute accompanying film that explores its creator’s heritage and ancestral ties. The Curtis Essell and Christina Nwabugo-shot visual captures Jords on a visit to Jamaica and includes authentic footage featuring his grandparents, sister and wider bonded family.
Shortly after the release of ‘Almost An Adult’, the Black Lives Matter movement became hyper-visible as anti-racism protests swept across the globe in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Urged by the calls for equality, Jords dedicated his 26th birthday last month to showing his solidarity for the cause in central London with fellow protesters. A photograph of him holding his “Black & Ready” placard at the protest became the inspiration for the title of his latest single, which was crafted that same week and harboured his pain: “I knew as soon as I saw the picture back that ‘Black & Ready’ had to be the name,” he recalls. The track has since gone on to receive mainstream support from BBC Radio 1Xtra and Apple Music’s Ebro Darden.
NME caught up with the rising Croydon talent over Zoom recently to find out more about the process behind the making of ‘Black & Ready’ and ‘Almost An Adult’, which Jords says is “a combination of all of my experiences”, as well as his next ambition to bring “genres from Africa to the forefront”.
NME: ‘Almost An Adult’ is clearly a coming-of-age project. What does “coming of age” mean to you?
Jords: “Loss was one of those new emotions for me. I lost all of my grandparents over the last couple of years while making this project; it was new territory for me. I had to deal with seeing my parents lose their parents while I grappled with the pain of losing [my grandparents] from my perspective. Falling in love was something I didn’t expect or understand, too: I was like, ‘Oh shit, this is new,’ but it’s amazing too. I’d also add that I became more free, getting out of the structures of school, college, work.”
What did you study at university?
Jords: “I first went to the London School of Business and Finance to study Business Management. I got a higher nationals certificate after a year, but I was tired of it — I had a job at a call centre as well. My dreams were put on hold because I had no time to actually focus on the music, so I dropped out. Later on, to appease my parents, I went to the British Institute of Modern Music and I stayed there for six months until I thought: ‘I can’t do this.’ With creativity, I can’t be structured. My lecturer was telling me that I couldn’t use this chord progression and I thought: ‘It sounds good, though.’ That’s all that should matter.”
‘Swing’ samples K.P. & Envyi’s ‘Swing My Way’. Are there any other prominent samples across the project?
Jords: “You know what’s funny, I sampled myself a lot: ‘Dangerous’, for example, interpolates parts of ‘My City’. I’m a proper geek with these things and love making new sounds out of my pre-existing beats. Beyond that, it’s just inspiration and showing love. On ‘Dangerous’, I wanted that 80’s talkbox groove for my parents to dance to.”
On ‘Patterned’ you sound a lot like Stormzy. Is he a direct inspiration for you, or do you think it’s more because you both come from Croydon?
Jords: “I think it’s more to do with the fact that we both come from the same ends. He literally lived very close to me. I remember one time I got kicked out of my house for being a bad kid and my friend lived on the next road from Stormzy. Back in the day you’d all have each other’s [Blackberry Messenger] pins from the local area, so I ended up linking up with Stormzy. We spoke for hours about our aspirations, journeys and about having faith. Two kids who grew up in south [London] and listened to grime will inevitably have some similarities.”
You recently released ‘Black & Ready’ in support of Black Lives Matter. How did the track come about in such a short space of time?
Jords: “Once [‘Almost An Adult’] came out, I was ready to go back into my hotel. But, as a Black man seeing all of this go on, and these conversations that have been had since I was 11 years old; being stopped by the police at nine — it gets frustrating. I didn’t have anyone to direct my anger at. I never usually type on my computer, but I had to. I had a session with [Nosa Apollo] who performs the keys on the record. He played me the piano loop on the song, then I put a kick on the production and tried to rap my lines so many times: I couldn’t get it right because of the anger at first. I left it for hours, and then got a good take. Later on, I found a Black Lives Matter chant and added that in. Now’s not the time to be silent: we need to start doing what we can to build as a community. It was such a cathartic experience, getting to shed some of my processed PTSD.”
You also went to one of the London BLM protests. What urged you to attend?
Jords: “It was on my birthday, actually. I wrote the song on the Wednesday [June 3] and went to the protest on the 6th. I just felt like I had to go and be with my people. Someone gave me a megaphone and I was yelling, really getting into it there. Someone shot a picture with me and my ‘Black & Ready’ sign, and luckily it slotted into my single name.”
What was the concept behind the ‘Black & Ready’ video?
Jords: “It’s a statement piece. The wraps around the peoples’ heads represent how [Black people] get viewed the same regardless of your height, status, whatever — the way we are viewed is represented by the wrap. The unwrapping is a statement that we’re all unique beyond this single view, and it’s a demand to the world to see us for who we are and our differences.”
Why did you pick The Black Curriculum as the organisation to donate the proceeds from ‘Black & Ready’ to?
Jords: “Education is so key. A lot of racist tendencies are down to a lack of education, and I feel like financial literacy and generational wealth are important for [Black people] too. Even me personally, I don’t even know my roots properly, like the history of where I come from — that’s crazy. If I want education for myself, I want it for the people who come after me, too.”
As a Black artist on a mainstream label, how has the response towards Black Lives Matter been?
Jords: “[Universal] has been good to me. They’ve always let me be me and be proud to be Black. If you look at my work, it’s always been ‘Black and proud’ anyway. There’s something I’m working on with the label at the moment to help in creating roles for Black people within the label — I hope that leads to action.”
You’ve worked with the production company 33Bound on your recent visuals. How did you begin working with them?
Jords: “As a team, they are the best, man. I love that they have Black female directors creating amazing visuals. We click and work together so well. We met through the label, they pitched the visuals for ‘So It Go’ and we’ve kept in touch ever since.”
Sonically, where do you see your sound going beyond ‘Almost An Adult’ and ‘Black & Ready’?
Jords: “I’m exploring rhythm now. For [‘Almost An Adult’] I was very much in a hip-hop bag — I just wanna try new sounds. I went to Cape Verde last year and they were doing loads of chants and beats. I really wanna bring genres from Africa to the forefront.”